Finding the way through
Note: This is a bit long and rambling, but something I just wanted to write for myself. I have a strong feeling I'll be back to my regular blogging shenanigans soon.
Friends, I want to thank you so much for all of the love and kindness you have shared with me since my dad passed away. The kind comments you have left both here and elsewhere have meant so much. About six weeks have passed since my dad died, and I am starting to feel like I'm out of the "active grieving" stage, if that makes any sense at all. The sun is shining, my kids are adorable and funny, I have a brand new house and garden to tend to... there are a lot of wonderful things to occupy my mind these days, and I am finally beginning to feel like I can do things again because I want to do them, and not just get through them while my mind and heart are elsewhere.
I think this will probably be my last post, for a long time at least, about losing my dad. I never ever want to forget any part of his life or even his death and what they have meant to me, but I feel like now the time has come to make room for the rest of my life. To face forwards and open my arms and my heart to whatever life may bring. But before that, I want to write a little about my experiences with grief. Although I am quite an emotionally private person, I found it helped me so much to write about my dad dying, so I hope you'll indulge me one more time.
My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer four years almost to the day before he died. It was quickly discovered that the cancer was too advanced to operate, and had caused too much damage to treat successfully with chemotherapy or radiation. We knew almost from the start that the disease was going to kill, we just didn't know exactly when. On the one hand, it gave us four years to prepare and adjust to the idea that we were going to lose my dad, which meant that a lot of our grieving, the shock and the anger especially, took place before he died. On the other hand, it meant I had four years of wondering every time my mom called if it was going to be The Call. Four years of quietly grieving inside myself without really being able to talk to anyone (besides Nick, who has been wonderful) about how I was feeling. I also felt a strong need to stay as strong as I could for my mother especially. It felt selfish to unburden my feelings on someone who was so much more on the front lines than I was.
When the day came that my dad, I felt a huge mix of feelings. Sorrow because he was gone, relief because his (and by extension our) suffering was at an end, disappointment that we hadn't gotten there in time to spend more time with him. I felt very tired, empty and a little bewildered. But most of all, I had an amazing sense of peace, like someone constantly whispering to my heart that everything was going to be alright.
In the following days I found that I needed to keep busy. As soon as we were able, my mum and I scrubbed, vacuumed and dusted the room my dad had been living in to within an inch of its life. Not to get rid of any trace of him, but to reclaim that room from the sickness and the cancer that had occupied it for so long. We opened the windows to let fresh air in, washed the curtains and put the furniture back where it belonged. It felt so good. The same urge returned the day before the funeral when I woke up with a strong need to rake and spring clean the garden. Nick and I spent most of the day hauling away wheelbarrows full of leaves and uncovering flowerbeds from their winter sleep. My dad was a hard worker all his life, and I kept thinking that he would approve of me going to his funeral with callouses on my hands from working all day.
For the two weeks between the day my dad died and until we got home, I was mostly ok. I cried at night a few times when I was alone with my thoughts, and I cried at the funeral which was beautiful, but naturally a very emotional experience. But we were busy with the kids, and honestly focused on enjoying the time we had with my mum and brother. We did a lot of really nice things, and laughed a lot together.
When we got back home to our new house in Utah, though, I was kind of broadsided by grief all over again. I was on my own with the kids again, which gave me a lot of time to think as I unpacked and tried to get our house together. I got overwhelmed easily, it was hard to focus and I was just bone achingly tired all the time. When I wasn't with my children, I would cry and cry. Having experienced depression in the past, I would say that grieving and being depressed feel a lot the same. The difference was that I knew that there was a logical and valid reason for me to feel this way, and that it would eventually get better. And now things are getting a little better and a little easier every day.
I want to tell you that there are good things about this experience too. People are good and kind and loving, and there were moments where the outpouring of love we felt genuinely held us up. We had so many flowers and cards and letters and phone calls and emails and visits that meant so much to us.
I'm not quite sure how to put this into words, but I also wanted to mention that the loss of my father has allowed some healing to take place. I'm human and so was he, and so there were some things (nothing major) in our relationship that had been difficult. The moment I sat down at his bedside, all of that was taken away. Nothing mattered except that he was my Daddy, I was his little girl and we loved each other so much. In the weeks that have followed, all of the hard feelings and not-so-great memories I have of my dad have started to fade, because they are no longer important. My relationship with my dad is nothing but peaceful and loving.
Another thing that has been remarkable to me is how I remember my dad. With living people you remember them as you last saw them, or at least as how they have looked or been recently. When I think of my dad, I don't see him as he was on those last days. He has somehow become every age to me, and so the Daddy who carried me on his shoulders when I was five is just as close and real as the Daddy who cried on my wedding day or showed Espen how to hammer in nails last summer. I'm not quite sure how that has happened, but it is a genuine gift that I am truly grateful for.
Above all, (be warned, I'm going to get a little religious here) I am grateful for the comfort and the peace I have found in my faith. As much as it has hurt to lose my dad in this life, I know that he's not lost from us forever. I know that we will one day see him again. I believe that he is in a place where he is happy and safe and free from the pains and frustrations of sickness. I believe that my dad will have a chance to share in our experiences as a family as he watches over us from afar. And he will always be a part of our family.