it’s been 20 years since I lost my father – here’s my story and how I continue to manage my grief

We all have pain. Maybe it’s from losing someone we love, going through a break up or experiencing some other type of trauma. Either way, it’s important to deal with your pain, but beyond that it’s really HARD.

Full disclosure – this post might be kind of sad or triggering and i’m selfishly writing it because this is my outlet, a safe place to share whatever I’m going through, and I want you to feel like you can share with me, too. So here goes!

I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before but my dad died when I was 7. It was really sudden and really awful. I’m the youngest of two children (my brother is 3 years older than me) so my mom raised us on her own (she’s amazing and she worked her ass off to make us feel like life was still normal) and it wasn’t easy.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my family. This was taken at my cousins birthday party, I’m guessing a year or two before he passed. From top left to bottom right: my dad, my cousin, my mom, me, and mybrother.

I didn’t really feel it until much later…

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know that the days following are typically filled with loved ones, funeral services, etc. There’s lots of people around, LOTS of distraction. All of that distraction doesn’t really give you the time to process WTH is actually happening. The days after my fathers death feel like a blur to me. I remember spending a lot of time with my family and being really happy about it because we didn’t usually see them so much during the week. At my father’s viewing (or funeral service – whatever you call it) I skipped around, I saw him laying there in his casket, but somehow it hadn’t hit me.

The day he was buried was similar to the wake (at least for me). I hadn’t processed it and even though everyone around me was somber and in tears, I still hadn’t come to the realization that this was the last time I’d ever see my fathers physical body.

the days following were weird

After everything was over, we had a few family members stay with us for a couple of weeks. My cousins wanted us to know that we weren’t alone and they wanted to be there to help my mom. I loved having them there. The house felt full and fun because my favorite people were there everyday – what could be better?!

Then the time came for them to leave, go back to their normal lives. Which meant we had to do the same. It was time to go back to school and for my mom to go back to work – I didn’t like this part. Suddenly my father wasn’t picking me up from school anymore. My teachers looked at me differently and some of the kids made fun of me because I had a “dead dad”. It was really weird. I’m not using the word painful because at this point, I still didn’t understand. I would get home after school and I would wait for him.

and then one day I realized I would be waiting forever..

I remember this part the most because that’s when my pain finally set in. I started to realize that I wasn’t going to see him again and I vividly remember trying to process the thought of never talking to my dad again and it HURT. It wasn’t until about two or three weeks after his funeral that I cried.

It was the first time I experienced that feeling you get in your chest when you’re really sad. I suppose it was heartbreak. I didn’t want to believe it and I couldn’t understand it. All of a sudden this man I saw every single day, who taught me how to ride a bike, blow my nose, made me love Titanic (it was one of his favorites), and a million other things, was just gone. Never to be seen again.

and it still effects me deeply as an adult..

You would think that nearly twenty years later, I would have dealt with all of my pain and fear of losing people. Turns out, I haven’t. I have nights where I can’t stop crying over it. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening all over again. I have this giant fear of losing the people closest to me. In fact, as a kid, I would make myself imagine people dying so that I could somehow prepare myself for the pain. And I still do this when I’m really anxious. I go into full-on panic mode; thinking about what I would do if I lost someone else I loved that much.

which is why I think it’s so important to deal with your pain…

I’ve been through therapy and I’m all about talking through your feelings and fears. It isn’t until recently that I realized how deep my pain goes or how much anger I feel about it sometimes. Sometimes we carry our pain around and become so used to the weight of it on our backs that we forget it’s even there. We don’t realize that our perspectives, attitudes, and interactions with others are all affected by it.

I continue to grieve as an adult. Lately it feels like I’ve been grieving for the little girl in me. I think a lot about the feeling of realizing I’d never see my father again and how deeply I felt it in my chest. I used to think about grief and loss as something you went through for a little while. I always believed that eventually it would just go away, but I’m learning that it doesn’t work like that. Feelings have to be dealt with because when they are buried or ignored, they sneak up on you, often at the worst times and in destructive ways.

I hope sharing this helped someone and that if you just lost someone recently, years ago, or even if you’ve gone through a traumatic break up that felt like a death, you know that you aren’t alone. It’s been helpful for me to get it off my chest and be honest about the pain.

with love & gratitude,

steph

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