So it is one year to the day since my dad died. It’s been a hard year, in so many ways.
Partly (duh?) the grief. The heartrending missing of someone who was (is) so important to me. Oh the number of moments this year, especially early on, when I wanted to reach out and talk to him about:
- some detail of life (like my cat’s silly antics, or that the cherry blossoms were out already)
- some big news story (the triple crown winner, the Queen’s prof who got a Nobel Prize, the results of the national election all come to mind)
- something that we had shared before so many times (a phone call blow by blow conversation about the election)
- his advice on something (where to go when in Scotland, how to deal with stroppy tradesmen, what to do with conflicting work priorities)
And each one of those moments, leading to an outpouring of tears. Let’s face it, standing at his gravestone, asking, but not getting answers the way I can understand them … just doesn’t cut it.
I miss having him at family events, miss the mischievous twinkle in his eye, the wordplay he so liked to engage in. I miss his likeness to me – now I feel how different I am from the rest of my family, and alone. I miss the man who “gets me”, who understands and accepts me, who loves me no matter what – no strings attached. I miss his calming influence, when I am irritated with family, or uptight about work decisions, or just overwhelmed with what needs to get done.
My dad meant the world to me, and a world without him has been a mysterious and sometimes harsh place. My haven, my resting place, my exhale is gone. Even in those last few years, in his sickness, when he couldn’t do much, or actively support me, just knowing he was here, around, that made things easier somehow. So adjusting to a different way, needing to actively create that safety elsewhere, that has taken much of my time and energy. And to find the way to do that, to move on, while still holding him, honouring him, and remembering him – that has been a balancing act.
The other piece that has been hard is missing myself. About 6 months into The Year of Grief I noticed that I shifted from predominately missing my dad, to predominately missing myself. Where was the spirited, fiery, active, dynamic, laser-focused, get stuff done, take no prisoners Signý? Like really, where was she? I couldn’t find her, as if she had gone into hiding, or worse yet, she had just gone, like my dad, just no longer here and never will be, ever again. What then? Now part of the problem might have been that, just like much of the world around me, I expected myself to be “over it” by now. Fortunately many friends who have walked the road ahead of me said “it takes at least a year, you have to go through all the big events (like the first Christmas without him, the first birthday, etc), and all the anniversaries … and in the meantime you need to, as in you MUST, be gentle with yourself, have compassion for how hard this transition is. This event, this loss of your father, this will happen ONCE In your lifetime. Give it its just due.” Thank God for them. For the lifeline into kindness.
Part of that road was coming to realize that I was wrestling with depression. In that place where I really didn’t give a damn about anything – I had stopped being IN the world, I had isolated, reduced social contact (reasons I give for that is that the world is fairly grief literate, and the number of well-meaning people who were surprised that I was still in pain made it hard to take the chance that I might get “one of those” and so staying away from everyone seemed easier). Being woken up by panic attacks each morning at 5am didn’t help.
So what’s a gal to do? Here’s what I did:
- Got a counselor (well, I went through a couple before I found one that worked for me, fit is as important in counseling as it is in coaching!!)
- Started reaching out to friends and asking for help, asking to co-work with people, creating more community
- Read a lot of spiritually-oriented material, that inspired (and gave permission for) me to be present and focus on the good stuff
- Created new memories and new rituals – who can forget the picnic and nap I had on my dad’s birthday at his gravesite? It was a perfect day
- Made space for myself and my grief. Like a lot of space. Carved out whole months where I did nothing but “be”, and let my heart pull me to what was next each day
- Put into active practise one of my dad’s bit of counsel that he regularly issued to me: Go Easy. And by that he meant … Go easy on yourself (he said it so many times to me, we eventually moved to the short hand version)
That all helped, and I am happy to say I feel on the mend, now, a year later.
And what advice would I give to those who will someday go through this (and that is pretty much all of us):
- Be gentle with yourself
- Be gentle with the people around you (as much as you can). They are going through their stuff, too. In fact reach beyond your family for support, to those who are not having a parallel grief journey.
- Give yourself time. There is no quick fix with grief.
- Surround yourself with compassionate people who have room for you to be messy, raw, unknowing, and confused.
- Find a good counselor, or at the least a safe and trusted friend that you can say all of it to.
- Ask for the support you need – from having someone stroke your hair while you cry in their lap, to someone helping you get groceries, to not being alone for a evening.
- Try not to isolate. Being alone only helps so much. Then we need compassionate company.
- Keep up your healthy, daily habits, whatever they be, from reading inspiring stuff, to walking in nature, to being around people you enjoy.
Did I mention: be gentle with yourself. Remember, if you are getting out of bed in the morning, you are doing well (that little nugget has really helped me).
When I read over my tribute to him from almost a year ago, I can’t help but be moved, as always, by this quote…
Ok, over to you:
What are some ways you’ve worked through grief? What was most helpful for you?