Thursday, February 19, 2015
Many of you know that my Dad passed away five months ago after a sudden and quick battle with pancreatic cancer. I’ve been blessed with a support network of wonderful souls, many who also lost parents and loved ones. After my Dad died, these people wanted to ease my pain so told me things to try to prepare me for what was ahead and what I might experience. They told me things like: I’ll never stop missing him but will learn how to live with him being gone, the holidays will be very tough, the first year will be difficult, it will take me a while to accept he’s gone, I should talk to him anytime I want because his spirit is with me, and many other tidbits of advice that have helped me greatly the past several months. I like the words of wisdom and advice because I like to know what to expect. However, there are a few things that no one told me about; perhaps those of you, who’ve been through the experience of losing a loved one, can relate to the things that have caught me a bit by surprise.
No one told me that my brain would consistently play tricks on me; that I would have many repeat moments of not believing my Dad is truly gone from this earth. It’s as if my brain cannot grasp the truth so I have these moments of: he’s not really gone, is he? He can’t be gone. I can’t believe he’s actually gone. And then there are the tricks my brain plays when I simply forget he passed away. I am so in the moment of wanting to share something with him that I think about picking up my phone to text or call him. Then it hits me: oh right, he’s gone, which is followed by those familiar feelings of disbelief…he’s not really gone, is he? It’s hard to explain and is a very weird feeling, which I attribute to my not being able to fully accept that he’s passed away.
Everyone told me the holidays would be difficult. In addition, my Dad’s birthday is in December so I was expecting Thanksgiving through Christmas to be tough. It was. Those holidays were always spent with my Dad and his absence was overpowering. But, no one told me about New Years. I had no idea that ringing in the New Year would be so excruciating. I hadn’t spent a New Year’s Eve or day with my Dad in a long time but it wasn’t about not being able to spend the holiday with him. It was about wanting time to stand still because he was gone. I felt like leaving 2014 meant I was leaving him behind and I didn’t want to do that. 2014 was the last year he was alive and moving beyond that felt like saying goodbye to him all over again. I was not expecting it but for me, bringing in the New Year was by far the most difficult of the “holidays”.
I’m not a big Valentine’s Day person. Although it’s fun to use it as an excuse to do something special with my husband, I never gave it much thought -until this year. As with most girls, our Daddys are our first and usually best Valentine. This was true for my Dad and me. Every year he would send me funny heartwarming cards and, without fail, every year, for as far back as I can remember, he bought me a little heart shaped box of chocolates. Every. Year. Suddenly those things were gone – my number one valentine, his funny heart warming cards, and that little heart shaped box of chocolates – just gone. I was not expecting a day I never thought much about to turn into such a difficult one of me wishing more than anything that I could see my Dad’s handwriting inside a card or pick up the phone and hear his voice at the other end. Valentine’s Day, like the New Year, caught me by surprise.
Grief Wears Many Faces
We’re all familiar with the typical ways grief shows up: anger, denial, and sadness. What I’ve learned the past five months is there is nothing typical about the grieving process. Yes, it definitely shows up as anger, sadness, and denial but it also shows up in ways I didn’t expect. It shows up behind a happy face and a laughing face. It shows up as busyness and quietness and solitude. My Dad was the patriarch of our family. He left a big void when he passed away and many feel this loss: my sister, my stepmother, me, his nieces and nephews, his siblings, his grandchildren, and his sons-in-law. We are all coming to terms with life without him and all miss him greatly. How we each express this looks drastically different. No one told me that grieving could show up as moments of laughter and in smiles as much as it shows up through tears and anger. There are no rules when it comes to dealing with the loss of someone who played such a big role in so many lives or anyone who is close to you. And, there is no timeline. I’ve learned the best we can do is honor each other, respect that we are all going to deal with it differently, and be kind to each other and to ourselves as we proceed on this journey.
Each day that passes since my Dad’s death is one where I learn new things about myself and my life without him. I am also learning new things about my loved ones as they move through their journey of learning to live without my Dad. I’m sure I will have many more moments of “no one told me that” in the coming months. My reason for blogging about this is twofold. First, I am honoring what I need to do to sort out all that happened last year with his illness and death. Writing is therapeutic for me and helps me deal with and better understand many seemingly incomprehensible things. In addition, I hope these insights will help any of you who may be experiencing a similar situation or have experienced it in the past. I believe the more we share our experiences with each other, the more we realize we are not alone.