I wasn’t in the best of places last Father’s Day. Having lost my own dad the year before, the thought of suffering through a day of watching others celebrate something I know longer had was almost unbearable. Staying off social media and grumbling to myself about stupid, made up Hallmark holidays was about the best I could do.
This year is different. It’s not that I miss my father any less, or that the pain is gone, but my grief has shifted. It’s a symbiotic relationship really that one has with grief; as it changes so do you and as you change, so does your grief.
As many of you know, the circumstances surrounding my dad’s decline in to end stage dementia were not pleasant. Each day during his final year was like stepping in to a carnival house of mirrors with a new warped reality to contend with. I don’t care to rehash those struggles now, but if you’re interested, go here.
After my dad passed away, it took me awhile emotionally to understand he would not be there whenever I went to visit my mom. My brain got it, but my heart did not and I had to relive over and over a deep sadness, as I kissed my mom hello and realized I could not do the same to my dad. Instead of facing this I’d file it away on a back shelf somewhere in my mind with a mental note to deal with it later.
Later became weeks, which turned in to months, which became an entire year of “shelving it”, until one day I found myself curled up, crying on the kitchen floor, wondering when this grief thing will go away. I mean I had gone to a weekly support group (even did the homework!), was active in on line grieving communities and read just about everything about death and loss I could get my hands on.
I became an expert on this stuff, yet I couldn’t seem to move forward. Why?
It’s funny the mind tricks we play on ourselves. Yes, I was doing plenty of useful things, but when I look back I realize I was spending a lot of time helping others to cope with their loss to avoid having to deal with my own. I’d get caught up in their stories, cry with them and really felt their pain and sadness at times as if they were my own.
Except they weren’t. I was pissed off and hurting too, but not allowing myself to explore why, because that would mean having to accept that my dad died a crappy death and that I will never see him again. That mixed with intense guilt for playing a role in moving him to memory care, withholding a feeding tube and maybe rushing along the morphine relief a bit too quick created quite the toxic sludge of emotions for me to process.
It wasn’t until I acknowledged this that my grief shifted from primitive self-protection, to digging deep in to my own heartache so a path towards healing could open up. One that was whispering at me to:
Remember all that God has done for me in the past and the hope, wisdom and courage He provides if I just give up my need to control everything. Really, just drop the act already and let Him guide my thoughts and actions day by day.
Embrace the permanence of death to allow good feelings to be a part of the memories I have about my dad. It hurts to think about him, but I can also take comfort in remembering the good times we had and the lessons he’s still teaching me today.
Stop feeling like I somehow failed my dad because of the miserableness of his situation. There is no user manual for this kind of stuff; it was a messy, emotional and complicated period for my family and me and we did the best we could with the knowledge that we had.
Stop waiting for the grief to stop because it won’t. The edges have softened sure, but part of my heart will always hold a place for missing my dad. That’s how it should be when people we love go away, there’s no use fighting this and that’s ok.
Remember that raw and painful moments can bring about immense beauty and grace, as pretensions fall away and authentic human connections take place. Relish those moments.
A good friend once said to me that it’s the finality of death that makes losing a loved one so painful. This is undoubtedly true. Even if you believe in an afterlife, knowing you will never see that person again in this one hits hard. This is why I’m glad there is grief.
Wait, what? Why would anyone be glad about grief? Because it initiates a process that, much like strong medicine, is necessary for healing and crafting a life that allows joy and fulfillment to exist alongside that shattered hole in your heart. A life different than before yes, but still good and I’ll take that.
I can’t wish my dad a Happy Father’s Day but I can think of him often and smile. I hope you can do the same for whoever it is you’re missing today.
Please know you don’t have to go through this alone. There are many resources available to help you get connected with others who know exactly what you are going though and are there to help. One on one sessions with a professional therapist can also be a huge benefit.