Life By Kristen

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

Archive for the tag “grief”

Losing a Parent

If we’re facebook friends, you may have noticed that I posted this article yesterday from NPR. I actually heard the interview on my commute into work yesterday morning and it left me with that overwhelming, emotional feeling that only comes with the understanding people who have lost a parent(s) feel. Even if you have not endured this grief, I’m sure you’ve lost someone in your life and I think many of the things Scott Simon say here are true of all types of loss.

What hit me the most from the interview- and the thing that brought me to tears while driving- was the idea that we never really grow up until we lose a parent. It’s something I’ve felt since December 2013 when I lost my Dad- and something I struggled to articulate, even though life changed that day forever. It’s amazing to me how the struggle through grief is both so different and so similar for people– I didn’t lose my father to a long illness like Simon did with his mother, nor did we have a complicated family history that was discussed over the last few days of his life. Yet, we share the same sense of loss, growing up, and realizing the shift in life that happened the day our parent was gone.

I also really relate with the line about how our parents pour the best parts of themselves into us. I always joked around that I got my father’s stubbornness, but I also got so many of his incredible qualities too- creativity, kindness, humor. In a cynical world where so many people blame their upbringing, parents, family, and so on for all their issues in life, I’m reminded to be grateful once again for the amazing pieces of his personality he passed on to me ( and even for the stubbornness sometimes too!)

The other thing about losing a parent that has sort of surprised me is, honestly, that I didn’t realize how many of my peers had similar experiences. Maybe it’s because it’s a tough thing to bring up, or because prior to losing my father, it wasn’t even something on my radar, which is sort of strange since my Dad’s father died at 67, which is certainly young– but maybe because my Dad and aunt were older than I am now, it didn’t register in the same way. I was also 15 and the family, though grieving, worked hard to keep things ‘normal’ for my brother and I. But now I’m part of this club– a club we all wish we were not a part of– that knows the difficulty that comes with holidays, but also knows the random moments of sadness that are often all encompassing and feel like a heavy coat, no matter the time passed from the death.

This club’s members don’t want to be in it, but are grateful for the kindness of others who are there. Even when someone’s parent passes at an elderly age or after a long, excruciating illness, you still support through the grief, no matter how anticipated it might have been. Loss and change are hard to work through and make sense of– Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame, who lost her mom to cancer) wrote in one of her Dear Sugar letters to another woman who lost her mother, that it would never be okay that they were motherless. And it’s true. No matter the circumstances of death, losing one of the parents who put you on this earth, gave you love, and a home –heck even if they didn’t give you the latter two– is a tough thing to go through. But we’re in it together, growing up as we grieve along.

Grief, Continued

Of course grief never goes away. It changes. Just like life after losing a loved one changes. I said to so many people after my divorce and after the death of Dad that things don’t get better, they get different. Grief, it turns out, gets different too.

It changes from the all encompassing heavy feel of sadness to the sense that something is missing to the random moments where it feels like nothing has changed. That random moment is of course always followed by the sobering reality that EVERYTHING has changed and you feel like such an idiot in that brief moment for forgetting how life is so incredibly different than it was before that horrible thing that happened.

Grief these days comes in weird ways, but often it takes its form in worrying. Am I doing enough for my family members? Am I honoring my father’s legacy in the right ways? To I think of him often enough? Am I doing the things he would want me to do? As we deal with the horrible winter in New England that will not let up, I think so often of how he would be dealing with this all, worrying about all of us and complaining with us too. It seems I’ve picked up his traits of worry and watching over my family in the same way he did- something that at times feels like an honor and something I want to do, other times like I can’t do enough and worry more.

It seems grief has become worry, guilt, sadness, anger, and fear all together. I feel the sense of loss and miss him fiercely when I want another creative mind to talk over my life/job angst with. I want another trained Portuguese taste tester to tell me if my kale soup is seasoned properly or not. Mostly, I just want to hear his laugh and see his smile, and for him to tell me everything is going to be okay.

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

Holidays These Days

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The moments of sadness were there, but overall, it was a day filled with love and family, which is how it should be.

My Christmas spirit hasn’t quite kicked in yet. We’re waiting to decorate the house until Little Man is with us, which won’t be until the second weekend in December. My office mate is listening to Christmas music and decorated our office Christmas tree, but otherwise, there isn’t a lot of Christmas around me yet. I adopted a needy family from the local child and family services again this year, so have been doing some shopping, but mostly online. After our huge house cleanouts this past summer, we’ve all decided we have enough stuff so are not doing Christmas presents;, so the only shopping to be done is for Little Man.  I am looking forward to seeing the holiday through a child’s eyes , so decorating with him will be fun. I think we may even do gingerbread houses together, which I’ve never done before!

Last year, the shock of Dad’s death 9 days before Christmas was numbing. What was to be a quiet Christmas with my parents, Q, and me turned into everyone being home and  supporting each other through a devastating time. We spent Christmas Eve and Day at home all together, something that hadn’t happened in years- so while it was sad, there was this amazing feeling of love and support from so many people that really helped us get through.

This year will be quite different. It’s just Q, Mom, and I, with only a little bit of Christmas Eve with Little Man. So we’ll see some of Q’s family and spend Christmas Eve and Day with close friends of the family ( or as I like to call them, family by choice). I’m taking the day after Christmas off from work. Overall, I think the holiday will pass without a whole lot of fanfare, which I appreciate since in the last 5 years or so, I’ve always felt so frantic this time of year. I’m coming to accept that every holiday will bring changes in the next few years, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m hoping we can maintain some old traditions, while making new ones for our family as a whole, and my small family with Q & Little Man.

Mostly, I’m thinking about how fast the year went by, but probably not in the same sense that everyone else is. It’s hard to think it will be a year since we lost Dad on the 16th of this month- it is both amazing and shocking still that it happened, that it has been that long, and that there are still days when life gets busy that I forget for an instant that it happened at all. Grief is so strange at times.

In the midst of all of this emotion, we’re adding another level to all of the feelings with the sale of my grandmother’s house. It was tough over the summer as we cleaned it out, knowing the only reason it was all happening was because Dad was gone. Now that the house has finally sold and we emptied out the last of the things we wanted over Thanksgiving weekend, it didn’t feel as sad because the house was pretty bare bones and disheveled, so it almost helped it feel less like a home. Maybe that’s just my way of containing emotions in a very overwhelming time. It seems almost fitting that the sale coincides pretty close with the year anniversary of his death. Maybe with one less thing off of the family’s mind, we can all work a bit more on our new phases in life. I’m hopeful.

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. 




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