A Long Rambling, Run On Sentence, Stream of Consciousness: Celebrating my Dad, A Sampling of What I’ve Learned About Grief and a Year of Survival

Dad loved to travel and just GO! He loved to get in his Mustang convertible (a 2009 which was a throwback to the 60’s version, I believe) and explore a different part of Virginia, he loved exploring out West,  planning his next trip to Europe or wherever he and mom were off to in order to check another location off his travel list. He also loved music; he’d always beg for me to play the piano for him, Fur Elise was his fav, loved him some Billy Joel, Beatles, Moody Blues.  He was also a good person who saw the value of being involved in the community, as a local government Leslie Knope-like leader, a Boy Scout assistant scout master for a while, always willing to mentor and encourage people in the county, and at national and local functions he took part on committees to better the community. He also valued education and we share our Alma Mater, the College of William and Mary (go Tribe!).  I’m grateful that with this combination of who he was, he influenced and helped cultivate a sense of adventure and exploration in me and in my life. Look at me here now, in Bonn, I quit my job, left a city, family and friends that I know and love, and moved across the globe to start a new chapter of my life with Sean (I think I also don’t emphasize enough how excited I am to be here though!!!). It’s not that crazy, but sometimes it feels like it. Dad would have loved it, at least I hope so, and at least he can’t complain about it now. har har morbid humor.

(Insert songs about change…Tupac , David Bowie…etc),

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In his absence, I’ve realized how often I used to call him to share something that I knew he’d get, something about work, something cool that I did, saw, or experienced in D.C., something to laugh or complain about, ask him the best way to light a grill and not blow myself up, should I open an IRA? etc, etc, etc. Missing one of two people who have known me the longest and been a mentor in my life has left quite the gap, but I’ve realized I can do these things on my own, and maybe I relied too much on his opinion/life experience. I’m a grown ass woman, and I should prob act like one!

While I’ve been in Bonn for the last 2 weeks, I’ve turned a corner here and seen something there, or heard someone speaking in German and I’m like Gotta call dad, he’d love this, and then I realize I just can’t.  When I was taking my German class over the summer in D.C., I’d leave class and think I’d hop on the phone and tell him what I’d learned.  So many times, in my planning of this trip to join Sean here, I’d think, if only Dad were here, he’d know the answer! But, he and mom equipped me and gave me the tools to do it on my own, in a way that many children never have, so I’m thankful for that.

Cindy sent me this post on grief (thanks Cindy!) and I love what “this old guy” has to say:

Just what this guy expresses for himself: I was so low at times, just floating sitting on my couch crying, and it sucked, just plain old sucked, but I got through it, and I’m okay; different in ways, more mature in ways. Closer to people who were by my side than I might have been before. It was a positive reality check for me too, being so aware of how I was doing at my lowest, has made me appreciate what a happy, healthy, confident, stable person I am at my best. In those times of asking myself Omg am I crazy, will I ever feel better? I kept going because I knew I could and I had to, and I wanted to. All of this is just a piece of the experience I’ve had with grief. It’s such an individual experience, and in some ways my grief is less painful than that of many people, but we’re not competing!

I’ve never experienced the highs of being totally fine one day and then feeling stuck in total desperation of not knowing what to do, or how to deal in this way, and for that I’m majorly grateful. Along the way, I kept trying to figure out how to balance feeling all of this emotion, mourning my father, being sad, wanting to know you’re feeling it with how to not always be in that sad mournful state and get happy again without feeling bad for feeling relief. Learning again what makes you happy and is fulfilling, looking again who you are and what you want out of life with shifted priorities, came up a lot for me. How do you not let this define you, while also integrating it into your slightly changed identity. (but you can say that about every big life event or trauma, right?)

Grief is such an interesting and strange process. It’s like a being brought back into the world as a baby bird after having lived a stable human adult life, shocked and trying to take in this new world, open your eyes, learn how to use your wings, leave home learn to fly, learn how to feed yourself again, and learn who’s there for you back in the nest. Yes, I said that. LOL! Grasping the finality of death, has also been hard for me. Where’d he go? Literally, I talked to him hours before he was gone, what?? Also, just bodies are weird – they live, they die; they work, they don’t. So weird. I understand now how toddlers go through object permanence and why they find ‘peek-a-boo’ so fascinating. One minute you’re there, and the next you’re not. CRAZY!!!

In each of the grief books and articles that I read (at least for me) the stages of grief were spot on in that you experience some of these things at one time or another (not necessarily in any order) and it’s kind of nice to be like, YES! This is what I’m experiencing. But then it’s also easy to self diagnose and say, am I doing this right? Am I not okay? This book is telling me I’m crazy! and have “complicated grief,” but that’s not what those books are meant for. They let you know that your shock, depression, sadness, anger, guilt, sadness, etc are okay. Phew!

In the months after Dad’s death, I still felt like I had to be the person I was before my dad died, the happy confident person. For who, I’m not sure. I questioned everything about myself, felt like I couldn’t do all the things I used to be able to do, and by not doing them, or not being that person that I think of myself as, that it was some sort of failing on my part.  I kept asking why this life event was causing me to react this way. I’d also ask, why am I totally fine today, and yesterday I was desperately sad and in need of a puppy and a hug? Is okay if I go to a holiday party and just talk to the babies and the animals? 

One of the things grief books always tell you is that you have to be cautious and forgiving with yourself during this time of grieving. I had to learn that the hard way sometimes, learning when to leave a room if someone talking about death was on the T.V. or if the topic got to close to dad, dads or family (though now I want to hear all about your Dad, tell me more, does he wanna hang? lol), I definitely lost it a few times at embarrassing moments like at work, but I learned with time what I couldn’t handle and had to forgive myself – though I was the only one feeling like that in my world full of very supportive people. Even through the embarrassment, I hope that my more outward expression of my grief (ugh – ugly crier here) can be helpful for other people who haven’t experienced grief, who inevitably will experience it, or who are experiencing it themselves, as a way to not feel bad about their own grief, or that you have to do things a certain way.

I’ve learned a little bit better how to ask for help. That’s important. Knowing how to ask for help, not being afraid to ask for help. I am lucky that I have a hugeee support system, and even with those people, I didn’t always know how to ask for help, but you’re all so wonderful that you were there for me anyway. Again, another example of how thankful I am that I just have these people in my life.

This whole thing has been a real eye opener to me of how strong I am, how strong and resilient people can be, how much I feel for any one, especially kids who lose parents or don’t have strong stable mentoring relationships in their lives.  It won’t ever go away, but I can get through the difficult things, and come out on the other side okay, and better able to deal with the hard parts of life. I’ve had a really great life thus far, and losing dad has been the hardest thing ever, but life goes on, and this isn’t the last hard thing I’ll have to deal with I bet – so knowing I got through this, makes it feel like I can get though anything.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this date, October 19th, the one year anniversary of Dad’s death and not knowing what to make of it.  The one year anniversary marks many things, I’m still grasping my head around it. It means we’ve gone through each season and month of an entire year without him when I spent almost 28 years WITH him around; we had his 60th birthday, each of our birthdays without him; it means that Mom still wakes up every morning missing her husband and her life, that James and I miss the fun, dedicated Dad, confidant, problem solver, and friend he was to us now that we’re adults; that my family, great grand mother, aunts, cousins who looked up to my dad have him in their lives, that my grandparents wake up and miss their son and wonder why they outlived him, it means the people important to us and people we meet will never get the chance to know our father; we made it through things we never wanted to have to do without Dad; we asked people for things we never thought we would, and that we didn’t know what to ask for because were forced to live in a different way, first getting through the big hairy ugly fog and each of the stages of grief, and figure out what to make of it, and we’re living still, but it’s not easy, and it’s not going away.

The one year anniversary also means we’re revisiting the minutes, hours, days around his death, and the longing to have back our dad and to have one more little dad hug: he won’t be there to celebrate each of the promotions and work milestones I achieve, it means he won’t see me buy something large and luxurious that I’ve worked hard for and that he taught me how to work hard for (you’ll all be invited on my boat when I purchase it ha), it means my future animal kids and real children won’t have my dad as a grandfather, it means he won’t be at my wedding, we will never travel together somewhere again, he won’t be there to make terrible (terribly awesome) dad jokes (it’s okay, I’ve got plenty of those in my pocket, oh and in the people in my life). All of this is hard to think about again, and as grief goes, they’ll come and go throughout life.

All of this isn’t unique to grief though, any type of life change, trauma, loss has some of the same components of grieving; things like moving, the birth of a child, losing something like a backpack that had your prized possessions in it that you thought you’d never get along without (source: Alice), experiencing a life altering event like violence or other wrong doing in your world, getting a new job. New beginnings come with endings, saying goodbye, uncertainty, excitement, growth, new challenges, fear, rediscovering joy, relabeling yourself and sorting through the details; you can no longer live the life you did exactly that way you did before, everything changes because your life revolves around some new, but maybe (hopefully) exciting life change. I guess sometimes being forced into a different way of living can lead you to make positive change, revisiting your priorities in life, and you learn, grow,  and navigate yourself in a new direction, in ways you never would have before (in the long run!)

Even with all these things, I am fine, I’m great and will get through each of these things while keeping in mind that we will always celebrate all of the good he brought to my life and my family’s life, and be glad he was the person he was to me for 28ish years, to his family for 59 years.  I feel like we’re all living a One Million piece jigsaw puzzle and each part of life connects to the next, Dad was a huge chunk of my puzzle, and everyone in your life is a piece of this puzzle eventually making you up as a whole. Sometimes the pieces fit in right, other times they don’t, and you have to keep trying to find where it fits, where the pieces interlock. In the end, you have a big beautiful picture, right? Maybe it’s not what you thought it would be, but there you have it. Definitely. ((as long as your box isn’t missing a piece, but mine certainly isn’t, for all your cynics) (sidenote: I LOVE PUZZLES!)

Soooooooo, I recently read about a Huffpost writer who uses the anniversary of her Dad’s death to post a picture and know that at least on that day, once a year, her Dad’s memory lives on to her 70,000 followers. I like that idea for my 50,000 loyal readers hahahah  Thanks for amusing me by reading my rambling and for having been part of my support system this past year and beyond 🙂 . And thanks for taking a moment out of your day to think about me my family, and my dad.

To celebrate Dad today in Germany, I am going to figure out how to speak enough German at a copy shop to print and mail a paper application for a job at a museum (come on, it’s 2015!),  go buy myself a pastry and a coffee, then meet Sean for a flammkuchen and beer to toast dad for dinner tonight. Flammkuchen is a German pizza that Dad loved, and he loved to have fun too, so fun shall be had. Enough sap. PROST!

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This is one of the last pics of Dad. We were at W&M Homecoming having a wonderful afternoon. Glad he looks so happy.
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Dad, creeping in the background since 1693.
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No idea what we were talking about, but it was very important and exciting for sure.
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2 thoughts on “A Long Rambling, Run On Sentence, Stream of Consciousness: Celebrating my Dad, A Sampling of What I’ve Learned About Grief and a Year of Survival

  1. Melissa, this is beautiful. I love you and I miss your dad so much. I love the W&M pictures! And in the Christmas one up top, that’s me next to you two. I don’t remember seeing it before. Thanks for sharing:) I hope you enjoy your celebration tonight. I don’t want to try and speak for him or anything, but I’m pretty sure your dad would be very proud of you for your German adventure! Lots of love and across the world hugs being sent to you, today especially!!

  2. Melissa, this is a beautiful tribute to your dad. It made me laugh, cry, and laugh some more! I feel honored to have known your dad. I know he lives on through you 🙂

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