lastmandystanding

Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Blogger. Aspiring writer. Smartass. But you'll probably still want to be my friend.

Archive for the tag “life after loss”

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.

Radio silence.

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**

When you lose a parent 

It’s been almost four years since I lost my dad suddenly. I’ve only really written about it on this site once. But it’s at the forefront of my mind every day. 

I have some friends going through this pain right now. They’ve lost a great man. Their father, husband, grandpa, a great coach, friend, family man. Very much the patriarch of their family.

I remember after my dad died, I felt the need to go back to every friend of mine who had ever lost a parent and apologize to them profusely. Of course I had sympathized with them over their loss. I brought food. I prayed for them. I went to visitations and funerals. I was present in the best way I knew how to be. But I felt the need to apologize, because with my newfound intimate knowledge of this loss, I felt I hadn’t done enough. Had I known that THIS…this absolute personal hell…is what they were going through, I would’ve done more. Been there more. Said more. Been more of a presence for them. Not just immediately after, but in the weeks and months to follow.  

But the fact of the matter is, until it happens TO YOU, you have no idea what it is like. You can feel bad and sad and sorry for their loss. But you cannot possibly fathom the agony. You will one day. But if you haven’t gone through it, you have no idea. 

So, with intimate knowledge I wish I did not have, I can only offer advice based on my personal experience, to those who have recently lost a parent. 

First and foremost, however YOU grieve is the right way FOR YOU. Your grief process is as unique as your fingerprint. Unlike that from anyone else on this planet. Your siblings, your surviving parent…they will grieve differently from you, I promise. And you may not like the way they grieve. But that’s ok. No way is the right way. I can tell you that all the “stages of grief” are normal and each stage may cycle through you in one day and drop you right back off at the beginning. 

Very well meaning people, some who have known and loved you for your entire life, will completely, utterly, and unintentionally piss. you. off. They will say something with the best intentions, but it will come out wrong. Or it will come out right, but you will hear it wrong because your emotions are running amok. It will rub you the wrong way. It will make you angry. Forgive them. Or at least recognize no one means you any harm, especially now, and try not to dwell. They know not what they do. Truly. 

Most people do not have a clue how to act towards you. There are no words to say to bring your parent back. They don’t understand the relationship you had with that parent. They don’t know what to say or do but they desperately want to help. This usually is expressed with offers of food. I remember my mom getting so upset after my dad died. Everyone wanted to bring her food or take her out for a meal and, while she appreciated it, she wondered why everyone though food was the answer. I think that’s just a human connection. We all know that everyone needs food and nourishment in order to survive. They don’t know what to say or do…but they know you need to eat. And THAT they can take care of. As much as it may irritate you, the best thing to do is say ‘thank you’ and allow them to feel as if they’ve helped. And it does help. It’s one less thing for you to worry about. But after a while, it seems repetitive and may be even annoying. That’s just because your emotions are at a constant heightened state. And that’s ok. 

You may find yourself analyzing how many years other people have had with their parents, in comparison to the amount of time you had with yours. You may be angry that someone older than you still has both living parents. I mean, you may be really, truly, legitimately pissed off. Not that you wish anyone ill will or to experience this loss – but you will be mad at the circumstances. Mad at the universe. Mad at God for cutting your time short. 

It’s hard for me to admit, but I have been mad at God for taking my dad from me. I’m not proud of that, but it’s an honest admission for me. I have only been to church a handful of times since he died. Most of which were for holidays; not a typical service. Not because I don’t want or need to go. Church has always been an emotional experience for me, even when I was young.  I cry almost every time I go because I always get a great message; one that feels like it was directed specifically at me. And I’m just not sure I could make it through a service without breaking down. Maybe I’m just not ready for THAT breakdown yet. It will come. In the meantime, I still talk to God every day and am working on that relationship. He’ll get me to the right church at the right time. But I digress. 

If your parents were still married, like mine were, you will have two losses to grieve. The loss of the parent that died, and the loss of the surviving parent as you have known them up until this point. Somehow, everyone finds the strength to get through visitations, funerals, dinners, etc. But the hardest part is yet to come. The hard part is watching your parent live alone in the house they shared with their spouse for so many years. To know they are sleeping in a bed that now seems way too big to them. To know they probably have an item of clothing they will cling to until every trace of their lost love is gone. That piece of clothing will soak up thousands of tears. It will become a security blanket. Your parent will never be the same. How could they be? That was one of the hardest things for me. The pain of losing my dad was almost completely unbearable, but watching my mother grieve for him…that was gut wrenching. 

Your family dynamic will be forever changed. None of you will ever be the same. Relationships with siblings may change. You may fight with the people you love the most in this world. They say death either brings out the best in people or the worst in people. You will find this to be true. As much as you hate it and swear it will never happen to your family, a loss like this may cause irreparable damage to some of your relationships. Try not to let it. Remember – everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. It’s when we place expectations of how/when/for how long to grieve on others that feelings are hurt. Things can be said and done in a highly emotional state that will never be able to be taken back. If you’ve been holding it in for years how much someone in your family has annoyed or hurt you, now is not the time to voice that. No one is in their right mind, and no one will hear it the way you want them to. We, as humans, tend to go into very self-centered, self-preserving behavior when we hurt so deeply. Our hurt, our grief, our sorrow, our loss is paramount. It is important to remember that to each person grieving, their grief is the biggest thing in the room. The truth is, grief will now always be in the room. The ever present, uninvited, rude guest who has overstayed her welcome. I use a female pronoun because, to me, grief is a cold, heartless, cruel bitch. 

You will divide your life into categories: Before they died. After they died. Dates from here on out will cause you to file  everything into one of those categories. 

The year of firsts is horrible. It seems like you can’t get a moments rest from grieving, because every time you turn around, there’s a new “first.” The first holiday without them. Their first birthday in heaven. Your first birthday when that parent won’t be calling you way too early in the morning to give you crap about getting older (as mine always did.) The big crescendo is the first anniversary of their death. You will want to lie around and shut out the world and cry all day. Lie, shut out and cry if you must. But at some point on that day – on all the days of those “firsts” – take just a moment to remember them and smile at all the wonderful memories you shared. And share that with the others grieving with you. Then, the next day, you get up and you live. Because that is what they would want you to do. I know for a fact my dad would kick my ass if he knew how much I “carry on and fuss and cry” about him. I can almost hear him reprimanding me for it all the time. 

I wish I could tell you it gets easier. That has not been my experience. I can say that I deal with it differently now, almost four years later, but the pain and heartache today is every bit as raw as the day he died. I get so effing MAD when I still go to pick up the phone to call my dad about something. Or when I panic for half a second because I didn’t get his Father’s Day card/gift in the mail yet and it won’t reach him in time. (How great would it be if heaven had mail service?) WHY does the mind allow you to that to yourself?! How is it possible to momentarily forget that it’s real? That they are really gone? Yep. She’s a cold bitch, that grief. 

You will feel the pain and heartache and profound loss every day. But you will have sweet, sweet moments when you feel their presence with you. They will come to you in a dream, a song, a memory, a beautiful sunny day, the way one of your kids does something that reminds you of them. A million ways, they will be there. Not in the way we would like, but there nonetheless. And I promise, one day, you will feel them and remember them and be filled with love and happiness – not tears. You may feel guilt over not being constantly sad, and while it’s normal to feel that way, it is important to remember that your grief and your tears are not what ties you to their memory. This is something with which I have personally struggled. 

After the funeral, everyone leaves… they go home, you go back to your job and your other responsibilities, but you are left with your blinding grief and pain. The calls, visits, texts, etc. all slowly subside. It’s not because people no longer care. I think they just don’t know what else to do, other than leave you to try to pick up the pieces and move forward in your grief journey. You are not going to “get over this.” You will never be the same. You will wonder how the sun dares to continue to shine; how the world continues to turn while yours is falling apart. Grief will be your constant companion. But one day, you’ll realize that you have the ability to tuck that grief safely away in your pocket for a bit, in order to continue living your life. But there will always be times when it falls out of that pocket, landing at your feet, causing you to trip right over it. Go ahead and fall…but don’t stay there.  

However you need to grieve is the right way for you. And you are NOT alone. ❤️

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