I try to keep this journal fairly light. I am generally a happy, sunshiny person and I share that side of myself with you. There are times when I don’t feel sunshiny though. I rarely talk negatively or share very personal things about myself (although I have in the past mentioned my struggles with body image, eating disorders and depression). Today I’d like to share my own experience with losing my father and some things that may help you while living through loss.
April 27, 2005 is a day I won’t ever forget. I got a phone call that changed the course of my day, and inevitably my life. My mom called me in a panicked voice telling me my father wasn’t well. He had got up in the middle of the night and passed out hitting his head. She told me not to worry yet, but to plan on coming home as she and my sister were waiting for results from his CAT scan. I did worry. A lot.
Over the past 2 years I had watched my father change. Little things at first, like forgetting our phone dates and appointments. But over the course of time, it morphed into forgetting where he was driving to or to meet me at my aunt’s house for lunch (something he never forgot before as I lived 2.5 hours away and only came to visit once a month). He didn’t care about things the way he used to and lost interest in things he used to love. I had my mom haul him off to the doctor’s to have him tested for alzheimer’s and dementia. The doctor said he was fine and we all thought he may be experiencing a midlife crisis. At the end of March 2005, I got angry with him and stopped talking to him. I still feel guilty about this as I wasn’t talking to him before he died and feel like I never got to properly say goodbye. I hope he didn’t die thinking I was angry with him. I was waaaaay too young to lose him, I didn’t for a second think he would pass away at the age of 54. Especially so suddenly.
I drove the 2.5 hour drive home to see him, but by the time I arrived, he was already in a coma. We were told he had a tumour in his brain the size of a tennis ball. It was attached to the brainstem and there was nothing they could do. The doctor gave him a week. He died while I held his hand that afternoon.
The thing with grief is that no one really understands it until they go through it themselves. And even when they do go through it, it is different for them. It’s a very personal experience and there is no way of knowing how someone can feel. Especially if other circumstances are involved. Unfortunately for me, 2 months after my dad died, I was in surgery having my thyroid removed because it was cancerous. It was a horrible year. I remember not dealing with it well. But what is dealing well when it comes to grief? Here are some things that did help me and things that I know could have helped me.
- Talk about it
Don’t keep your feelings in. Whether you feel hopelessly sad, angry, bitter or heartbroken, find someone to talk to about it. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who were there for me and we helped each other out by crying together, reminiscing and remembering all the good things about my dad.
- Take care of yourself
There is a lot to do when we lose someone and lots of people to help take care of. But always take care of yourself too. You can’t help others if you don’t prioritize your needs. I found taking long, hot baths very comforting. I also found eating a ton junkfood very comforting. It’s not the most healthy way of coping, but it’s what I needed at the time (and there are worse coping mechanisms). I also took short walks which helped clear my head and get some “me time”.
- Ask for help
Having to make final arrangements can be overwhelming. But breaking this big task into smaller pieces helps. And asking people to help out will make things more manageable.
- It’s ok to cry
Crying doesn’t make you weak. We weren’t made to be made of stone and crying helps us release our emotions.
- Just breathe
Take a deep breath. Take as many as you need. It’s calming and helps us re-centre ourselves.
- Don’t go to bed angry
My mom always said this to my sister and me. She told us we never know what could happen over night, so best make peace with things before going to sleep each day. I wish I would have listened to that advice before losing my dad, but it’s something I practice now.
- Don’t get over it
This is the most important thing! I never had anyone tell me this in these words. But some people just couldn’t seem to grasp why it was taking me so long to mourn the loss of my father. They all still had their parents… and grandparents and aunts and uncles (I already had experienced losing all of my grandparents). It’s not something you ever get over. You work through it and it changes you, sometimes for the better. It gets easier over the years, but it never leaves you. And that’s ok, because that means a piece of our heart will always belong to that person forever, even if they are gone.
*For those who know someone grieving: don’t be afraid to reach out to those who are grieving. People can be unsure what to do and afraid of saying the wrong thing and end up keeping their distance, waiting for the person grieving to reach out. It can be so very lonely and the loved one grieving could really benefit from a call or visit.
I didn’t think life would ever get back to any semblance of normalcy after he died. And it didn’t for a very long time (a few years). I look back over the past 10 years and realise all of things he has missed – my graduation from University, my first house, my first car, my wedding, the birth of my niece, my moving to California (the list goes on…), but I still have a lot of awesome people in my life to celebrate milestones with.
I hesitate to say good things can come out of horrible experiences. The truth is, we can let grief change us for good or bad. I let it change me for bad at first, but 2 years after he died I realised I was grateful for all that I had and wanted to act like it. I started eating healthier and becoming more active. I let go of my guilt, bitterness and sadness. This led me to the person I am now and I wouldn’t change that.
“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” Marianne Williamson