As I am reviving blog posts; I came across this one. There is no better time to talk about grief than the holidays. The holidays are a wonderful time to bring together family and friends, but they are also a painful reminder of the empty chairs, the missing cards, and the lack of chatter. I leave this hear with you dear friend. In hopes it helps you. I have not by any means “arrived” or “overcome” but I can say the triggers are fewer and the pain not quite so searing deep.
What I wish I would have known… saying goodbye to my daddy
I knew the day would come. I dreaded the day it would come. Little did I accept the fact it actually did. The day I lost my dad is a day forever imprinted on my heart. I knew I would have to face the day, sooner than I would like, considering every parent should live forever. But the days, months, even years following his death revealed much about myself. So I leave here for you, five things I wish I would have known about death of a loved one.
The actual death is not the hardest part.
Oh, believe me, it is an extremely emotionally taxing experience. One I dread reliving when my mother leaves this world, but I realize now the statement I once proclaimed out loud, “the day I lose my father will be the worst day of my life” is far from the truth. In fact, there are many worst days of my life following his death. For example, the first missed holiday, birthday, or major life event. My dad died four weeks before the birth of my first child and even though the birth was joyous and an amazing life experience, the nagging of your dad not being present for a major life event was always in my mind and heart. The first year, every missed something is a deep heart ache. Then the next year and the next. The triggers seem to grow, and the emotional response does as well.
Your family will never be the same. And YOU will never be the same.
Unfortunately, this is true. This truth comes with great prayer and hope anyone who experiences the death of a parent, their family will grow closer and the bond deeper. But if it goes quite the opposite, you are not alone. It happens to many families. When the rock, the cornerstone, the glue who holds it all together, leaves this blue-green globe, piecing the family together again can be a difficult, if not impossible. Prior, I had always thought our family was a very close-knit unit. After the death of my dad, I realize it was in fact, dad who was the close-knitter. He kept the family in contact, always updating each other, reminding of birthdays and anniversaries or when the other family member was in great need of support.
You will change as well. Hopefully, for the better, but if not at first then let grief have its time in your heart. I know I kept waiting to be ‘me’ again. I wanted to return to my normal. Where was normal? I am so different now, my thoughts, my actions, my everything. And the anxiety from waiting to be myself again mounted as the days continued. What I failed to realize, until someone told me the simple truth in one sentence, “you will never be the same.” Grief and major life events change people. Sometimes for the worse, but sometimes for the better! Yes, think about it. Some of the individuals who have experienced the most grief and the “wow, I would never want to be them” moments, are the most encouraging, loving, grateful people you will ever meet. Why? They let their devastating life events mold them into a better version of themselves. They take their experience, and turn it into a gift. A gift which can bless others, encourage others, and turn their heartache into their testimony. When you see the person who has arrived, think to yourself, who knows how long it took them to arrive at such a wonderful destination of encouraging, hopeful, and thankful. SO if you have not arrived yet, stay encouraged, your time can still come, if you allow it.
Death makes people uncomfortable.
Wow, does it ever. The cliché statements and odd moments are in every-day life after you experience a close death in the family. Even with some of your closest friends and co-workers. I used to find bitterness in every off-the-wall or meant-to-be encouraging statement. When someone would ask “how are you” with their facial expression changing to one of sympathy, and then walk away returning to their normal day as soon as you answered with some shallow response. While I was left there to relive my pain. Little did they know what their innocent question had done to me. Fortunately, I have realized, it is honestly their own fear of death and of saying the wrong thing to a person they care about. Their hearts are in the right place, they want to comfort you, but realize dear friend, they know not what they do. Instead of bitterness in their statements, pray for them. Pray they never fully understand the grief and pain of experiencing death first hand. Pray their family is protected for years to come, and they never walk in your same footsteps. For you were once there; naive yet concerned, unsure how to comfort, but want to do so for the friend or co-worker going through a difficult time.
Depression and anxiety are okay.
After my dad died, my son’s birth was shortly to follow. My son had colic and screamed most of his newborn life. I had NO time to wrap my mind around the honest truth, he was gone. Once my son moved into a calmer season, if there ever is a calmer season with children, the anxiety hit me so hard. I was no longer bouncing, rocking, walking, and swinging constantly to soothe my first born child. Instead I had pause moments. In those moments, I realized how hurt and how much ache was within my heart. Tears came more often, insomnia was a new friend. My child was sleeping better in this season of life, but I was not. Frustration was new friend too. Thoughts came constantly, “what is wrong with you?????” “Get over it, he is gone.” I tried to reason myself to be better. I tried to pray it away. The realization of what I was facing hit me when I had my normal yearly physical. Side bar, not everyone loves physicals, but I do. I love my doctor. She is kind and compassionate. Listens intently, and never rushes me, even though I know her pressures are high. In our hour visit, I broke down into a total mess. It was the week leading up to my thirtieth birthday and I apparently did not have a grip on my emotions. We discussed anxiety and depression, and when she suggested anxiety medication until I could cope more appropriately… I realized I had a problem. I followed her instructions to seek counseling.
Counseling, with the right counselor for you, will change your entire perspective. See, society, your own self, and even dear friends will tell you, anxiety is not something you SHOULD be dealing with. Pray, lean on God more. Trust God. I had been believing something was wrong with me, I should pray it away and it should go away. My counselor, on the contrary opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. Embrace anxiety, face it head on. Realize it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Do not run from the truth but rather, embrace the fact you are not whole at this point in time. WOW. It is ok that I am not ok?!!! Perspective changed, life altered, anxiety still present but my capability of handling it, improved. Fleeing from the issue is not the answer. Addressing it head on, bingo.
Grief has no timeline.
Prior to the death of dad, I ignorantly believed you could grieve for a certain period then it was time to move on, get over it. Life goes on. Well, I carried this preconceived notion into my own situation. I kept putting additional pressures on myself. You should not be crying, or you should have it all together by now, it has been __ years. What I did not realize, I was the only person in my life not allowing me the grace to grief. I now realize grief comes and goes in waves. Some days, weeks, even months you can smile at the memories, but sometimes the waves hit you so hard they all but swallow you whole. The memory of calls on certain days of the week, or inside jokes, or nicknames. Oh the memories. My dad use to always call me on Friday and say “TGIF”!” It was a highlight of the week. He rarely forgot, and was always cheerful. Just a reminder from him, you made another week in adult life, which we all know is one difficult task. Well every once in a while, the notion of Friday morning is painful, and for the longest I had my own pressure of get over it, move on, no big deal. Other times, I am telling others “TGIF!!” in memory of him and in honor of him, with a huge smile. Some days I must sit in my car and say to myself out loud, “He’s dead” to keep myself from experiencing denial. Other days, I embrace a fond memory and even relish in the moment, realizing I was blessed with every day he was present as a wonderful father and friend. So I need you to know, grief has NO timeline. Give yourself grace as you would give to someone else going through a similar situation. Everyone responds differently to life experiences and it will be difficult for many years to come.
These realizations have helped guide me through this new territory. Uneven terrain, knee skinning, bruise inflicting territory. I am blazing the trail in my own life experience, learning and adjusting as a go, no one has been down the exact path I am creating. I wish to be following someone else, to help guide me and shed light on the next chapter, but there is only one me, and only one him. It is quite like the memory I have of following my dad as he created a path in the woods. Slow, steady, following his new trail. Dad constantly touching small twigs or trees growing, pinching off the very tips when he could. If I followed his trail too closely or did not pace myself just right, his manipulated branch would swing back and whip me right in the face!! “Dad, you just got me in the face!!”
“Well, Muffy, don’t follow so close.”
The places we would go were beautiful. Most times, completely untouched by any other human footsteps, but if I did not pace myself I ended up with multiple battle wounds. The wounds of his memory are still present in my heart, as I blaze a trail where my footsteps have not yet experienced. There is beauty to be seen in the brush and bramble of this path, but I easily forget to accept my pace, and look up to behold the path I have created.
I need you to know as I reread and edited this article I am in total meltdown mode. Remembering the pain of early on stirs the heart and takes me deeper into the journey. Since I first published this post more than a year ago, much has evolved in my trail. The wounds are not quite so deep, not quite so painful. I can smile and see the beauty, rather than focus on the difficult terrain. At times, I struggle more than others, such as the death anniversary, holidays, and days like today, his birthday. The waves of his memory push me a bit harder during these times, but they no longer completely engulf me. I am still able to stand and embrace, when before I would have found myself drowning in emotion and pain. I pray you will find a similar place, at your very own pace.