4 Things I Learned about Grief after Losing my Father
Today is my father's 69th Birthday. Unfortunately God called him home 3 years ago. My father and I were very close and I cherished every moment spent with him. While I have come to accept my father no longer being here (for the most part), I still struggle with his passing. I've learned some things about grief since losing my father.
1. Grief looks different for everybody. While death is painful to us all, we don't handle it the same. There is no "correct" way to grieve. While some people find peace in going to the cemetery, the cemetery is a trigger for me. Every time I go to my father's grave, I cry. Something about seeing his headstone makes his death soooo real to me. On the other hand, I love seeing pictures of us together. My lock screen on my phone is a collage of photos. But I know some people who find it very difficult to look at photos of their loved ones who have passed away. Your grief won't look like someone else's. So if you're ever wondering why someone seems "to handle death well", it may just be that they have different triggers than you do.
2. You will always be in the grief cycle.
As you'll see in the chart, the grief cycle happens in stages. In the beginning it's shock and denial, then you go through a series of emotions. The last stage is adjustment and acceptance. One thing that has been made clear to me is that even though I have "adjusted and accepted" his death, I still experience all the emotions that are in between. My father died when I was 23 years old, about a month after I graduated from Graduate school. I often feel like we had so much more time to spend to together and it makes me angry. This often leads to my "tears and fears". I fear making decisions without his great advice sometimes. I still experience despair and depression around his death anniversary and birthday. So even though you may have come to grips with the loss of your loved one, the emotions will always be there.
3. Whether the death was expected or unexpected, the same emotions follow.
I used to think my father would die in a hospital for whatever reason. He didn't. He died at home unexpectedly. I always thought that it would've been easier if he'd been sick and I knew his passing was coming. But through my bonding with people who have lost parents, no matter how they went, it still hurts just the same. Death is final. So even when you see your loved ones going through pain and on that brink of taking their last breath, they are still living. They may not be 'themselves" or be able to communicate, but there is some comfort in the fact that they are alive. Sometimes I wondered if I had known he would pass, would it have been easier? I later realized how blessed I was to have last seen my father living in his right state of mind, not sick or in pain. I last saw him on Father's Day of 2014. We laughed, hugged, and talked. So my last memories with him were positive. Losing him so unexpectedly truly hurt. However, there's no way to prepare for the death of parent or someone extremely close to you.
4. Focus on the positives and good times
When my father passed, I was living in a different state than my father. We were only 3 hours apart. The week before his passing, he complained about some health issues but had a doctors appointment set for the following week. His appointment was set for a Tuesday, he died on Saturday. For awhile I carried around guilt and regret. I felt that if I would've been in my hometown, I could've took him sooner or even pressured him to go to the ER. I wondered what would have happened if I still lived in the area and not another state when he passed. After some time passed, I accepted that things happened the way that they were supposed to. More importantly, I couldn't change what happened so there was no need to beat myself up over it. I'm actual thankful that I lived 3 hours away when he passed. It gave me a little time to prepare to see my mom and other family members. Also, the day before he passed, we talked on the phone for about an hour. I ended up rushing him off the phone because I had something to do. But we ended with "I love you." I regretted hanging up so abruptly and would've talked to him all night if I knew it was our last time speaking. But I had to focus on the fact that our last words to each other were "I love you." This still comforts me during rough times.
Time will always go forward and you cannot change the past. While you may regret how you handled situations and things you've said, what's done is done. Don't continue to beat yourself up over something you can't change. Think about the moments of happiness.
**If you are having a difficult time processing the passing of a loved one, don't ever be embarrassed to seek counseling.**