The day his heart stopped is the day my heart dropped.
I will never forget that day for as long as I live. Some days I’m thankful I held his hand as his soul drifted to meet our good, good Father. Other days, I replay it and it just hurts and I’m left dumbfounded that we even lived through that. Watching my Dad fight cancer was one of the most challenging and grueling, yet lesson filled and loving, seasons of my life.
I witnessed grace and mercy in motion as I watched my Mom care for my Dad in ways that only a spouse can. I feel honored to have been able to see “in sickness and in health” come into fruition; my parents loved each other fiercely and I am so unbelievably lucky and better for that. I felt my brother, sister, and I come together because we all knew that we were stronger together. I fell a little deeper in love with my husband as I watched him clean my parents’ house, while wearing our son, on the day my Dad accepted hospice care. Then, there’s my daughter. My little firefly of a daughter filled my cup up with her little bits of wisdom she would impart on us after he left and it’s in those moments that I fall to my knees in the heaviest gratitude I’ve ever felt because my cup, in fact, runs over and I hate that at times I forget that or take it for granted. So I ask for forgiveness and keep moving.
Holidays are hard. Really hard.
The first year of firsts without my Dad were easier for me to handle than every other year after. That first year, I spent bracing myself and preparing myself for the first birthday, first Thanksgiving dinner, first Christmas, and first Father’s Day without him. I would run through the possible feelings that could surface and play out how I would respond to them. I made sure I was readily available to be a support beam for my family; afterwards, I would melt into my husband while he provided me with the support that I needed. That year came and went and I felt victorious and well-prepped for the rest of our lives; we had gotten through the year of firsts and we did so with punches of positivity.
But nobody prepares you for the unpreparedness that that second year brings, much less the third year. You spend less time prepping for how you think you’re going to feel, in turn, letting your guard down, and you actually just let yourself feel. Vulnerability starts to move in and promptly takes your seat in the living room and tells the elephant to move over and hold her drink. I’m currently on my third trip around the sun without my father two doors down from me and this Christmas, all I want to hear is his laugh. I choose to close my eyes and listen for it, and in time, I always hear it. Vulnerability will not bring me to a place of resentfulness. Grieving is hard and you never really quite get completely through it because their memory is everlasting and transcends through time and legacies through stories told and pictures passed on. Love actually never dies.
And because that love never dies, it’s up to us to treasure it, and their memory, by coping with the loss we’ve experienced instead of pushing it away. We have to face it and find the gratitude within it. I swear to you, if you look hard enough, you will find something to be grateful for.
Coping can, and should, look different for everyone and it is important that you find a way to feel stronger through it. Look through photo albums and laugh. TALK ABOUT THEM – it’s ok to talk about them and share stories about them (this is how you continuously remember the sound of their belly laughs and the twinkle in their eyes). Start a new tradition or spend the holidays doing something you normally wouldn’t have done – and if this looks like Chinese food on Christmas Eve watching a sappy movie in your pajamas – have at it.
This year, if you are experiencing loss for the first or third or 34th time, I encourage you to try something that I mentioned above. If you find it difficult, know that you are not alone and I am right there with you, moving through the motions, looking at all the pictures, and trying something new. I would love to sit in my pajamas eating lo mein, but I’m not sure my kids would find that acceptable (they’re 7 and 3 and READY for Santa). Life is for the living and while I’m here, I intend to live and I hope that you do, too.
Do me a favor? Tonight, this very evening that you read this, I want you to go outside and look up. You see those stars? They’re shining for you. You are so incredibly loved, valuable, and worthy.
With tear-stained cheeks and gratitude on my heart,