My dad died recently, but I lost him a long time ago.
It has been over 25 years since I have truly had a relationship with my dad. During my late teens and early 20’s, during some of the hardest time of my life, that is when I had my dad. We were able to share stories, support one another, and forge a relationship out of a difficult family environment.
Growing up, my parent’s relationships was stained at best, my mother controlling and what we did not realize then, in the grip of mental illness. She left when I was 16, it was then that I truly was able to have a relationship with my dad. It was like coming out of a fog and we were able to relate and connect with one another. But time and changes continued, and the fog returned, dividing him from me again. There were times where we tried to push through and have the relationship that we both knew we could, but it was too difficult to navigate the murk around us.
It is this aspect that I feel a deep sense of grief around. The true loss is not recent, it has been on going, the loss of a parent I only had in brief ways.
As I consider my grief, I see years of denial, acceptance and anger swirling around each other. Even times of bargaining where I tried to figure out what it would take, what I would have to give up in order to have a relationship with him. Sitting at his memorial service it all hit, like a ton of bricks. Hearing about the moments and people he shared a life with for 25 years, 25 years that I was denied……… I have been grieving for year, not weeks.
So how do I manage this? It is more than the passing of parent, more than the loss of future times together, but it is the loss of something never had, something robbed from me before I even knew I had it.
This is where the self-love comes in. My strong rational mind is no match for this overwhelming hurt and loss. It is the strong and rational mind that has helped me navigate these past years, but now is the time to grieve.
Pausing and celebrating my dad during his memorial service was one part of this process. Being able to remember the times when I had him in my life, hearing from those that were touched by my dad’s presence and then squarely facing the truth of what had kept him from me helped tremendously.
What followed was a cathartic wailing of hurt and anger. I think we underestimate the value of deep, full, releasing crying and yelling. When there is no need to rationalize, compartmentalize or explain away the feelings, the truth. Where we get to say out loud things that are hard to acknowledge and even harder to confront. We should do this more often. But we should not do it alone.
Being able to be vulnerable and let every guard down in the company and support of someone that will sit there, in the emotion of it all, that is a sacred space. Having someone to just be there, not saying anything, not explaining, just expressing a presence of care and strength. I am so grateful to have that someone who hears, understands and knows there is nothing needed to be said beyond a reflection of my experience. My hope is that you all find that someone for you.
Breathe. Talk. Share. Celebrate. Laugh. Cry. Yell. Repeat.
It is not one and done. It is a process, one that might go on longer than expected. Being in the moment with yourself is a great gift of self-love.
As I write this it is only one week from the memorial and two weeks since my dad’s passing. And I realize that I am in the depressed stage of the grieving process. I have been saying all week how tired I am, that I cannot seem to get motivated, I have not exercised or been eating well. I want to watch TV all the time and just sit and check out. The voice in my head is saying DUH! Yet, I want to be done, back to myself. It is almost laughable that I be ‘done’. Years of loss will not be comforted in two weeks. And I am saying to myself more than you, ‘and that is okay’.
Acts of self-love in grief is not about trying to tidy up the messy emotions. It is about being in them, with care and grace for ourselves. Acts of self-love will give us the time and space to process our loss and see the truth. If I have a practice of self-love, I can use the things I have in place, writing being one of them, to process these moments and care for myself. And then choose a healthy meal, and go for a walk, sit and be still, pray, cry, reach out to a friend, pet my dog and…. Breathe. Talk. Share. Celebrate. Laugh. Cry. Yell. Repeat.
I know things about my dad, he was quick with a smile, knew the balance between getting things done and just relaxing, he did not have to have everything be just perfect but wanted to have things nice for us. He was compassionate, sensitive, and nurturing to his best ability.
Today my act of self-love is knowing my dad is that someone who was and would be and is present here with me in my grief.
Written by Sarah Weisbarth
Sarah has been in a wide variety of roles over the course of her career. For 18 years Sarah worked in health care doing program development and implementation as well as business ownership and promotion. Making a career shift to follow her purpose, Sarah has followed her passions as a life coach and program planner. Service is at the heart of Sarah’s involvements both professionally and through volunteer endeavors. She works with organizations that support youth, women and young girls, and families. She is committed to helping people understand their potential and live it out loud in whatever they do.