“At the bottom of grief, we find unconditional love, a love that is not even dependent on physical form. Grief contains its own end. And it doesn’t mean that we forget our loved ones. It doesn’t mean that we are not visited by them in memory and feeling. It doesn’t mean that sadness disappears overnight. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel all kinds of things. But we realise deeply that we have not lost anything fundamental to us, and the world has not stopped, and they are not truly “absent” in the way the mind thought they were.” ~ Jeff Foster
I thought I was prepared for the death of my Dad. I felt I had grieved many times over the last seven years, since a major stroke left him severely disabled in 2009 at 60 years old.
As anyone who has watched a loved one’s health deteriorate knows, there is an acceptance process that inevitably ensues, knowing you will never be with that person as they once were. Every year on his birthday I would descend into painful tears of loss, for the times we spent together at his customary birthday meals, and longing to enjoy the laughter, conversation and bond we shared on these occasions.
His loss of speech and partial paralysis caused by the stroke meant I instead would visit him at his nursing home, watching as he sank into depression and frustration. It was heart-breaking and very difficult; although I always felt content after visiting him, in the knowledge that I had brought him some comfort, as we spent precious time in each other’s company.
I used to pray for him, and pray that his suffering would come to an end. I knew it would one day, but instead of the relief I expected to feel (in knowing he is at peace), I am left raw, lost and overcome with incredible sadness.
There were times I pleaded with God to end his suffering. I’d cry out in desperation, and sometimes anger, “No more, please God, no more!” So why then when my prayers are answered is it still so painful?
Perhaps while I knew he was ready to go, I was not fully ready to let him go. My attempts to rationalise and comfort myself and others with words of, “he’s at peace” and it’s what he wanted,” certainly does not prevent the grief I feel.
The feelings of loss are unlike any I have experienced before. It hurts physically; my heart feels that it has physically broken, and my sadness descends in overwhelming waves of rawness.
The shock, anxiety and adrenalin I experienced from the moment I received the 3am, surreal phone call, up until the day of his funeral has started to subside. Those early days of grief were summed up by a quote I happened upon by C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed…
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
I now feel lost. I yearn to see my Dad again, if only to hold his hand, look into his eyes, tell him I love him and kiss his temple (as I did in his final days). I am like a little girl lost, wanting her Daddy at the age of 34 years old.
I am aware that my inner child, of various ages, for numerous reasons, pines for him. There are many levels of this grief, stemming from the many layers of consciousness within me.
In those moments of bargaining when I cry out “Why, Why, Why?” it is a culmination of seven years of gradual loss. I still grieve for my Dad who I found unconscious on his living room floor all those years ago, and I have grieved for him as his primary caregiver since that day. This was ever apparent in my emotion on leaving the crematorium on the day of his funeral. I felt a sense that I was abandoning him, that I wasn’t looking after him, and he needed me.
This was the role I had adopted over the years, and even in death I feel a need to take care of him. I wait impatiently for his ashes to be returned to me so I can care for them lovingly too.
My personal circumstances do not resonate with the idea that grief is the loss of “what could have been.” I am not grieving for a future of “what it should be”; I explored those feelings, and found acceptance there a long time ago, with the realisation that he would never recover from the stroke. That part of grief was familiar to me, having experienced my fair share of endings and change throughout my life. However, the comfort was always present to reassure me that I could still see him and sit with him; He was still alive.
The comfort, security and protection a Daddy’s girl craves from a Father was also grieved at this time, leaving me to wonder, “What am I grieving?” Without doubt, it’s partly his presence in physical form; the light in his eyes and smile on his face when I entered the nursing home. But I have sensed, in those present moments alone, that it goes much deeper than that…
My grief is essentially Love. Overwhelming, unconditional love. My “heart-breaking” is pure love, with a vastness that fills my heart so much, it feels it will likely burst open!
I never knew just how much capacity I had to love, nor was I fully aware of how much love I had for my Dad until he died. He had his faults, as we all do, he was not perfect, as are none of us, but I loved him unconditionally with every fibre of my being.
A piece may feel missing from the jigsaw of my heart, after all I will never have another Dad. The man who genetically created me and welcomed me into this world has passed on, he has left his earthly body, and I am not at the stage yet where I have wholeheartedly accepted this. The love simply feels too strong to fully let go.
The pain/love calls for me to sit with it completely; to feel my emotions and sadness with uncensored presence. This is not always easy, or possible, when my time is divided between processing my feelings and raising two children. However, I am finding time at intervals to immerse myself, not only in the sadness, but also in my love for him.
I know I will never be the same again. However, I am aware from the lessons of past pain that the change I experience, will tenderly transform me with growth, rather than deterioration. The only requirement in accepting this growth is to allow my grief to envelop me in all its forms, and ride the rollercoaster of emotions without restraint.
I have no doubt that the pain will subside with time, but the love will always remain. One day I may reach a point where I can smile at the thought of him, rather than shed tears of loss. For I know deep down that he is not lost to me. Presence is not the physical body that acts as our vessel, connection goes far deeper than what we observe with our eyes, and love is eternal, transcending all time and space.
~ Rest in Loving Peace my Dear Dad…Your departure has taught me the vastness of unconditional love and for that I am forever grateful.