My dad passed away almost 4 months ago. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Prior to this, the only people in my life who had passed away that I felt remotely close to were my two grandfathers, an uncle, and a great uncle. While I, of course, cared about all of these men and was incredibly sadden by each of their passings, the loss of a parent digs in much deeper, stings much sharper, and alters your world in unimaginable ways. I feel as though I either haven't seen or haven't paid attention to many accounts of grieving the death of a parent in your 20s. My experience will be much different from others who have had to endure the same heart wrenching experience, but here are a few things I've learned so far about myself and others from encountering my father's death at a comparatively young age.
Grief is not a perfect, linear process. After the first few days of barely sleeping or eating and bursting into tears at the slightest remembrance, I asked myself, "When does this end? When can I feel okay again?" I fooled myself into thinking that if I went through the steps, if I followed the stages, I would come out on the other end as a whole, smiling, fatherless girl. Yes, my dad died, but my future is bright! Instead, everyday is different. Somedays, I'm happy and productive and I think about my dad with a smile on my face. Other days, I wake up from having a dream about my dad and sulk all day. Somedays, I'm moody as hell. Other days, I nearly forget that my father died at all. Somedays, I'm angry that people who are twice my age still have their fathers. Other days, I silently cry at my desk at work while I hear a coworker talk to his father on the phone. Yes, I cry less and generally feel better about the whole thing than I did during month 1, but it's not a perfect, logical, point A to point B progression. It comes in waves; sometimes with tsunami-like force, but usually more like the daily tides.
Life does not stop. While asking myself when the painful grieving process will be over, I also asked myself when I could do normal things again. I thought that I could compartmentalize the grief. If I kept it in its own box, it wouldn't bleed over into the rest of my life and so, when I returned to the rest of my life, it would be exactly the same as it was before. When and only when I stopped crying all.the.time., I could then resume my life. While people are generally sympathetic to your loss, your bills still need to be paid, your friends still want to see you, your bathroom is only getting grosser, and the days keep flying by. If you wait until you feel 100% back to normal, you will sit out the rest of your life. Once I realized that I needed to create a new normal instead of wait for my old normal to return (which it never will), I placed pieces of my life back. I started reading again. I watched a movie. I started introducing my routines back into my life. I allowed myself to date again. Life stops for no one, no matter how much pain you may be in, no matter how much you wished you could stop time so you wouldn't have to live your life without your dad to share it with. Life goes on.
You learn who your true friends are. After being woken up by the phone call from my brother telling me that my dad was being rushed to the hospital, after the initial shock, after the first shouted "no," after the first cup of tear tainted tea, I reached out to my closest friends to put them on high alert, hoping that my messages wouldn't put a jinx on my dad. After the second call from my brother, starting with the dreaded, "Sarah, I'm so sorry," after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "no," after the uncontrollable crying and shaking, after the shouting of the repeated and pathetic "why," after the dumbstruck silence and emotional exhaustion, I reached out again. After their brief dumbstruck silence, my phone blew up. Friends called me crying before they even heard my first whimper. My friends flocked to my dad's memorial service like it was a pilgrimage to Mecca. They came unasked- it was a given to them. When things needed doing, I could barely put the words together before I had multiple hands reaching out to help. When I needed to vent, I had an inexhaustible audience. When I couldn't remember to eat, my sister in law fed me. When I couldn't stand, my brother carried me. When I couldn't compose myself, my brother had unyielding resolve. When I couldn't find a light at the end of the tunnel, my brother lit a candle.
Unfortunately, there's a flip side to finding out who is really on your side. My dad's girlfriend turned out to be a thief, a liar, and an incredibly weak woman who was promptly thrown out of my dad's house and karma gave a good ass beating to.
No one can say anything to make you feel better. My first reaction to people telling me they were sorry for my loss was to say, "It's okay." My second reaction was, "I hope you never experience this." My loss was not okay and almost everyone will have to deal with losing a parent at some point in their lives- what silly things to think. I guess in some weird, backwards way, I was trying to make them feel better for feeling bad. Finally, I came to terms with just replying with a simple thank you. After talking to friends who sat in stunned silence after telling them how I was coping, after writing emails in the middle of the night about how I was feeling and receiving only a few words in response, instead of getting angry at their apparent disinterest or apathy, I realized that my friends were at a loss for what to say because they have no idea what it is like to lose a parent. The vast majority of my friends, and none of my closest friends, have not yet had to go through what I am currently going through. Even hearing stories about your dad or hearing how much he talked about you to other people aren't very comforting because you can't help saying to yourself, "That's nice, but it would be way nicer to have my dad alive and still creating stories and talking up his children." Despite the nonexistence of the right words, someone ignoring the fact that your dad is dead is way worse than them saying something that does not provide comfort. Sharing memories, asking questions, letting the griever grieve allows the parent to live on in the only way he or she can now.
I feel like an orphan most days. My mother still hasn't talked to me about my dad dying. She has little to no idea how I've been dealing with it all. To be honest, somedays, it's easier to pretend that she's dead too. My brother, his wife, and my friends have been absolutely wonderful, but, because I am not currently talking to my mother, did not have a significant other at the time my dad died, and live so far away from my closest friends and family, I felt, and occasionally still feel, incredibly alone in all of this. Mourning hangs on you like a shadow during your day to day movements. You don't have to talk about it or even spill tears to feel it. It's just there and can fill a room if you let it. Even though my brother and I shared our father and share our grief, he can experience that grief with his wife. He can be, or at least should be, happy knowing that his wife got to know her father in law for a few years and their son got to play with and be held by his pop pop. I don't have those luxuries. My father will not be there for many of the milestones I'm yet to experience- getting married, having kids, buying my first home. The man I'm to marry can't ask my dad for my hand in marriage; my father can't walk me down the aisle; if I have children, they will never know their maternal grandpa; my dad can't show me how to repair things around the house. When older people who have lost a parent reach out to me and tell me they understand, I appreciate the sentiment, but they can't possibly understand the full depth of what I'm experiencing. Unless you are a 20something, single female who has a bad relationship with your mother and you recently lost your father, I just don't think anyone can really understand this.
Dating is really hard. My first concern was that the guys I would start dating after my dad died wouldn't understand and would feel uncomfortable when I started talking about my dad or if I was having a rough time dealing with his death. They would think I was broken and give up on me. That fear was allayed when I met my current boyfriend, B. While he doesn't understand what it's like to lose a parent, he understands that things are going to bother me and that all I need is patience and open arms. I feel more insecure than I've felt in years and this causes me to react/overreact to things that I would have otherwise let roll off my shoulders. Because my mother was never very affectionate, reassuring, or encouraging, losing my dad meant losing the biggest figure in my life who told me without pause that he's proud of me, that he thinks I'm beautiful, that he thinks I'm great. This absence has caused me to seek constant affection; second guess silences, conversations, and actions; feel incredibly sad during B's family gatherings; and generally jump to the worst possible conclusion if there's a sliver of a doubt. While I rarely act out or start fights because of these things, I let it dominate my thinking and deflate me to the point of tears. B lets me get it out of my system, but builds me back up with the truth- that he thinks I'm great too.
Paperwork and possessions. In the midst of trying to mourn my dad's death, my brother and I have had to deal with an enormous amount of paperwork. Death is a very messy business. Since my dad was not married and he did not have a will, my brother and I had to go to court to become the legal administrators of my dad's estate. We've had to scramble to find account statements, passwords, assets. We've logged countless hours on the phone explaining that our dad has died and we need access, we need closure, we need our peace. We've had to go through my dad's possessions, trying to decide what to keep, what to toss, what to give away, what to sell. We have to remember to pay his bills on top of our own bills every month. We have to try to sell a house that's a day's drive and a day's flight, respectively, from either of us. Thankfully, my dad did have life insurance and that has made many, many things much easier, but I never in a million years thought that this process would be this stressful or drawn out. This is the one thing that has taken me most by surprise because I've never been this close to anyone who has passed away before.
You learn you're not the only one who thinks your dad was awesome. You also learn how much your dad would not shut up about you. Countless strangers have told me, "Your dad loved you very, very much. He was so proud of you." The stories we heard and continue to hear about my dad have confirmed what I've known all along: my dad was one of a kind. He will be missed by many, many people.
July was largely a good, albeit busy, month for me. I'm happy to report that I have a new boyfriend in my life and he's pretty great. I usually go for older guys, but he's a few years younger than I am, so I'm shaking things up a bit.
The Bay Area has been entirely too cold for my liking- July should be a sweaty month, not a month of wearing a coat everywhere and wishing I had put socks on before I left my apartment. I constantly forget it's summer and that kind of makes me sad. Oh well, at least I have a boy to cuddle up with now :-).
So, what have I found around the internet lately?
Have you checked out 40 Days of Dating yet? I find myself checking on the two friends' dating progress every morning out of sheer curiosity and secretly rooting for them.
I feel like this update on my 2000 Things challenge is a little sneaky. I'm sure most of you were thinking that by "things" the items gotten rid of had to be physical items. I took a broader interpretation of "things" and decided to include electronic clutter as well. Lucky for you, I'm not including email in this challenge (because I would have hit 2000 ages ago), but am sticking with locally hosted files instead.
First, let me give you a rundown of my sad physical item count:
dry rotted bathing suit
tin of lotion
1 sample that was mailed to me
a box my cats stopped playing with
That brings me to 219 physical items gotten rid of thus far. I have a number of things that I've been eyeing to get rid of, so this number should get much larger soon.
To keep me from falling down the rabbit hole too much in terms of electronic clutter, I focused on things I could delete off of my smart phone. I knew there were probably a few contacts and some old pictures I could wipe without much thought. Boy, did I ever underestimate how much was lurking on my phone:
893 files, mostly pictures, deleted off of phone
7 contacts deleted off of phone
1 app deleted off of phone
Yup, 901 things got deleted off of my phone last week. Hard to believe something so small can hold so much. I think it's just as important to keep your electronic files well organized as it is to organize your physical items since a cluttered hard drive can cause just as much of a headache and inefficient use of time as a cluttered desk.
Since all I'll need is an afternoon of deleting things off of my laptop to reach the 2000 goal, I'm going to keep the physical and electronic tallies separate. I still have a lot of physical items to go through, so I don't want to use the electronic clutter as a cop out.
Were you ever surprised by the amount of files you've been able to delete off of your phone or computer?
I was never much of a snoozer. I never saw the point; that is, until I moved in with one of my exes who was a big time snooze button abuser. At first, the blaring of the alarm every 10 minutes for half an hour was incredibly annoying, but then I got used to the sleep disruption and, one day, discovered that I was starting to hit snooze myself to eke out a few extra of minutes of sleep. Now, 6 years later, that habit is still firmly with me.
I have a hunch that I could find scientific proof to back this up, but waking up every ten minutes just can't be good for you and can't possibly make you more rested. I'm basing my decision to call it quits with my snooze button on my personal experience of feeling groggier when I hit snooze than when I get up when my alarm first goes off.
Since I am not a morning person in the least, this goal might take a little self trickery. Placing my phone far away from my bed will probably have to happen at some point so that I'll have to physically get out of bed to turn the alarm off and reduce the chance of falling back asleep. I think for starters though, I'm going to set my alarm for the absolute latest time I can get out of bed so that I'll know that if I hit snooze, I'll inevitably be late for work.
Do you hit the snooze button? How do you trick yourself to get out of bed on time in the morning?
I had been trying to make my way to Chicago for the last three years to visit friends and see what this iconic Midwest city had to offer, but didn't manage to make it there until a few weeks ago for a conference. I was there for just about a week, but sadly did not see as much of the city as I would have liked since my conference kept me incredibly busy. I did stop into Millennium Park to see the infamous "Bean" (actually called Cloud Gate).
Attracted by the bright colors, I also walked through the Boeing Galleries and saw an exhibit by Jun Kaneko titled "Legends, Myths and Truths." I had seen his "Dango" pieces before, but the standing bear type creatures (apparently they're supposed to be a badger or raccoon type animal) called Tanuki were new to me:
Kinda creepy, especially when walking alone
I really liked the vibe Chicago had and I plan to visit again to really spend time seeing its attractions and eating its highly rated food.
The day after I flew back from Chicago, I hopped in a car and went up to Clearlake, CA for a long July 4th weekend.
I water skied for the first time in 9 years, went swimming, got a tan, saw fireworks, pigged out, and just generally relaxed. Not too shabby of a way to spend a few days.
Sometimes, a step back from the computer is a great thing. More and more on these summer weekends, I find myself outside instead of planning blog posts. I intend to continue to post my 3 posts a week, but if I miss a post here or there, don't be too remiss, okay? Less to read here means more time for you to spend outside too!