I openly discuss the loss of my Mother and Grandmother in this space and I realized recently that I have rarely mentioned the death of my father. It is not because I do not think of him or feel the absence of him but rather it is difficult to remember the time he was in my life. However, before you begin to feel sorry for me, I need to note that it was his death at the young age of 40 that pointed me on the career and life path that I am on.
There is meaning in loss but often it takes years to discover/recognize or acknowledge what that meaning is. The death of my Dad and the years of grief that followed for me and my family lead me to the world of grief counseling. My own personal experiences have allowed me a different perspective than a counselor who has not experienced a personal loss. Experiencing the death of a parent at 10 allowed me to not be afraid of grief or death. At times I have worried that I have become too comfortable with it and after the death of my Mom, I purposely stepped away from grief counseling in order to allow myself to feel and heal my own wounds of grief.
Grief is the natural emotion that one feels after the loss of anything but especially after the death of a loved one. Within my family, I was able to witness the different types of grief and how no one experiences a loss in the same way. My family did many healthy things in coping with our grief and we did many things that we probably should not have. My two brothers each responded different to the loss of our father. Where I am very open in regards to my feelings and emotions and how I was changed, neither of them are as open. As our ages were varied at 17, 10 and 6, my siblings and I are also a perfect example of how loss affects children at different ages.
The lessons I learned from within my own family have allowed me to be a guide and counselor to others in their own grief journey. When I have worked with a family, I understand the struggle of a single parent trying to do everything that was once done with two. I remember the concern of a young child regarding what would happen to if the last surviving parent were to die.
My Dad’s death provided me with an empathy that I carry with me everyday.
My Dad’s death has allowed me the privilege of sitting beside those who are dying and walking alongside their families as they grieve.
My Dad’s death, as with any loss, has changed me.
At 40, I thought he was old when he died. Over the past few years, I have realized how little of life he was able to experience.
My Dad’s death has allowed me to realize that life is short and it needs to be lived. I don’t want to waste my own minutes, hours and days.
Sadly, at 10, I did not know my Dad as anything other than my Dad. He worked everyday, loved being outdoors, went to his parent’s farm every weekend, regularly called my Nanny, played ball with my brother, golfed with his friends. However, I don’t know what his favorite food was or his favorite song. I know he had some dreams he wasn’t able to achieve but he was on his way to becoming very successful.
There have been times I have wondered what my life would have looked like if he had lived. There is no promise that life would have been without loss or pain. There is no promise that the different road I would have chosen would have been better. Perhaps I still would have ended up where I am.
Every loss in life has meaning.
It can take years to determine that meaning and there are some individuals who are not able to find meaning in their losses. Sometimes the meaning is small and it changes the trajectory of one life. Other times it can lead to changes on a broader scale – many advocacy groups and laws/policies have been created and changed due to someone working through their grief and becoming an advocate.
I will state that there are many times when I am jealous of my friends who have both or one parent.
Sometimes, as I have been without my Dad for so long, I think that others forget that my Dad was a presence in my life (if even for a few short years). I still miss him.
To this day I would love to call him. I would love to have my Dad around to offer suggestions or guidance. I wonder what he would look like at his current age.
My Dad did not get to see me graduate high school, college or graduate school. He wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle when I got married. I’ve lived without his presence and his absence has changed me.
We have choices when we grieve. Yes, we have no control over the fact that a death happens. However, we have control over how we choose to grieve.
With the death of my Dad and all of the other deaths of my loved ones, I have chosen to embrace life. It is not always easy as I continue to become caught up in the chaos of daily life but when I realize the briefness of life, it reminds me to change my perspective.
The above picture of my Dad is one of his fraternity pictures at the University of Kentucky. It is not dated but I am going to say sometime in the late 1960’s. That young man did not know he would only be alive for 15 to 20 more years. I wonder if he had known, would he have changed what he did and how he lived?
It may seem odd to be thankful and grateful for the losses I have endured but there are times when I am. I’m thankful it allows me to talk openly about the pain of grief and loss. I’m thankful I have been able to support my clients and friends as they experienced their own losses and I’m thankful I am able to see life from a different perspective.
I’m grateful that the deaths of both of my parents were not long and drawn out (my Dad’s was a sudden accident and my Mom’s was a few months). I have not had to carry the burden of being a caregiver for long and painful illnesses.
As much as I would love to continue to provide care to both of my parents, I also realize I will not have to worry about long term care, the possible onset of dementia or health issues that can be worse than death.
The focus of this blog and my counseling practice were initiated after the death of my Mom and Nanny but my father’s death has always been the foundation.
With his death, he has helped me to live.