One year, one month, and seventeen days ago, my father passed away from complications with radiation from cancer. We watched him struggle for a few years as his health rapidly declined. He struggled for air, his kidneys began to shut down, and even his heart began to suffer. Death was not easy or slow. So when he died, in the beginning it was almost a relief - he wasn’t in pain anymore. But as time went on, the pain got worse. I know I’m not alone in this. My family and I still talk about him constantly. My mother and father were soulmates, truly in love after 32 years together, and losing him was like losing a part of herself. My sister still sends us old texts dad sent to her, really funny ones that make me laugh. But I’ve learned a lot from this process, and I’d like to share it.
You can think you’re fine, and then realize you aren’t at all.
Grief moves in stages. I spent a lot of the time angry and in a state of disbelief, or numb. I’d think I was fine and then something would trigger me: a song, a movie, an old Facebook memory, and it would be back to the beginning again. I’ve learned not to shut down that anger and sadness. I’ve learned to let it run through me. I’ve learned to write it out, and cry, and scream.
Be patient with yourself.
You have to give yourself time. There’s not a timeline with grief. I thought for so long that after a year I would be ok, that I would be fine and able to look at photos without feeling an ache in my chest, or anger that he isn’t here, or the fiery need to smash a mirror with my fists so I can look as broken as I feel. I have to remember that everyone heals differently, and this is my journey.
Seek help. After my father died, and I moved to a new city, I finally realized I wasn’t healing. I found a therapist. She has helped me track my moods, and my reasons for doing certain things. She has let me talk it out and cry when I need to, or talk about him and laugh as I remember the good times we had. I also found a psychiatrist and got back on antidepressants, something I very much had to do at the time. Even my mother finally sought a grief counselor and found a grief group. For some people, religion helps too. I fully support anything that helps you.
Don’t suppress or shut down your feelings. Our country doesn’t allow for many bereavement days, as it is now. My mother, my sister and I immediately went back to work, and so we were unable to properly work through our grief. We jumped right back into the rat race and so we didn’t have time to sit with our grief and process it. It is finally now, as we have time due to Covid19, that we are able to grieve silently and fully. If you have the chance to take some time off afterwards, please do. It will make it better for you and everyone around you in the long run. Eventually, you start healing.
Not in a day, a month, or even a year. But eventually, it will start to get easier. You’ll be able to talk about him without crying. You won’t need to listen to the voicemails everyday. You won’t go to psychics as often as you can afford just to make sure he’s ok (I know not all people do this last one, but my mother and I did). You’ll feel the hole in your heart begin to scab over, a new scar you won’t be able to unsee. But one you’ll be able to live with. I promise it will happen eventually, and even if that scar sometimes gets ripped open, it will heal again and again and again. Just believe in that.
Grief is a journey, and I’m just on the beginning of that path. I’ll turn around, and go off course, and even stand completely still on some days. But I’m walking that path to being okay again, because I know that’s what my father would have wanted.