22 Sep 10 Things I’ve Learned from 12 Years of Loss
Today marks 12 years since my father died.
It feels like yesterday, but it also feels like 100 years ago. This year is particularly hard. I keep wanting to call him and ask his opinion on Covid. I want to show him pictures of my youngest’s high school graduation and talk to him about my twins starting university. I want to remind him about the tour of the McGill campus he took me on just before I started there and ask him to do the same with my daughter. I want to tell him that his grandson is following in his footsteps at medical school. So many changes, so many beginnings. I want to fill him in on everything he’s missed and see him light up with joy and pride.
But as my friend reminded me this morning, he knows.
He’s with his grandchildren and he’s helped them on their paths. And I also do my best to honour his memory every day.
So today, to mark 12 years, I’ve reflected on how much I’ve learned since he died and know that wherever he is, he’s extra proud and sharing it with all of the other terribly missed and wonderful dads and moms who are no longer with us-
- I’m at peace about the night he died. For years, I had nightmares about the last night my father was alive and regretted that it was my last memory of him. My family had gathered at his hospital bedside and rather than the peaceful movie scene ending I’d been expecting, his passing felt traumatic. Over time I’ve come to realize that I’m glad I was there. And while it was awful for all of us, I believe he felt comforted by our presence. I changed my focus from how that night made me feel to how it made him feel. And from that moment on, the nightmares stopped and I felt at peace.
- I’m happy when I see you with your dad!! For a long time, I felt angry and jealous when my friends would talk to me about their fathers. I could barely listen to stories about family gatherings and birthday celebrations. And then I felt like a terrible person. I’ve let go of that self-judgement though, and while I still sometimes feel a pang of jealousy, I can acknowledge that it’s a normal feeling and doesn’t mean I begrudge anyone their relationships with their dads. I just wish mine was still around too.
- I don’t see him through rose-coloured glasses. It was difficult for me to think of my father as anything but perfect. Anytime a not-so-pretty memory arose, I’d feel guilty and disrespectful and push it away into the far corners of my brain. Time has allowed me to gain some perspective and acknowledge that my father was a flawed human being, just like we all are. Accepting that doesn’t make me a bad daughter. It makes me a daughter who loved her dad as perfectly imperfect.
- Losing my father doesn’t mean I don’t get road rage. Allow me to explain: yes, experiencing a terrible loss can give you a good sense of perspective. Maybe you don’t get as upset over the things that used to bother you before your loss. Maybe you’ve learned what’s truly important and worth your energy. However, life is full of aggravations and annoyances and it’s ok to get mad at someone who cut you off. That doesn’t take away from the significance of your loss. It just makes you human.
- By the same token, I’ve become much better at listening to and validating my friends and family when they’re upset. I used to feel like nothing compared to death, and was impatient with run of the mill complaints and problems. I know now that it’s a privilege to complain about the small things and to be able to support a friend through both the minor and major events that life throws at us.
- I can watch videos of my dad without collapsing into a puddle of tears. It took YEARS for me to be able to see him in motion or listen to his voice. And while it’s never easy, I feel lucky to have access to him on screen whenever I need.
- He’s around. There are moments when I feel his presence so strongly that I feel like I’ll see him if I turn my head. Other times, an obscure song he loved comes on the radio or I’ll bump into someone I haven’t seen in years who shares a story about my dad. It took time for me to crawl out of my shell of grief and open myself to the signs, but now that I’m aware they bring me comfort and make me smile.
- It takes a village. For a long time, I felt like the people who understood my loss were few and far between. It was hard for me to talk about it. Over the years, I’ve learned that I can say to a friend, “I really miss my dad today”, and feel understood and supported, whether or not they’ve experienced their own loss. I couldn’t have gotten through the last 12 years without an incredible circle of friends and family who continue to accept the tears and listen to the stories and remind me that his memory is honoured in so many ways.
- The grief doesn’t go away, but it changes. It ebbs and flows. There are days that are sharp and painful. Others feel like a dull ache. But I don’t fight those feelings anymore. I let myself feel the bad days and try to honour my dad’s memory by doing something that would make him proud.
- I’m grateful for the memories I have, for the lessons he taught me, and for still learning so much from him – every day.
For those of you who celebrate, Shana Tova. May the new year bring you peace, health, an open mind an a full heart.