10 Things I've Learned in the Year Since My Father's Death

Monday, March 23, 2015 by Meg   •   Filed under General

A year ago, my father passed away. Massive coronary, completely unexpected, utterly devastating. I wrote about it in Grief From Love. The outpouring of support was humbling and I cannot thank you enough. But I also got many questions about it. Did it get better? How did things change? Today I will do my best to answer those questions but I may have done it even better in "Alien Landscape," a short story I wrote that used metaphor to explore my emotions. For more on "Alien Landscape," click here. Otherwise, read on.

What I Learned in the Year After My Father’s Death

1. Life will move on, with or without your participation. Baseball games still occur. The children still need dinner. Groceries need to be purchased. Work needs to be completed. Even on the most difficult of days, those around you still have living to do even if you feel that things have ground to a halt. No matter how crushing the pain is, life persists. Some days it was in the movement from task to task, the laundry, the dishes, that I lost myself when I needed a reprieve from thinking. I found solace spending hours reading to the kids on the couch. Other days I felt the pain and thought: Hurting means I am still alive. Life is still here. Might as well live it. And some days I told my husband to do the dishes. Because fuck that noise. 

2. You will find the strength. Many of us understand that this strength exists and yet we worry about having it put to the test. In the aftermath of my father’s death, I wallowed in the hurt, anxious about how long it would last, fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle my life and grieve his loss appropriately, despite knowing full well that these things do have a way of healing. Shrinks are fully able to recognize the expected progression of events and yet we still succumb to the very human response that, “Dear god, I might be the one who can’t snap out of it EVER.” Regardless of your position, you will pull on reserves of strength you weren’t sure existed and you will manage to do what you must to survive, to thrive, to move beyond. And it’s even possible that the person you are mourning is the one who helped to build that platform of strength to begin with. (Thanks, Daddy.)

3. You can have mad coping skills…and still be mad. Or angry or depressed or agitated. No matter how good you think you are at dealing with stress, you will falter. No matter how many tricks you know to get out of your own head, to accept, to cope, you will have days when you fall apart. I expected it, I let myself feel it, and I knew that the next day had a higher statistical probability of awesomeness since I got that bullshit out of my system. This is normal. This is okay. This is grief. 

4. You will cling to what matters. Sometimes I lose myself focusing on trivial things as a method of avoidance, like cleaning the house or obsessing over how much sugar is really detrimental for the kids. But then there are the other days. Days when my sons’ smiles remind me of the love I had and the love I can still give. Days where I watch my kids sleeping, reminding myself that life’s too damn short to worry. I have days where I hold onto my friends and family with both hands and make sure they knew that they meant something to me. In times of struggle, there is peace in the love you still have despite the love you’ve lost. 

5. You will miss your loved one’s voice. On my birthday, I sobbed for an hour after realizing that my father would not be waking me up at 4:30 am to wish me a happy birthday. (I had woken him up with my arrival oh so many years ago and payback’s a long-term bitch.) I cried on my kids’ birthdays, on Christmas, on Thanksgiving. I refused to change phones until I was able to record his voicemails. On the anniversary of his death, I played Tetris while wearing his shirt and pretended I could still hear him telling me how to play. “You have to keep the ‘next piece’ thing off and ONLY get Tetrises.” Maybe he’d even come in after my game and beat all my high scores on the leader board. “The easy way is for suckers.” It is sometimes the simplest things that become the most poignant in the years following a death. 

6. You may seek comfort in his things. Some nights, I yearn to wear my father’s sweatshirts, to breathe in his space, even though these items no longer hold his scent. And in those moments of ill-fitting-shirt-wearing, I am seeking a oneness that only occasionally manifests, and when it does, is fleeting. Sometimes I question my own sanity for identifying a closeness that has clearly passed the point of physical hugging. Despite this, on special occasions I wear his socks, relishing the knowledge I occupy a space he once did. And this is enough for a moment. Then I move on with the day, committed to being mindful of the space I occupy, hoping to be the kind of security my kids need so that one day they might, even for a fleeting moment, be grateful for who I was to them.

7. They weren’t perfect (and neither are you). So this one should go without saying, but it won’t, because we all have a tendency to idealize lost loved ones, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the loss. I am far from a perfect human being. I’m not a perfect mother, a perfect daughter, a perfect griever. No parent is the perfect parent, no friend the perfect friend. My father was not perfect, but he was perfect for me, which is really all one can ask for. Recognizing mistakes in a lost loved one is not a shame-worthy slight against them any more than identifying oneself as (gasp) human. We are all perfectly imperfect. That’s what makes us awesome. No one likes a damn show off. 

8. It hurts. Every day, for short times, for long times, it hurts. And yet more days are spent in quiet reminiscing, even joyful memory of a love I had instead of the gut-twisting pain. And this is to be celebrated in and of itself; the ability to celebrate for only the time it takes to share an anecdote. Recently I found a bag of things for my children hidden in my car: pens, dry erase boards, coloring books, stuffed between the seats. Surely, my father did not anticipate that my car would be so trashed that I would not find these items until a year after he died. I rejoiced in his ability to surprise me even after he was gone and retired to the bathroom so sob, reassured by the notion that love remains outside the realm of time and space and expected metaphysical boundaries. 

9. You will still feel down sometimes, and not everyone will understand. I have been told, not in these specific words, to “get over it.” I have been encouraged to get out, to forget, to ignore. But grief is a living breathing thing and it will not be tamed purely through trite encouragement. Time helps, but it is not an end all be all. And some sadness, some depression after a time is still normal. (However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as constant rumination or trouble functioning on a daily basis, it is always helpful to see a therapist to work through any complicated grief issues.)

The point, I think, is this: Haters gon’ hate. But also, grief is an individual beast. It will be shaped by how shocking the death was, how close you were, and your biochemical makeup. Do not fault yourself or allow shame to creep into a perfectly normal, though gut-wrenching, experience. Allow yourself the compassion you deserve and take the time to do what you must to heal.

10. Love remains, and so do they. Always, infinitely, forever. Everyone who has played a role in your life, particularly those who influenced you in major ways, remains a part of you. I hear my father in the way I speak to my children, in the way I shriek as the most ferocious tickle monster ever, in the way I giggle and joke. This I cannot escape despite the chasm of hurt I must find a way to cross. For as I leap from cliff to cliff, all that made me who I am rides on my back, thoroughly entrenched in my being for better or worse. This I can never lose. Though I will miss him and yearn for him, I will never completely lose my father. And in this, there is comfort.

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Alien Landscape
Some things are too horrifying to understand let alone fix.