Grieving: “Where have you been?” Moving your feet and life forward after heartbreaking loss
“Where have you been?”
That’s often the first thing we say when we see someone who hasn’t been where they were supposed to be at the time they were expected. Your spouse, your teenager, friend, etc. is late to show, and we beg to know where they’ve been…what has kept them from us? It may be part relief, part curiosity, part fear…but we ask – needing that answer.
And sometimes we need that answer from someone who can never give it to us.
I’ve written before about my father’s sudden passing here, which unfathomably is approaching the five year mark. I cannot ever convey in words the devastation it brought me and my family, and how much of it I feel so deeply every day, even still. There are events so pivotal that they divide your life into categories: before and after.
I am not the same woman I was before he died. I will never be her again. A part of me died with him. I’m still working on my “after.”
I’ve found solace in “feeling” him near me over the years. Dragonflies have an extremely unique and special significance for me, and I consider them a sign from my dad. I’ve had a few dreams of him, but never once has he spoken words to me in a dream…he’s just – there. Funny thing is, the ONLY words he has spoken in any of my dreams since his death, were telling my mom not to open that bottle of a really odd flavored vodka, because we already had one open and it would go to waste. My dad drank bourbon. Go figure. Dreams are weird.
He was cremated after an open-casket service, so I don’t have a graveside to go sit and visit him, talk to him, have that symbolic “place.”
My mom just sold the last house they shared together. I can’t even imagine how difficult that was for her. I can no longer go there and feel his presence, catch a passing smell of his cologne, sense and feel him as if he’s there, just in another room, out of site.
It was when I went THERE, to their home to visit, that reality really wound it up tight and throat-punched me. Walking into the house and up the stairs and he wasn’t there waiting. Agony. But then slowly I’d start to feel him all around me. Bittersweet memories of him either kissed me gently on the cheek or punched me in the face everywhere I turned. I could feel him there… and it brought some needed comfort, if only temporary. I can’t go there anymore.
I will admit that my grieving process has functioned on a healthy dose of denial, supported by the fact that my parents have lived in another state for over 20 years now. When my mom comes here to visit, it’s easy and protective for my mind to just casually tell itself “Oh, dad just stayed home this time. No big deal.” My sister and I joke that he’s just on a nice vacation. The joke is that he must be having one hell of a time to be gone this long. But the funny truth is, my dad hated vacations. He was a worker; two jobs for most of his life.
I have only a small amount of his ashes that I shamefully admit are in the small pill bottle in which they were given to me. I haven’t found anything special enough to hold the small amount, and I have plans to eventually have some of them added to blown glass and created into something unique and beautiful, forged by fire – just like him. They sit in a curio cabinet that is rarely seen, and even more rarely opened, along with my other “dad” stuff. Stuff that is special and sentimental, and comes out when I feel the need to bawl hysterically for a bit and just let it all out.
Are you like me? Do you ever seem to just torture yourself with sad things?
Like, “damn it all, I need to ugly cry, and I’m going to look at the things, and listen to the songs, and smell the smells, and relive the moments that make me saddest in life. And while I’m at it, I’m gonna think about orphans and starvation and cancer and abuse and homelessness, and how my kids are growing up at warp speed and I’m running out of time to fix any ways I’ve screwed them up and omg, I’m 40, will have BOTH my babies walking around in teenage bodies in the next few weeks and life is a little hard and overwhelming right now. I better just get it all out and be REALLY super miserable for a bit — then put it away ‘til next time.”
No? Just me who does that?
Ok — Don’t judge my borderline unhealthy coping skills. It’s cathartic because I say it is and we’re all friends here. If, on the other hand, you do the same thing, then “hey there, crazy-cry friend. I see you. I get you. I already love you. You are safe with me.”
What usually brings me to one of these ridiculous crying sessions is my complete and overwhelming grief. I grieve many things, as do many of us. I am trying to muster the courage to write about some of the others, but mostly, and presently, it’s grief for my father. And lately, what takes me there is the fact that HE. IS. NOWHERE.
I don’t feel him. I don’t hear his chuckle when something happens that he would find hysterical. I don’t get signs from him that used to be abundant. I haven’t felt his presence in so long. Haven’t heard his voice in my ear, whispering the answer to something I’ve silently asked.
Daddy… where have you been?
Make no mistake, I KNOW where he is. I know he is ok. He suffers no more. He is in beauty and splendor of which you and I have no earthly comprehension. And I KNOW I will see him again one day.
But yet I struggle.
I just feel like he’s slipping further and further away… and it kills me. I was having this very discussion with my boyfriend, who, I have to say, is completely full of love and non-judgment when it comes to this battle of mine. He never got to meet my dad, which breaks my heart, but I’ve told enough stories, he has an idea of his personality. And he said to me: “Baby… I didn’t know him, but I feel like I do. And I think, from what I know about him, that maybe he’s still very much there, but keeping distance, kind of as an act of tough love, to tell you, in a way – to ‘stop this…this level of grieving is holding you back. You need to know I’m ok and GO LIVE.’ And then he said “your dad is on the OTHER SIDE of what we can only imagine. He knows you worry and you wonder and you miss him, but you’ve grieved so hard and so long that maybe he’s trying to tell you to that ‘one day, you’ll fully understand, but until then, you need to stop focusing on me because I am more than ok, and focus on loving and living your life, because currently it’s holding you back. I am holding you back.”
It was a clarity moment. This made a lot of sense to me, especially knowing my dad – the KING of tough love (and also a softy.) But in my true last-word-Lucy fashion, through my ugly sobbing, I said “well yeah, sure…that’s totally something he’d do, but can’t he throw me a freaking bone when I’m crying out for him right now?!”
No, dear readers. I don’t think he can. Nor will he. I think I gotta do this one on my own. I have to find ways to cope and deal with his death so that I can get back to living.
I suffer fiercely from anger over his death. It was sudden. Unexpected. No closure. Sure, I said things at his bedside before he took his last breath, but did he hear me? And the anger… oh, the anger… manifests in ways I can’t understand, let alone try to explain right now.
I have anxiety, general and social. Sometimes it’s completely overwhelming. Those closest to me may be surprised to hear that and know what I go through just to go to an event where there will be lots of people. That can be anything from the grocery store to a hometown football game to a get-together with friends. Hard to explain or understand, coming from a woman who’s been described as being able to talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Most, not all of the time, once I’m IN the situation, I can mostly fake being ok. It’s the build-up to going that’s hell. And the rest of the time, I can’t get out of there fast enough, even if I’m having a decent time.
I believe the only way FOR ME to get through this is to pray and move and write and love my way out of it.
I will move myself back to life. I will, to God, pray myself back to life. I will write myself back to life. And I will love myself back to life.
I need to get out more and interact with people. (Working from home, that’s easily avoided.) I need to move my body. I need an outlet for stress and anxiety before it literally kills me. I’m looking into yoga classes. I plan to write more. About my dad. About grief. About anger. About happy and funny things again. About pain. About whatever it is I need to write about. Even if no one reads it, I need to say it. I need to put it in writing.
I have to start more DOING and less TALKING.
I have a framed quote in my office that my dad used to have in his. It reads:
“Don’t ask the Lord to guide your footsteps if you’re not willing to move your feet.”
Well… It’s time to start moving my feet.
And pray that one day, I will hear – clearly – the answer to “Daddy, where have you been?”
Picture in blog is me and my sweet daddy when I was a baby. Looks like he was doing the “soooooo big!” ❤️ Precious to me.
**I’d love to hear ways that YOU have coped with grief and loss, and the anger and anxiety that follows. Please comment and share your thoughts. I read them all. And if you enjoyed this post and think someone else may need to hear it, please share the link on your social media. Thank you! XO**