A few months ago I wrote about taking some time off and dealing with my father’s passing. Since then I have posted when I could, not followed much of a schedule and basically not done as good of a job as I expect of myself. Therefore, today, instead of posting anything else, I am going to give you a few thoughts regarding your family in grief, followed by a brief update on my own situation.
First, losing a parent is terrible and the grieving process is hell. Period. Full stop. No one has ever been fully prepared for this. There is no way to anticipate the feelings you will feel, no way to lean into the pain before it hits.
Second, I have found some professionals that help with emotional and mental issues and their input has been priceless. Sometimes seeking help in the first place is harder than learning to cope, especially if you have grown up with BS like “boys don’t cry.” There is no shame in asking for help, no one will judge you for it, and frankly, if they do, you never needed them in your life in the first place. Life is very hard. Use all the tools at hand. Using all the tools available makes you smarter, makes you a survivor, not inferior or weak. “Stupid Gronk fights off the tiger with a pointy stick instead of his bare hands, he must be weak,” said no caveman ever. Go find all the “pointy sticks” you can. If talking to someone near you is not an option, be it for financial or personal reasons, reach out online. Try sites like www.betterhelp.com, they cost less and work around your schedule. They are not a sponsor of mine, but I have reached out and used their services with wonderful positive outcomes. I know there is a bit of internet turmoil around their terms of service, but in my own experience, they have been amazing. Also, they are not the only ones. Find someone, anyone, who has qualifications, expertise and time. Get the help you need.
Third, in the case of a loss like this, the only thing I have found to be right all the time is, it never goes away. A loss of a parent is a catastrophic life event that changes you forever. I will never get over this. I can only hope to learn to live in the new life, with the new me, which includes this loss. The things that happen to us in life change us, shape us, and cannot be undone. Most are easier to deal with than this. However, all of them are permanent. Learning to accept the loss and work with it as part of you will help you move on faster and with less long-term adverse effects. Don’t fight it, don’t ignore it, just accept it as a new hole in your life and learn to live despite that hole. It will never be refilled, but it can be accepted.
Next, remember that as a person, this affects you, but as a parent, it affects vastly more than you. You are not alone, you are not the only one in your family feeling this loss, and you do have responsibilities to the other members of your family, especially your spouse and your children. Your kids will not understand this, they will not understand why someone is gone, or for how long, or why it hurts them, or why you cry. This will hurt them and frighten them. Don’t get so self-absorbed that you forget to nurture them and be their strength and guide. You don’t have to hide your feelings or act a certain way, but you do need to explain to them why you hurt, why they hurt and how you can work on it together. Also, remember that your kids are way smarter than you assume and way more empathetic than you know. They want to help you too, let them. Talk thru this with them and find a way that you can all support each other, your family will be stronger for it. In my case, I even had to reassure my 9-year old that I was getting help and that was the right thing to do. I had to tell him that I cry because it hurts and that is normal, healthy and strong. That because I could cry, then I could also process the feelings and sometimes not cry, and because quality people were helping me, I would be feeling better faster. I also made sure that he knew he could get help, that he could talk to people and that I wouldn’t think he was weak. That I would help him find people with experience and knowledge to help him so that he could feel better sooner too.
Lastly, remember your spouse. They will likely be putting on a strong face for you, trying to help you by being resilient and tough. Keep in mind as you interact with them throughout your days that their stoicism could be an act for your benefit. Remember that while this is your parent, this is a person they care deeply about too. Unless they really hated your parent for some reason (those do exist, they are not healthy, but can happen) then they are also grieving, they are also hurting and trying to work through this emotional issue also, when a parent dies, it affects the whole family and that very much includes spouses and in-laws.
Now that I have given you a glimpse of my thoughts regarding this loss and some ideas and tools I have learned to help me along the way, which I will likely elaborate on in a future post, let me give you all the update on me personally.
You know that I was exceptionally close to my dad. For many years, especially the last 14 or so, we were inseparable. I mentioned before how I cared for him several times a week and took him with me most of the time. I also mentioned how this loss left me broken and missing a significant piece of myself, how he was in many ways my moral compass and my sounding board for lots of things in my life including these articles I write. With that said let me update you on my progress.
I miss him terribly. I always will. There is nothing I can do about that and nothing I want to do about it. The day I stop missing him is the day I start forgetting how important he was to me. This is no longer crippling. I find a small amount of peace in the fact that I miss him. I have learned how to feel that loss and accept it without it ruling me. When I think of him now I smile far more often than cry. His things don’t remind me of the loss, they remind me of the man. This is how I am growing past his loss. The twinge I feel in my heart now when I think of Dad is not as sad as it was, but even better, now it is wrapped in love and joy. I am no longer thinking about how I miss having my guiding light, but instead am focused on keeping that light shining, through me to the rest of the family. He raised me right and taught me well, his work in doing that is over. Now it is time for my work in that to start. As my own family begins to grow up and move out into the world I can see that, like Dad, I have done my best to raise them right and teach them well, and I will continue to, but as I do it is also my turn to start taking his place as guiding light and moral compass. To do all those things I miss him doing for me, for them. More and more now it will be my turn to ride shotgun, listen, interpret and advise. I will do this with kindness, love and compassion. I encourage you to use those also. Parenting is an active sport, it is not easy but it has to be done and it is your job to do it. While you do, remember to take care of yourself also. Cry if you need, get help where you can, be strong when necessary, be deliberate, move with purpose and always with love.