I hope you can help me. I’ve been in a transition period after my father died and am concerned that something is wrong with me. I can’t seem to restart my life. The funny thing is I dreamed of this day of no longer having to care for him and live my own life again. Nothing I do feels right. It’s been 14 months since his death and assumed this would all be over in a year, or at least that’s how long everyone told me it would take. Is there something I am doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me? He lived a good life. I have no regrets in caring for him. Can you help me?
Signed, He’s Dead, I Want to Live
Dear He’s Dead, I Want to Live,
Can I quote a Tom Petty song? “The waiting is the hardest part.”
We are conditioned, in this instant download world, to have everything our heart’s desire, RIGHT NOW. However, we aren’t created out of an instant download. We are humans who’ve evolved over millions of years. We are slow. Things take time. We have no other choice but to deal with this.
Loss is not an easy thing to experience. It hits us in a complicated place within our heart. People stay with us. Memories haunt us. We meet people we will never forget.
And, that is a wonderful thing.
Welcome to the tunnel. “Huh?” I can hear you saying. Yes, a tunnel. Think of a tunnel, specifically being in the middle of a tunnel that you’ve never been in before and have no idea how long it will be before you see the light of day again. You are at the point in the tunnel that you can’t see where you’ve entered, and you can’t yet see where you’ll exit. You are in the tunnel. How will you get out? Well, you have to keep driving. Eventually, you’ll reach the end. There is no such thing as a tunnel that goes on forever. You are in a grief tunnel, and it’s possible it will be very long, and the weather might be a bit different on the other end than the way it was when you entered. And, that’s okay. Of course, it will be different, you will be in a new place, a new land, a new you that is just a bit different than the you that entered.
I’m all about living in a state of mindful presence. I believe keeping our minds in the past or the future, neither of which exist, is the cause of suffering. That stated, I am a sentimental fool. I live in a house that shelters five people and only own five new store-bought pieces of furniture. I call it Decorating By Dead Relatives because everything is handed down by you guessed it, dead relatives. The memories of those who’ve gone before me literally surround me. It’s at once comforting and disturbing. I wistfully look at Crate & Barrel catalogs and wonder who buys all new furniture. Do those customers not have dead relatives?
You mention “everyone” telling you the grief process would take a precise twelve months. At the risk of making a bold blanket statement, they are all liars or don’t don’t care enough about you to find enough time to sit and tell you about the finer nuances of what happens after someone we love is no longer with us. But, I could be wrong, or they could be Crate & Barrel customers.
Grief never ends; it changes. It turns into something we haven’t completely felt and carries the echoes what was once felt. It’s new, and it’s old, and it’s still annoying because it’s still here.
Since you’ve asked for my two cents, I’m obliged to give it. When the moments of fear arise and have you feeling you aren’t where you are “supposed to be” because a memory has triggered this guilt trip, consider turning the story from loss to gain. Yes, that person is gone, but what still remains? In my case, it’s tons of furniture. For you, it might be the happy memories that you decide to bring into your day. I can’t help but celebrate my mother as I stand in the checkout line at a TJ Maxx, knowing her love for a bargain and her love for the store (which is a little less than the love a friend of mine has who has sworn me to fulfilling her wish of spreading her ashes in the corners of both her local TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores). I could cry as I walk through the aisles or smile as I remember her doing this very same thing.
Ultimately, in everything we gain, we lose something. And, in everything we lose, we gain something. It becomes a matter of perspective. What perspective do you have on your loss and is it making you cry or smile?
And, for the love of you, there is nothing wrong with you. Miss your dad and live your life with a vengeance, I’m fairly certain he’d want nothing but happiness for you.
CLICK HERE and listen to the fabulous Beth Marshall as she talks about ways of honoring those we’ve lost, especially on those big event days. Like life, she’s at once able to sit us in the sad and happy, the sentimental and hilarious. Because, after all, isn’t that life, everything all at once?