This post seems weird to write as I’ve been absent but I’m going to write it anyway. This last week has been hard. I’ve tried not to focus on my dad’s “death anniversary”, but its hard to not think back of the nights sleeping on a hospital floor, my last conversation with him, and the reality of it all. Even today, I still forget that his death is part of my reality. So towards the end of last week I put together all my thoughts, here it goes.
To me, it feels like his death was a long time ago. I think this is because deep down, I know that the dad i grew up to know and love, disappeared a long time ago due to his illnesses. I try not to think about it too long, because it makes me sad. I keep this photo album on my phone of pictures through the years and I have to go back farther than I would like to find photos from times when he wasn’t suffering. I then look at photos from the last recent years and I can’t even wrap my head around on how we made the best of it. How we planned, we traveled, we gave him the best life we could. Wouldn’t trade some of those travels these past few years, although they were trying at times, for anything.
I would love to tell you that a year after my dad physically left this earth that I’ve healed and I’m doing SUPER GREAT. But, that would be a lie. Whoever says “it get’s easier”– well, that hasn’t been the case for me. It has only gotten harder.
But if I said it’s all been depressing lifetime movie scenarios this past year, that would be a lie too. I continue to be grateful for the dad I had, as even on the hard days, I still stand on my own two feet and move forward. I live a good life. I am privileged to have the experiences I do and have good people around me who bring me happiness. I thank God every day my dad married my mom, because on the days I feel like I cannot stand, she carries me through phone calls, emojis, and snapchats. I thank God they gave me a sister, because no one inspires me to work as hard as she does and no one makes me laugh as hard as she does. The two of them make my life very wonderful and I recognize that I am incredibly lucky and fortunate.
My dad and I share many qualities and downfalls. Over the past year, I have really cherished those qualities and worked on the downfalls. My mom and sister would probably tell you I have a long way on those downfalls, but I’m thankful for them to because they keep my dad alive in conversation between us. There are days where I get really frustrated because I miss him for the reason that we are so similar in some qualities (AND DOWNFALLS) that no one else in my life really has or understands. It makes me feel isolated. It makes me feel not worthy. And I still haven’t found the answer to this.
Most days, I keep it together. I actually am surprised at how much I keep it together. There are days though, when I drive home from work, the time I used most days to call him, that I cannot breathe and i get this pang in my chest when I realize him being with me in spirit is not enough. It will never be enough. Sometimes I’ll be laying in bed trying to fall asleep and think about him suffering, think about never getting to talk to him, and hot tears stream down my face because good memories are not enough. They just aren’t.
I am constantly reminded that the photos I have of him of the memories are all I get and I spend a lot of energy reminding myself that it will have to be enough. I try to not be jealous of others and their fathers. Some days, this causes me to delete social media accounts or drink an extra G&T at the end of the day, other days I am more gracious and hit the like button because i have enough strength to be genuinely happy for them.
Sometimes, it’s hard for me to be in my hometown. Most of the time, it’s hard for me to be in our family’s house. I hate myself for the resentment I feel when I walk down an aisle in our hometown grocery store, randomly seeing people that I wished could have been there more for my dad. Sometimes I muster up the courage to have a conversation, other times I dart down another aisle hoping they didn’t see me. I hate that my dad’s ugly chair he picked out in our living room sits empty when I walk in the front door, instead of him sitting there yelling “HI EM!” when I walk in the door.
I’ve held firm to my belief that everyone’s grief is individually felt and dealt with. This has helped me become more conscious when listening to others talk about their sorrow, and allowed me to pause and reflect more appropriately than I may have in the past. I have learned more about what empathy really means this past year. I try really hard to appreciate when others are empathetic, even if their way of doing so makes them sound ridiculous or isn’t genuine. I try to tell myself that people who don’t know what to say, sometimes say the wrong thing, and it is better than those who say nothing at all. I have a lot of conversations about this with my mother over the past year about this and it has confirmed that she will always be a better, stronger person than I am. I make notes each conversation to be more like her and get over it. At the end of the day, I feel lucky for how many people check in on us, pray for us, and are there for us. I try to focus on this feeling instead of resenting those I feel could do better. Some days are better than others.
As i read over what I’ve written so far, I sound like an angry, resentful person who needs to stop throwing a pity party. So i also want to tell you that so many great things have happened this year and I made many great memories. My mom, sister, and I traveled several places together. I finally went to the Minnesota State Fair. We had a blast at the lake up north this summer. My family still has this awesome support system who is there for us. Our church is even hosting a blood drive in honor of my dad this next week. There is a lot to celebrate, and I’d like to think I celebrate a little harder because I know that it can all be taken away in the blink of an eye.
Of course, I did feel like most happy things I experienced in the past year could be defined as bittersweet. When something great happens, I often have this explosion of joy,and then this sinking feeling of I wish my dad was here to experience this with me. Buying a new car. Seeing friends get married or have babies and then thinking of my own future wedding and babies. Traveling with my mom and sister. Watching the Cubs. Yelling at the Iowa State Football team. Bittersweet has become my new normal and as I said before, its going to have to be enough.
Everytime I read a piece by someone who has gone through some sort of loss, I feel empowered. The pieces that empower me the most are those that make me feel normal by saying “you don’t have to be OK” “i resent people too” and “I cried about XYZ today, what about you?” I have a folder of Nora McInerny Purmort’s work on my computer and read it religiously. No one has made more lemonade out of lemons given in life than she has and her realism fuels my strength. I am grateful to her as a writer and person, I hope she knows just how many lives she has touched.
I’ve come to see beauty in a new way. Some of the most beautiful people I’ve met or discovered this past year, are people who go through hardship and instead of shy away from it, tackle head on. Many of the beautiful people were already in my life, I just see their beauty in a different way. I’ve seen friends blossom out of devastating breakups, losing their own parents, or dealing with anxiety.This gives me so much strength to see them be warriors.
Speaking of anxiety, it is crippling. I had no idea that this would be my biggest hurdle after my dad died. He would tell you that I was always a worry wort and that I needed to quit it. I worry about everything 1000x more since he died. Is my mom doing OK? Why isn’t she answering her phone? Where is my sister? Are they happy? Should I do more to be there for them? Am I a good family member? Are people talking about me that I’m grieving too much? Am I doing OK in my job? Should I even be doing this job? Am I happy? Why am I not happy?– ALL OF THIS, EVERY DAY.
Dude, the anxiety is so real. This is where I tell you one of the keys to my past year.
Therapy is the best money you will ever spend. It is worth every god damn penny. EVEN if you didn’t lose your dad at 27 and develop crazy anxiety, seeing a therapist may enrich your life in ways you were not aware of. I have kept a list of realizations seeing a therapist has help me come to and let me tell you, many of them have nothing to do with having a dead dad, even though this was the root of my visits. Who knew you could talk for an entire hour about a scenario 5 years ago that you haven’t thought about in years, that has nothing to do with your dead dad, or your anxiety, but clearly is impacting you and your relationship with someone close to you BECAUSE YOU RANT FOR AN HOUR ABOUT IT OUT OF NOWHERE.
In terms of my ACTUAL anxiety though, therapy has helped me crawl forward. And I mean it when I say crawl because this has been a hard fought journey for me. My therapist gives me tools to tackle my anxiety and sometimes they work and sometimes I forget about them and become a complete psycho. The thing that has been hardest for me to grasp is that I am always going to have to work on this, and like REALLY WORK on this. A lot of things in life came easy to me and I kid you not the first time I met with my therapist I said something along the lines of “I just need you to fix me so I can not feel like this anymore”. It doesn’t work like that. I have had people say to me (yes this really happened): why don’t you just work out more? isn’t that like therapy? It’s cheaper that way! And I am here to tell you that you should never ever say that to a friend who is dealing with shit. In fact, don’t say that to anyone ever. Seeing a licensed professional has helped me 1000% more than running on a damn trail. (Disclaimer: i still believe exercise is important).
So, if you are feel the need to talk about something (ANYTHING), I want to encourage you and tell you that its ok to see a professional. No one has to know but you, or, if you’re like me and tell everybody everything, you can blog about it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Seeing a therapist has been so beneficial for me and my mental health. You don’t have to spend big bucks or go every week. I go when needed, which has been about 4-5 times in the past year, and it has really helped. Please go. Please.
So back to where we’re at a year post dad dying. I’m especially grateful to friends who have known me “forever”, who knew my dad for years, who have grieved with me, and given me validation that my loss is real, because they feel it too. Friends who say to me, I still think of your dad every time I pick out whole wheat bread. Or friends who say, your dad’s class inspired me to be in science (this makes me cry, every god damn time). It is these friends have listened to me more than they have probably wanted to and I am forever grateful. They anchor me into the sane harbor and keep me away from boarding the crazy train.
There is this scene in the first Sex and The City movie when Carrie asks Samantha after the big breakup, “Will I ever truly laugh again?” and Samantha replies with “Yes. When Something Is Really, Really Funny”. Laughter has been the best medicine and while it took awhile, I finally truly laughed at things again. The majority of the time this happens, it is in response to my sister or my college roommates. Both of who I am indebted for many other reasons.
I am grateful for my small, but mighty group of friends (more accurately chosen little family) here in current life in Minnesota. Because if we are completely honest, it is them who kept me going for 95% of this past year. It is them that I saw day in and day out, even on the really hard days, and supported me even when I probably was not a great person to be around. They not only listen to me when I’m sad, but they remind me what is important in life and how to prioritize to be happier. And also how to be confident. I’ve never had a group of people where I’ve wanted to be like them more. Maybe that comes with having friends who have more life experience than you, I don’t know. But you know that cheesy quote that goes “Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive?”. That is what they are to me.
So here we are, moving forward into another year without him. In the grand scheme of things, I think that if I made it through the first year OK, I think the coming years will be OK too. We cannot change the past, we can only suck it up and make the best moving forward. So far “making the best of it and moving forward” has been pretty great, even if a piece of my world is missing. If you were too lazy to read this entire thing, I recapped what helped me get through this first year the most.
- As i mentioned before, I had a good dad, so I take comfort in feeling lucky for that.
- I have a really good Mom and a really good sister. This has been so important for me to have this solid foundation. For me while grieving and figuring my life out, I have relied on them for more than I probably should have. They show up. They’re real. And they still want to have fun while trying to move forward.
- Choosing to focus on relationships that are supportive is important. I’ve noticed that in the past year, I’m more attentive to friendships that have faded or are no longer the type of support I need and have worked to gracefully accept that and just focus on those who are. It is a work in progress, but necessary.
- Seeing a therapist. when needed, is beneficial.
- Remembering that happiness is a choice. In the end, the ball’s in our court. A fitting way to end a post about my favorite basketball coach.