Grief gets you. I mean, it really gets you. You think you've finally crossed the threshold of pain, and bam, you're right back where you started.
See, I'm no expert, but I have experienced great loss, and I've come to discover that grief truly has no solid ending. You've probably read about it coming in waves; this is a perfect analogy. You feel the impact of the wave crashing on you in the very beginning...pretty much every moment of every day. If you're lucky, after a few months, you learn to ride the waves a bit, only experiencing a fraction of its impact. As time progresses, the strength of the water decreases for a few days, sometimes a few weeks, but the storm brews on and the pressure picks up again, and waves come crashing back down when you least expect it. It could be a sound. It could be a fragrance. It could literally be the weather itself. Eventually the waves transition from painful bursts of almost damaging water and wind, to a calmer, breezier experience; one where you can almost enjoy the breeze and the view. On these days, you focus more on the happy memories and less on the loss, but the pain of the loss never fully deteriorates. This is grief.
Vikki Harrison describes grief in this light. She explains, "Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim."
Just like its various stages, different losses often lead to different levels of grief. I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to lose a spouse or a child. I'm certain that's an entirely different kind of pain, but I do know what it's like to lose a grandparent and a parent, and trust me, it's no easy feat.
It breaks you.
It digs in to the very core of your being.
It's a lonely pain because your experience is different than the other family members and its different from the friends of the loved one. In my case, I felt robbed. I felt an absence that my children would feel for the rest of their life.
Time was stolen...and I wanted (want) it (him) back. As if the pain of such a devastating loss isn't enough...
I developed a genuine fear of basically everything.
I do not trust a doctor's first opinion.
I have little faith in our VA hospitals and care.
I'm worried that every cold will develop into a deadly flu or pneumonia.
I'm concerned that every mark on my body or my family's body is potentially cancerous.
I fear I'll fall asleep before I have a chance to pray and my lack of prayer will negatively impact someone who needs that extra prayer.
I blame myself for not fighting harder for my dad. It's a lot to carry alone.
So am I through the stages of grief after almost a year and a half? Not really. Are the waves more infrequent. Yes.
Beau Taplin, in T h e M o n s t e r O f Grief shared, "Child, you cannot escape your grief. You can try to drown it in distractions, numb it with your vices, or even pretend it isn’t there at all, sooner or later, it will spring back out of its hiding place and demand you stand and face it."
How do I get through the grief?
I honor him.
I speak his name.
I share his words and stories.
I keep him alive.
How do I do this?
I love a little deeper.
I forgive a little quicker.
I apologize a little faster.
I put great effort in to being a good person.
Everyday I say hello or good morning to my dad's picture in the kitchen. I make promises to that picture. I tell him I'm trying. It makes me feel better somehow.
I have a prayer garden for him. This is (the garden's) second summer at our new home...the home we moved into two weeks before he died. The home he was so proud of, but didn't get to spend time in with us. The garden is filled with things he loved. Little frogs and lizards like to make their home there. For some reason this pleases me.
I visit his grave and decorate it each time I go home. I usually go alone and talk to him.
I have a Christmas tree donated in his honor at the hospital where we spent his last Thanksgiving and Christmas. I decorate it with things that he liked...including the family truckster from Lampoon's Vacation. 😊
I have my own special Christmas tree to honor him every year. It has a chair sitting under it to demonstrate his chair is open and he is still with us during the holidays. I leave an empty chair at the holiday dinner table.
He's in every room, as he requested, (except for the bathrooms). This was an inside joke between my dad and my husband.
I do my best to go to church and to engage in fellowship with others. He asked me to make certain my children were saved. He wants to see us again.
I wrote his eulogy. I'm still not over that moment, but I could hear him saying in my head "How does she do that?" He was very proud of my writing.
My story most likely doesn't impact you personally, and that's okay, but isn't it somewhat comforting to know you're not alone? You can't hide from grief. The only way to deal with the waves is first to accept it, and secondly, to face it. I'd drive myself crazy if I spent the rest of my life avoiding the inevitable.
He's gone. It's not fair. Cancer sucks.
So we, my children and myself, keep him alive. That's our solution to facing the waves. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to feel. It's okay to keep him alive in our lives...in our thoughts...in our home.
I believe the little cardinal that shoots in front of my car every morning is him. I believe he visits the tree in the front yard in my eye line when I'm sitting on the porch. I still believe he protects us when I ask.
Death and grief require us to return to a time when fairytales were real, so we can believe, with a childlike awareness, that dreams do come true...that there's a reason for our loss and our pain, and that one glorious day, we will see our loved ones again. The waves come and go, but the loss will be felt for the rest of my life.
I choose to be more, to give more, and to love more. I choose to be the best version of myself in his honor. And on most recent days, I ride the wave, smile a little more, cry a little less, always knowing, he's never far from my heart.
XOXO ❤🌊 Heather