Recently, a good friend lost her father. I wrote a note to her to comfort her but after reading what I sent, I felt it might help others so I am sharing it here.
We all grieve in our own way and on our own timeline so however you do it is 100% valid. I’m just passing along what helped me. Take it as merely a personal tale and not necessarily advice. You do you however you need to.
(I lost my father to cancer in 2012 and my mother to it in 2014. My comments are about my own processing of grief.)
My mom and I never really saw eye-to-eye but we reached a very comfortable, happy space and we definitely loved each other but we never “got” each other. My dad and I were different. He was my best friend, my hero, the person I modeled myself after and the person that was ALWAYS my number one cheerleader. He was amazing and we were extremely close. I couldn’t have imagined that I would survive his loss and yet I mentally prepared for it my whole life and near the end of his, we spoke about his death and what it would be like for me without him.
I remember asking, “Is it just going to be horrible? I mean am I going to think about you all the time and be miserable and miss you? Is that what it’s like to lose a parent?” He said, “No. You will be sad and you’ll miss me but then you’ll go long periods where you won’t even think about me and that’s ok. That’s just what happens.” In essence, he was telling me it was ok to forget about him sometimes and that permission took away any guilt that might have arisen related to NOT thinking of him.
My dad was always happiest when I was happy so I know he would want me to continue to find joy in life. Oprah talks about feeling the dead’s presence and having an angel watching over you. That’s not something I feel and it’s not something I have ever needed. Because my dad and I were so similar, when I experience something awesome, I know he would have been just as excited about it or excited FOR me just as much so though I would have called him to tell him all the details of those experiences and did EVERY single time, now I just KNOW he would be excited for me and the NEED to tell doesn’t exist.
The thing that helps me most when I start to have a “I wish they were still here” moment is this fact: Time does not stand still. We tend to romanticize everything so when we imagine someone still being here, we imagine the best version of them here with us and the reality is, that wouldn’t be who would be here. Even taking the illness that killed my father out of the equation, I would still be dealing with age and other life events and many of those things would have brought conflict – conflict that I never have to face now.
I never have to take my dad’s keys away. I never have to put him in a nursing home. I never have to watch him lose sight or hearing or see him depressed about losing faculties. I don’t have to lose sleep worrying about him or, best of all, I never have to resent him or feel burdened by him. I see so many people whose parents are young enough to live for many more years but who didn’t plan for their futures or who didn’t stay fit and they cause undo hardships on their kids and the kids who love them, now feel trapped by them. I never have to experience that. And for all this…I am grateful. It means when I think of my parents, I only think of the good stuff and I keep it placed in time – the past. I could dream and wish for something different and it will NEVER happen. It can’t so it does me zero good to dwell on it. It takes away from happy memories.
I am grateful every day that I had the amazing opportunity – truly an opportunity of a lifetime – to share part of my journey in this life with these incredible human beings that were my parents. I mentally thank them every time I’m reminded of how well they treated me or what lessons they taught me that continue to help me. I chuckle when I think of our (infrequent) conflicts and how they were really no big deal in the grand scheme. And then I turn the page.
This is MY life I am living. They were part of my life but just a part. Life continues to happen to us and too much focus on the past means I am missing out on what is happening right now and NOW will never happen again so it’s best I focus on it so I don’t miss something really special.
As I am bringing this to a close, I am reminded of what a friend said about missing her own father. She commented – “I hate the reality that I’ll never see him again”. These were my words to her: You will see him in everything that you associate with him – experiences, favorite foods, scents, places, clothing, at a sporting event… and it will be the best version of him. And you will smile or chuckle and sometimes it will bring a tear to your eye but you will see him for sure in those moments – it will just be with your mind’s eye. He is still alive and well there and that will never change and isn’t that a blessing?
Grieving takes time and it’s definitely a meandering path of highs and lows. It’s worth it though. It’s healthy and healing and intimate and a part of life. Embrace it, learn from it and then, one day when you are ready, release it.