It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since my Dad died.
Just those words, “My dad died,” still sound — and feel — foreign to me.
My Dad had just made it to his 61st birthday a couple of months before he died. It makes me sad just thinking about it. This Valentine’s Day (exactly one week ago) he would’ve turned 63. I find it difficult to even talk about him as dead. Because he really isn’t dead to me. His body is gone, his voice is gone, his phone calls are gone, but the man who was my Dad remains very much alive in my heart and in my mind.
Still, nearly two years later, the reality that my Dad died — and the weight of that reality — hasn’t fully made its impact on my consciousness and spirit. Maybe it never will. Over these last 22 months, the initial shock and emotional fog of my Dad’s death have subsided, but grieving is a process and a journey that I’m continually working my way through — and there is no finish line.
My Dad was on life support the last few days of his life here on earth. His body completely stopped functioning on April 30, 2018. As I type these factual details about my Dad’s life (or rather, his death) here now on my computer … I have to stop for a moment. Those burning, acrid tears are back, and that hard, disruptive lump in my throat has returned. This is how grief barrels its way through my body and bursts through the surface every time I allow myself to pause and reflect on the fact that my Dad died. And now I cannot continue typing without wiping my eyes or trying to swallow that lump every few seconds.
This is what loss is like. At least, this is what loss has been like for me. Death has forced me to confront the question: What’s the meaning of life?
I ask myself what positive significance, purpose, or direction can I take from this loss? Surely something positive must come from something so negative. If not, I would feel as though my Dad’s death was for nothing. And I know that’s not true.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a husband, a mom, brothers, family, and friends who have been sharing this painful experience with me, so I don’t ever feel alone. But really, when you strip away all the comfort that you get from other people or even your faith, loss — and the subsequent grieving — is quite a solitary experience. You never know what it’s like until it happens to you.
While I don’t feel the same intense distress that overtook me in the immediate months after my Dad died, I do feel the loss of his presence every day. And I do feel as though the pain of it all is always just beneath the surface. Just waiting there …
…waiting for a moment where I’ll come across his smiling face in one of our photos, or hear a song that reminds me of him, or see a man whose hair or clothes or mustache or shoes remind me of him. And in those moments, a rushing, crushing wave of heartbreak crashes through my system and I realize that grief is not a one-time deal.
The pain often shows up when I’m having a quiet moment at night when all the responsibilities and distractions of the day have faded and I am left only with my thoughts. Other times it’ll happen when I’m telling my husband or a friend about a funny or happy memory of my Dad. Grief strikes whenever it wants, and that aching sense of emptiness and missing-ness is relentless.
If I’m being brutally honest with myself, the only real comfort I have found so far has been in knowing that my Dad is no longer suffering. He is in no physical pain, no emotional anguish, no psychological torment, no hell on earth. I wish I could say for sure that I knew where he’s gone or where he is (aside from his ashes in the urn that my Mom keeps), but I don’t have the answers.
My family believes he is in heaven, a spiritual realm of perfect peace. And even though I believe in God, I am not arrogant enough (or faith-filled enough) to declare I have the spiritual answers and can tell you for certain I know where my Dad is — I’m not talking about his body. I mean his essence, his spirit, his truest self. Questions remain, but because I accept what is — I know life is not fair, and I know death is part of life — and I am growing through the pain.
I also remind myself that I’m not the only one who has lost a father, and my Dad is not the only one who has left a grieving daughter. It seems a little cold to find comfort in other people’s pain, but admittedly I find comfort knowing that there are countless others who are going through the grief of losing a parent or loved one. Still, the personal experience of grief is as unique as every person who goes through it.
The bottom line is that none of us are guaranteed any set time here on earth. You can have all the faith in the world and wholeheartedly believe in God’s goodness, but we are all just passing through and nobody gets to know all the secrets of the universe — including when and why we die.
So, choose to make the most of your precious gift of life and spend time with those you love. More than anything, that’s the message that was embedded in my heart after my Dad died.
Grief is a burden that knows no bounds, but through this experience, I have grown emotionally and spiritually. Instead of dwelling on the “what ifs” of the past, I acknowledge the “what is” of the present.
By talking about my Dad and sharing my story, I hope that I can help others who are grieving if only to remind them that they are not alone. In this way, I’m not only honoring my Dad’s memory, but I feel as though I’m honoring life itself.
Have you lost someone you love? How have you been getting through it? I recently came across the book called “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” written by David Kessler, who co-wrote the famous book about the five stages of grief. He wrote this book after losing his 21-year-old son, and it’s the one book that has helped me more than any other. It’s beautifully written, easy to read and offers real-life ways to grow and heal through this painful experience.
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