When I was about 7 or 8 I lost my dad. I was still a kid and may have not understood everything, but I knew dad was gone and there was nothing I could do about it.
The memories I have of that time are surreal. I had no concept of time. I was out of school for a week, but it felt like months. I saw my dad’s body in the coffin, cold to the touch, pale and sleeping. He was different but the same. My world felt like it was turned upside down where everything was ok but not. I can not explain it.
I felt hollow and empty, time slowed down, I was in a mental daze and nothing made sense, but I didn’t cry.
I saw my mom’s tears quite often that week, I still remember clearly when she came home, sat me down on our brown flowered velvet sofa with wood trim, it was early evening I think, and calmly told me of my dad’s passing. I felt nothing. Her eyes started to tear up and she scooped me up into a big hug, rocking me and saying “I’m sorry” over and over and over again. I felt her gasps and hiccups, her breath on my neck, her tears as they rolled off her face onto mine and yet I felt nothing. I became a mask, burying my feelings deep inside of me, I became a rock for my mother, I wanted to become her strength, but in reality I was not dealing with my own personal grief.
I didn’t know how to talk about it. I remember asking my mom to buy me a picture book about “dealing with death” and I would tell my classmates that I was reading this book about “death”. My classmates just gave me a look and said nothing. The book was about a young boy about my age who lost this grandfather and how he couldn’t have his grandfathers homemade pink lemonade. He resolved his situation by learning how to make the lemonade and sharing with others. I couldn’t relate to this kid no matter how many times I read that book. I clung to that book and read it so many times, the green and white diagonal stripped trim of the book, the kid sitting outside with his grampa under a tree drinking pink lemonade, the pitcher of lemonade in included, and the gampa’s smiling face, to this day I can still see it clearly in my mind. Just as clearly as I can recall my dad’s pale, cold, sleeping face resting in his coffin.
There are only two times that I recall where I truly felt something about my dad’s death. One was at the reception after the funeral. There were sandwiches and coffee for everyone. I got angry because here my dad died and everyone was enjoying sandwiches and coffee while smiling and laughing! How dare they! I was furious. When I told my mom she told me that these people are eating in memory of my father and that they were laughing because they were trying to remember the good times. They were grieving and I still didn’t know how.
Some years later I tried to reach out, I wrote a diary entry about the loss of my dad and left it open by my bed where my mom could see it. I didn’t know how to tell her how I was feeling and I didn’t want to talk about it, but I wanted her to know so that we could be on the same page. She did find it and we talked about it. I think it helped, but I still didn’t cry.
Looking back, since my father died I seldom showed “negative” feelings. I was always the happy positive girl in school and amongst my friends. Nothing could get me down, or so it seemed, but in reality I was hiding this painful and traumatic event in me and protecting others from it or feelings like it by being “the strong one”.
It was not until many years later sometime after high school that I was alone and I happen to think about my dad, a passing thought really, and I just cried. I don’t know how long I cried but when I was done I was exhausted but rejuvenated and surprisingly alive. I could feel again!
Between the time of my dad’s death and the moment I just let all my grief flow out in tears, I had never cried for the death of any family member or friend, I just added it to the void. I remember each death as if it was yesterday, so I know it wasn’t because I didn’t care or they didn’t effect me, I just hid it.
When Emi died, I cried. I cried a lot. I cried for days. I still cry. Each time I cry a little bit of the pain goes away and is replaced by a happy memory or thought. Each time I cry I feel liberated from the grief. Each time I cry I am one step closer to living life. Each time I cry I give my loss a voice, and it can be heard, and it can be felt, and it can be shared and suddenly the pain and burden of the loss is lightened.
It took me over a decade to learn how to grieve and let go. My fathers death was painful, anyone who has lost a parent can attest to that. The loss of my daughter was much much worse. It would have been the death I put in the void that finally caused me to sink after year and years of drowning in grief had I not learned to morn the death of my dad and those who followed. Without this experience, I don’t think I would have survived my daughters.
As painful as it is, embrace it, feel it and don’t rush to “get over it” because you never will, this pain, this loss becomes a part of you, a part of who you are. The sooner you take it in and accept it, the sooner you start to heal. It is amazing really.