The Tale of the Grieving
Breathe. Smile. Pretend everything is fine. Breathe. Smile. Pretend everything is fine.
This has been my mantra, every single morning since the night of May 31st, when my father passed away from a sudden heart attack. I shouldn’t have to have a mantra that portrays the sentiment of being something I’m not … but to be perfectly honest, staying the way I feel right now would not be a healthy way for me.
SO … I CHOOSE THIS.
I choose to go out into the world and say this mantra as many times as I can and be a woman who has lost her father and is clutching at all the fuckin straws as I attempt to figure out how to be this new version of myself.
It’s a strange feeling being a grieving person. You feel like you are part of this exclusive club … one where the membership fees are paid in tears spilled and memories you desperately cling to.
It’s this state of being that isn’t visible to anyone around you of course and that sometimes becomes the problem when you want to scream and cry and shake your fists at someone … anyone … because you are hurting. But what good would that do? That won’t bring my dad back.
And so, you continue with life and you aren’t really sure how to nail that either.
Over the past three months, one thing has become crystal clear to me and that is how ill-equipped people are dealing with grief and/or communicating with someone who is grieving. It’s been almost comical at times to see this shortcoming.
I know people don’t know what to say. You can see it in their eyes as they toss-up between throwing a tried and true:
“time heals all things”, “he’s in a better place” cliché at you.
telling you point blank … “oh we don’t need to talk about it” (because they can’t talk about it).
whether they choose the path of least ickyness and just avoid the topic altogether.
To be honest though … it’s ok not to know what to say and if you don’t know what to say … that’s the best thing in the world you CAN say. It goes down much easier than platitudes or avoidance.
Equally, if you and grief are kind of already friends … it’s ok to talk about it too. I want to hear your stories. I want to hear how your heart feels and how you have survived without this person who was part of you. It helps. I promise it helps.
I think in all other aspects of our life, we are so good at reading those social cues that we have been taught along the way. But for some reason, because grief is a club you definitely get initiated into … the “how to manual” on grief is ever changing.
I want to talk about my Dad.
He wasn’t perfect, he had his quirks and shortcomings, but he was mine and I learned a hell of a lot from him over the years. I feel like my time with him has been cut so prematurely short and THAT … that is the hole in my heart that I won’t ever be able to fill and THAT makes me feel this range of emotions that can be scary sometimes. It’s not the looking back that hurts … it’s the looking forward that cripples me.
He won’t be there to watch my kids hit beautiful and impactful milestones.
He won’t be there if my brothers decide to marry.
He won’t be there when/if my marriage hits a rocky road and I want his advice and guidance.
HE WON’T BE THERE.
I don’t mind if people ask me about my Dad. I don’t mind if people ask me how I am feeling. I welcome it. In fact, a friend asked me recently … “was your dad happy” and the question was so unexpected, I found myself sobbing with this sense of joy and release at being able to talk about him and being able to talk to someone about what he meant to me. There’s so much catharsis in that. Yes, asking about him may result in said flood of emotion, but what’s a few tears spilled. It’s just salty water, right?
You see … what people don’t realise is that when you enter the grief club (and I’m speaking in particular about the, “I lost a parent” club but it’s equally applicable to any kind of grief), it’s a very long and very lonely road.
It’s a road that only others who have walked in some kind of parallel world can ever understand. And as a member of this shitty yet beautiful club, you are trying every single damn day to manage your grief; and I use that word “manage” very deliberately.
You are not trying to make it go away because that’s just a fool’s errand and won’t work. You aren’t trying to quieten it because like Trump … it’s a slimy son of a bitch and it somehow just keeps creeping in. You are managing it as best as you can.
But then you also get the added bonus of managing everyone else’s reactions to YOUR grief. And I find that this takes the most work. This is what drains the life force out of you and makes you start to feel resentful to people and it’s not a nice feeling to have.
You make constant flowing conversation, always focussing on asking the other person questions so that there is never a moment of silence where that person is forced to address the grief elephant in the room.
You talk about happy things and happy places because you know that this person cannot comprehend a world where you are SO DAMN SAD EVERY DAY. You start raising the topic yourself in a very non-chalant “oh yeh grief is so last year” kind of way in an effort to mask how hurt you are and the person doesn’t feel awkward about having to console you.
You know the saying … laugh at yourself before others laugh at you. I’ve done that a lot. “Oh yeh, my dad died and I’m fine. You know how it is. Parents get old. How’s the family Tina???”
And it’s just SO FUCKING EXHAUSTING. All of it.
I know there are friends of mine who love me beyond measure but who are also just the slightest bit over me talking about how sad I am. I know that as much as they say “we are here for you any time, always, no matter what” there are limits and I can only take up a certain amount of my “Dilhari is sad grief quota”. And I’m not being judgmental or critical here about that fact.
Like I said earlier, grief is a long and lonely road and sometimes, as much as you think you can talk to the people who love you all the time, you know there are moments where the hard work is only something YOU can do and those friends need to fill their cups elsewhere.
Now let’s be clear. I’m not saying I’m not functioning right now. Quite the contrary. For all intents and purposes, I am fine. I have a roof over my head, jobs I am great at, kids who are magnificent and a husband who would move mountains for me. And that is enough.
But remember that hole I told you about? The hole that formed when that person who was a part of me left? THAT MOTHER FUCKIN HOLE? Well … it’s always there in some capacity. And I am told, being a newbie to the grief club … that it never goes away, it just shrinks with time and starts to not cause as many daily disruptions. I’m looking forward to that day.
But … I am not there yet. I am just three months in and I still have moments where the thought of what I have lost makes me gasp for air. I have moments where I sob because the weight of not having my Dad be part of my life comes crashing down on me. I have moments where I stare into space thinking … surely this isn’t real. Surely I am dreaming.
Won’t someone just wake me up???
And all those things I am slowly realising are all part of the road ahead. Over the years I have watched some of my closest people lose their parents. I was there for them. I sobbed with them. I picked them up when they just couldn’t do it themselves. I supported them as best I could. But in all honesty, I did not fully appreciate the gravity of what they were feeling.
Now … I GET IT.
I have married so many epic couples and a large proportion of them have told me they have lost a parent. I have sat with them and held their hands. I have brainstormed ways to honour their loved ones in the ceremony. I have shed tears with them on the day as they start a new chapter with that “hole” ever present and again, I did not fully appreciate the gravity of what they were feeling.
Now … I GET IT.
And maybe … that’s the lesson that I am meant to learn in all this shitty mcshitness swirling around. I am meant to be the person that GETS IT and can support my friends, my family, my couples in celebrating and living their lives as best they can, but with this “hole”; this lifetime membership to the grief club.
Maybe … I am meant to be the person that reminds them that just because they are starting new adventures and revelling in new joys in life … does not mean for one second they aren’t honouring their loved one. It does not mean that their loved one can’t be a part of those moments.
Maybe, I am meant to remind people that we are all connected and no matter what we believe … we hold fragments of those loved ones in us. Always.
I miss my Dad very much.
That statement, even writing it, seems so woefully inadequate for the depth of what I feel. I would give anything to hug him, laugh with him or just talk to him one last time. I just want to hear his voice. I think I will forever wish those things.
But, I hope that when those spectacular moments in my life come, and they will, in many shapes and forms, as they do for everyone … I will remember with absolute clarity that he is with me. The voice in my head. The air in my lungs. The love in my heart. He is there and boy does he have the greatest view of all.
Big love to the wonderful patient Natalija from We Are All Stardust for the last family photos, which have now become priceless.