“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”– Washington Irving
We often think of grief as a response to a death, which is often the case. But we grieve over so much more than death: the loss of a job, a change in life circumstances, a loved one or yourself becoming disabled. Grief occurs any time we suffer a loss, whether it’s a perceived loss or an actual loss.
There are five stages to grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Of course, it’s not that easy. Grief comes in waves. You cycle through the stages, again and again. You make think you have reached acceptance, only to realize you are back in the troughs of any of the other stages.
With an incredibly significant loss, the grief may never leave. The grief haunts us, hanging over us like a shrouded black veil.
I know grief. He is an old friend of mine. I’ve had to grieve the lives I’ve lost, to both mental and chronic illness. I’ve grieved the loss of my livelihood, my job, and my career. I’ve grieved the deaths of my grandparents. And most importantly, I’ve had to grieve the loss of my father.
In the almost ten years since my dad passed, I have not reconciled within my psyche the grief that accompanied his death. I still cry when I see parents die in movies, especially fathers. I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t like to write about it or think about it. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid the subject.
In refusing to allow myself to grieve the loss of my father completely and fully, I am still cycling through the stages. There is no denial or bargaining anymore, but there are depression and anger. I have not even come close to acceptance, though.
My dad was sick for many years before he died. I watched him slowly whither away, from a strong, intelligent and jovial man to a 51-year-old who resembled someone decades older, someone with Parkinson’s like symptoms and dementia.
Life is cruel sometimes. My dad got sick, really sick, in 2000. He did not pass until nine years later. I spent my youth watching my dad die, until the moment I stood in his room at the board and care and watched him take his last breath.
I spoke at his funeral, although I have no recollection of it. I quickly spiraled into mania and then a crushing depression. For the next year, I was trapped by bipolar disorder.
My mind lied to me. My brain told me things that weren’t true. But I believed it. I believed all of it.
The thing is—when you are mentally ill, you don’t really realize it. It’s called being ego-dystonic. Ego-dystonic means that you do not see the pathology in yourself; you do not think the problem is with you. Instead, it is with everyone else.
I couldn’t even grieve the death of my father properly for the first year because of my mental illness. I was trapped in a sea of false thoughts and feelings, of mood swings, sleepless nights, and substance abuse.
And then, with therapy, medication and even a few hospitalizations, I began to slowly emerge from the stranglehold my bipolar had on me.
The conundrum now was that I needed to grieve the loss of me, the pre-bipolar me, and grieving the loss of my father was put on the back burner.
Seven years later, it’s still on the back burner, but I’ve run into a problem. The back burner has been slowly burning for these past seven years and now there’s a fire. The smoke is pouring into the kitchen; the alarms are going off.
I slowly start to put out the fire–a little here, a little there. Too much too soon is like oxygen to fire; it just makes it grow bigger and faster.
So tonight, I start here. I start with admitting I am still grieving and have not fully grieved the loss of my father. I start pulling out the fire extinguisher.
One day, I will get to the acceptance stage. Today is not that day. I will never fully get over the death of my father, but I will unpack it from my trauma suitcase. I will begin to talk about it; I will begin to allow myself to think of him and dare I say it, speak about him.
But for now, I write. Hidden behind a computer screen, with some anonymity (albeit limited), and I write about my father.
Death is feared by much of society, but when my dad died it was a relief. He had been sick and suffering for so long that it was a relief that he was out of pain and with the Lord.
Death is a blessing for those who are suffering, who have lived their life and their time has come. But for those of left behind, we are left with a gaping hole in our hearts, a hole that will never fully heal.
We try to fill it with other things, keeping ourselves busy with mindless and mundane tasks. We try to fill it with drugs and alcohol. But what really starts to mend the hole is love.
Grieve as much and as long as you need to. It’s been ten years and I’m just starting to broach my grief. I will never get over the loss of my father, but don’t speak in hushed whispers of those you have lost; celebrate the life they lived and the positive impact they had in your life and the lives of everyone else around them. On my dad’s headstone, it reads, “to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Let their legacy live on, through you. They may be physically gone from this world, but they live on in and through us, in our hearts and in our minds.
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