After father’s death, bereavement leave becomes ‘believement’ leave

My father passed away Jan. 23 after a long, brave battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86. When he took his last breath, my mother and sister and his hospice aide were by his side.

Those of you who read my column may remember that I frequently wrote about my father and his journey. He was on hospice for six months. While his passing was expected, it was still a time when a myriad of emotions were running through our heads.

My other sister and I and our spouses flew home to New Hampshire the day after his death.

Our sister who lives locally was at my mother’s house when we arrived, as were her husband and their two children, who all work for the same employer.

It was probably one of the few times that three people all took the exact same bereavement leave.

Bereavement leave is meant to give workers the time necessary to manage the many responsibilities that arise as a result of a loved one’s death: making funeral arrangements, attending the services, paying respects to the family at a wake or visitation, dealing with the family member’s possessions and will. This definition of bereavement focuses on the business of death. It’s fascinating to me that nowhere in that description does it mention anything about dealing with the emotional side of a loved one’s death.

In the whirlwind of activities that followed the first 24 hours after my father died someone in our family called the time we have off “believement” leave.

The more I thought about it, it’s the perfect term for this state of affairs. According to the Merriam- Webster dictionary, the most frequently understood definition of the word believe is to accept something as true, to feel sure of the truth.

The death of a family member, whether sudden or expected, is most definitely something loved ones have to come to grips with.

By the time we arrived at my parents’ home, my father’s hospital bed had been removed from his room, but all his possessions surrounded us—his slippers, his glasses, the clothes in his closet, his books on tape, his favorite caps and the drawer full of his beloved watches. It just didn’t seem real that he was gone.

His favorite foods were still in the fridge: my mother’s homemade butternut squash soup, his V8 juice and his frozen yogurt bars.

It takes some getting used to the idea that you will never again be able to hold your father’s hand or give him a kiss on the cheek.

Yes, it will be a while before each of us will be able to believe that my father is finally gone. The second-most common definition of the word believe is to hold (something) as an opinion.

I’ve written before that my mother does not believe in any version of heaven or an afterlife.

I, on the other hand, have chosen to believe that my father is up in heaven with his mother, his good friend Mortsie (who also died of Parkinson’s disease) and our family dog Duffy. It gives me great comfort to know he is enjoying a new life and being rewarded for all the good deeds he did on this earth.

Someday, when feelings are not so raw, I will ask my sisters what they believe about where my father is now that he has passed. My assumption is that it will be their beliefs, their opinion and their thoughts about what happens when someone passes that will give them comfort to deal with his death.

So, indeed, this is a time of “believement,” a time to accept the inevitable passing of a loved one from our daily lives, and a time to have faith that they are in a better place.

It is the perfect word for this period of time—at least for our family, at this particular time. It does not denote a time of sadness, pain, distress or anger, but of love and hope.

Rest in peace, Dad.

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