I have never written or wanted to write a blog in my entire life. That was until I came across a blog titled “What’s It’s Really like to Lose a Parent.” This article was full of negativity. It made it sound like people who were grieving were always mad at the world, or worse, mad at God and there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make them feel better. I am writing this in response to that blog. This is my replay of this past year. If this post is helpful to anyone who is going through their “first” year of grieving a death close to their heart, please feel free to share.
What? Say that again? Shock crept up my legs and hit me with a volt to my heart. This isn’t happening?? What do you mean the doctors are out of answers? What do you mean he has days to live? Yesterday they decided dad would go through another chemo treatment? Dad agreed to it. It had to work! It always had before. As I answered the call from my mom, tears flooded my eyes. It’s all unclear from then until I pulled into the parking lot at OSU Cancer Hospital. Somehow I had managed to grab my purse and coat, run down the school hallway and stumble into my principal’s office. I looked at him and said I was leaving and I wasn’t sure when I would return. Most principals would ask a million questions and wonder why I was crying. This one didn’t. He grabbed his keys and with the counselor’s help, got me to my husband’s (fiancé at the time) work.
I rattled off what felt like 50 rosaries by the time Derek’s car pulled into the Columbus parking garage. I knew exactly the route through the hospital to get to dad’s floor. Unfortunately, I knew my way around OSU Cancer Hospital a little more than I would like to admit. I wasn’t even sure what to say to dad. I wasn’t sure what visitors were at the hospital. I wasn’t sure who all mom called, but as I walked into his room, he simply smiled at me and said “Sorry for making you leave work early!” I couldn’t help, but break a smile. Like how could he make joke at this time?!
I grabbed a chair and pulled it close to his bedside as I always did when I visited in the hospital. Although he was my dad, it’s actually really really hard to know what to say to someone on their last few days. I replied with the only thing I could think of: “Dad, you’re so strong.” He replied “I know.” Now if any of you know my dad’s humor, you know he said this to be funny.
Eventually, we had a group of people around my dad’s bed, included was my brother and his wife.
(Two people have gone to heaven in this photo—My dad and his first grandchild. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting a baby due December 2016!)
Mom decided it would be a good idea if my brother, Steven and I had a conversation with my dad in private—You know to discuss any last major things he or we wanted to share. And if any of you know my brother, you know he’s not real emotional, UNLESS it hits home and then he’s really emotional. This conversation between us three made us laugh, made us cry, and made us hash out any questions we had. We decided that Steven would walk me down the aisle. Side note- Not having my dad there on Derek and I’s wedding day was one of the hardest things to swallow. He loved Derek. I would have done anything for him to be there, but this is just another example of how our plan isn’t always God’s. I’ll get back to that topic at the end.
We made a decision that dad was considered a “Grandpa” already because my sister-in-law was expecting. This conversation was needed and anyone going through a journey similar, should definitely make time for private conversations.
The following day, we got moved to Hospice of Dayton (phenomenal staff and awesome hospitality, by the way!!) We had a few more of those private conversations I talked about earlier. All filled with my dad’s wisdom and guidance. He said he really enjoyed having Derek in our family and decided we should call him “DK” because it sounds cool. We also chatted about our jobs and what it’s like to have good morals. Dad told me “If you ever don’t like teaching, get out of that field. Don’t be a teacher who hates her job, nobody likes those kind.” That’s pretty solid advice.
I was able to show my dad my wedding dress. I spun around in his little Hospice room wearing my long white Cinderella dress and asked “Dad, how do I look?!” And do you know what he said?? He said “You look as good as you want to look!” That was my dad’s humor sneaking in again when I needed it the most. Tears filled my eyes and I just smiled back at him.
Six days after we were told the news that my dad had days to live, he peacefully received his angel wings and went to heaven. Some people ask me what I was feeling right at that moment. That moment I saw him takes his last breathe, an experience I’ve never experience before. To be completely honest, I first felt peace. We had watched him suffer, not only for 5 days, but off and on for 6.5 years. I was to the point where I wanted my dad to be cancer free. I wanted him to be free of pain. I wanted him to be an angel. Some people would disagree with me, but I couldn’t see him suffer any longer, it wasn’t fair to him (or to the rest of the family) for us to see him like that. Unfortunately, those memories sneak in, but I always try to remember the healthy dad. The coach and mentor, that one was my favorite.
Peace wasn’t all I felt that day. We drove home. I walked into the family room from our garage and once again shock filled me, just as it had when my mom first called me. My dad wasn’t sitting in “his recliner.” He wasn’t there to greet us. Yes, we are home, but we are missing someone. It feels uncomfortable. It was our new “normal” and I needed to get used to it. I never believed people fully when they said “but he’s still with you in heart” – Like I know you’re trying to make me feel better, but let’s be honest, it’s not the same thing. I live every day with my dad in my head and heart, but it’s not like I wouldn’t beg for one more conversation, one more hug, one more laugh. One of the hardest parts about losing someone, isn’t having to say goodbye, it’s learning to live without them. With lack of a better term- it sucks.
At my dad’s funeral, the priest told me that losing a parent or spouse could be described as this: hurting so much that the inner pain you feel could literally kill you. Without being over dramatic, this is true. It’s not like breaking up with a boyfriend or losing a pet dog. If you’ve never felt pain coming from within that no doctor or medicine could fix, I wouldn’t wish it upon you. It was like a virus—I needed it to run its course until it no longer had such a strong sting. I don’t think a day will come when that sting will ever fully go away. In my opinion, as a Christian, you don’t truly understand what your faith is all about until you lose someone close to you. When you think about it, your entire Christian faith is based around death. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t have been able to endure my hardest days. I was comforted for two reasons: 1. My dad met Jesus. How awesome is that?? I can’t possibly be sad about that. 2. I knew I was going to get through my heartache because I believe in a God who heals people of their pain. One day, I will meet Jesus in heaven. That is why I will not be afraid of death and the reason my dad went so peacefully. Let’s put it this way, I’d rather believe in heaven and eternal life and be wrong than not believe in it and be wrong. It’s your choice.
Have you ever heard the song titled “Thy Will Be Done”? If you haven’t, this is your personal invitation to look it up! (Hillary Scott is amazing!!) My favorite lyrics are these:
“I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I've got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done.”
These lyrics constantly go through my head in everything I do. I won’t understand it all the time, but my God gave my father eternal life. And one day, I will join him, forever. God is good, no matter your circumstance. There is no way that God would actually take my father from this earth too soon, before it was his “time.” They all say “All is perfect in God’s timing.” November 2, 2015 was my dad’s time. It was time for him to say goodbye. It was time for him to spend eternal life with Jesus Christ… Cancer-free.
P.S.-Sorry for all the run-on sentences—my dad always proofread my work and now I’m left to do it by myself ;)
In conclusion, I would like to make it clear to anyone going through their own grieving of some sort. It’s not a process, it’s a journey. I promise you, no one will be going through it the same way you are, even if you are grieving the same person. Don’t let anyone tell you “I know how you feel” or “it’s going to be fine.” 1. They don’t know how you feel and 2. It will be fine, one day, but not now. Take your time through this journey and do not rush. I am almost a year through and I still have a long way to go. I am here to tell you, you won’t ever “get over it” or “move on.” You simply learn to live your life around the hole in your heart. It’s possible. You can make it. And you will.