Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the tag “Dad”

One Year

A year since the world stopped turning. A year since everything we knew about life changed.

As I’ve said a million times before, grief is the strangest thing in life. It’s random, odd, and overwhelming. It comes in at the most inconvenient times ( like looking at Christmas ornaments in Target) and other times when you’d expect grief to be like a heavy cloak, it isn’t there at all.

My father was one of the most compassionate people I know. He would help out anyone, volunteer his time, serve on committees– you name it, he would help out with it. As this year has passed, there have been so many times when people I barely know tell me a story related to my Dad- maybe he remembered something random about them when they were younger, or asked how their parents were doing. Whatever it was, he went out of his way all the time to say hello to people, offer a smile, and good wishes. It’s remarkable to me who is often introverted or just plain clueless when I’m out at the supermarket, for example, how much he put himself out there. I’m amazed at how he remembered people’s names and faces– it truly was a gift.

I try to keep these things in mind all the time as a way to honor him. The other day I was at a workshop about leadership and a question was asked about who influenced me as a leader. The answer was of course my father, but in that moment, I couldn’t say it because I knew it would bring tears. He taught me so much about life and work– there hasn’t been a day at work that has gone by where I haven’t wished I couldn’t ask for his advice. He always had the best things to say. He truly challenged me to think about a situation or to be aware of how I was putting myself out there.

As I said with my brother in Dad’s eulogy a year ago, the world may not have known who my Dad was, but to the people in his world, he was everything.

To be completely honest, today feels like almost every other day of the year has felt. It has its sad moments, but I just keep on ‘keeping on,’ because there is no other alternative. It’s not that I don’t honor this day; this marks the full circle of a life without my Dad, but we live every single day honoring and remembering him because he was such a huge presence in life.

I could go on for pages and pages about Dad, but I’ll close with the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past year: Love is all that matters. Tell the people in your world– your parents, your partner, your kids, whoever- what they mean to you now. Make sure they know the love, the respect, the gratitude you have for them. Dad&me001

Thinking About Dad

There are times it feels like it happened yesterday– each moment of that horrible day etched into my mind, and then there are times I can hardly remember how it all happened, like it was years ago, not six months. Passage of time, memories, feelings can be so strange sometimes.

I don’t think there ever is an end to grieving. It comes out of nowhere for me- last night it was thinking about the busy two weeks ahead with family things and how this month SHOULD have been so much different had the world not stopped six months ago. I get sad at the weirdest moments, but also find myself laughing or remembering a random memory at odd times too like the other day when I was dusting a family photo and remembered when my Dad would bring Portuguese sweetbread up to college not only for me and my roommates, but also for a local-born Portuguese professor who shares our last name and the college president.

It’s easy for me to ready and arm myself for what I know will be a tough day on Father’s Day. But I’m also trying to be positive and think of it as a day to honor the amazing man my Dad was, as well as to celebrate Q and the great father he is as well. Even as we cleaned out the basement and shed at my parent’s house this past weekend, we all just tried to keep in mind that memories are in our head, not in the objects of life or a house ( ps this NPR piece and this one on the topic of experiences/memories/photos could not have been better timed). We honor him by moving forward in life and trying to lead by his example- by helping others when we can, being kind, etc. Every time I let someone take a left hand turn or let them pull out in front of me in traffic, I think of my Dad– either because he often did this small act of kindness or because he would yell at someone for being slow/silly.

It also makes me happy that a lot of people randomly tell me things about my Dad that make me feel good. The other day the lady who owns a business next to my house told me I was so nice to say hi to her all the time, “just like your Dad did.”

To me, that’s the highest compliment anyone could ever say.

The “Process” of Grief

Before my Dad died, I wasn’t really comfortable- really didn’t really know how- to talk about death, grief, or the process of grieving. I didn’t really know what loss meant in my life. Through some miraculous luck of life, the first big loss that ever really affected me was when my Grandpa died in 1998. Prior to that, I attended a funeral mass for a great aunt when I was small, but had never been to a wake until Grandpa’s.

Since losing Dad in December, I’ve thought a lot about death, dying, grief. Not in any morbid or depressing day but just as a means of coming to terms with what it all means, how life has changed, how things could be worse. As a family we talk a lot about how, with something so horrible as losing Dad too early, it was sort of the best situation with all the factors being right- he knew enough to call for help, was able to get to the hospital, my mom, brother & I were able to get there to see him and say we loved him, etc. So many people who lose a loved one too early and suddenly don’t get those blessings and spend so much of their grieving process asking why? or if only. I thank God everyday that we know it truly was out of our–and medicine’s hands.

The “stages” of grief are funny ( funny odd, not funny haha) because the way they are written and understood is that you pass from one to the other and at some point, you come to this point of acceptance and calm that it’s over. But it’s not ever over. I watched a HBO documentary of Ethel Kennedy the other night ( highly recommend by the way) and she still can’t talk about/cries when thinking about the night her husband Robert Kennedy was assassinated. That’s almost 50 years ago. Grief is a process, sure– there are days when I don’t cry or get mad at God for taking my Dad too soon, but there are days when I miss him in ways I couldn’t ever imagined missing another human being, days when all I want is to hear his laugh or when I still think ” I’ll have to tell Dad that.” It doesn’t get easier– it gets different. That was my mantra when  my life got turned upside down with divorce,  and it’s true again now.

Before losing Dad, I personally didn’t like mentioning people’s losses/death of loved ones because I felt uncomfortable AND didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. It’s one of those things in life that people don’t know exactly what to do until they have been through it/are going through it. It’s uncomfortable because it very often involves the most sensitive and vulnerable feelings a human being can have– even if you have a horrible relationship with a loved one who died, there are still raw emotions there, whether they are anger, sadness, or something more ambiguous in the middle. And those emotions- that open sensitivity- is the weird thing that so many people don’t know how to handle. Even when I talk about my Dad with some people, there is often a weird look or something that suggests the uncomfortable nature they have with the idea of death or talking about it- no one wants to think about losing a loved one or worse, their own immortality, but that’s life.

So as far as this “grief” process goes, losing my father will always suck and be heartbreaking. There will never be a day I don’t think of him, talk to him, or mention him in conversation. I have accepted his death, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Coming to terms with the ‘new normal’ and different life is an everyday thing and something that evolves in it’s own way in response to my missing of him too. It’s the work of life to try to figure out what the heck is going on and how to proceed ahead– as I have often said ( and maybe it was my Dad who told me this to begin with): Life happens- adjust accordingly. 

 

 

 

Dad

I’ve started and stopped this post a few times in the last week or so as I try to find the words adequate enough to express my heartbreak, sadness, shock, and grief over the devastating loss of my Dad. I realize today that there aren’t actually any words.

A lot of what my family and I are going through is difficult to even comprehend in my brain, let alone write down in cohesive, coherent sentences. There are moments of levity and laughter among the tears and heartbreak. There are moments of happiness filled with memories and good stories that are followed immediately by ugly cries and lots of swearing at God and the universe for this pain and tragedy.

This is the kind of loss I know I and my family, my Dad’s friends, and people in our universe will never get over. When a person has such a big personality and kind heart as my Dad, it is irreplaceable. I know with time things will change, the tears will be less frequent, but the feeling that a part of me is gone will always persist. When I was getting divorced people kept telling me all the time that “things will get better.” I know from the loss of a marriage that things actually don’t get better– they get different. So like that loss, I know that someday things will get different and it won’t hurt as much as it does now, almost a month from his death.

The thing about losing a loved one- no matter the relation or time you know a person- is that it really is one of the rare times in life when the goodness and beauty in others comes out. In the hours, days, weeks following my Dad’s passing, my entire family was just overwhelmed with the amount of love and support for us from far and wide. Food, notes, phone calls, messages written on Facebook or the funeral home website- all comforted us and gave us some peace. People stood hours in line at my father’s wake to pay their respects to us- he touched more lives than we really ever knew. I have been absolutely humbled by the number of cards, notes, and messages of love and support not only telling me how much people respected and liked my Dad, but for how many people I have to lean on as I walk through the fog that is grieving. It certainly doesn’t lessen the pain of losing my best friend, but it made his passing seem to feel more peaceful as a celebration of his life and how his memory and legacy will live on. It’s certainly something that has helped carry me through some of the darker moments and stand strong.

I’ve also learned that love’s all that matters- and telling the people you love is crucial. It was a blessing that my brother, mother, and I were able to tell my father we loved him one last time in the hospital, but he knew it already because every single interaction we ever had as a family for all of my years ended with ” I love you.” That is one of the biggest blessings in my life and such a gift to be able to say that about my relationship with my parents, brother, and family.

I can’t guarantee that going forward in the next few months that this blog will be as it was before with cheery updates on what’s going on in my life, house, job, or random things I find on the internet. I do vow to keep this space going not just because it gives me the outlet to work through my feelings in my own way, but also because my Dad believed in my writing and encouraged me to pursue it more vigorously and I don’t want to disappoint ( even if he didn’t read it as regularly as my mom and aunt 🙂 ).

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