coping

For those who stumble upon this post simply because you were searching for a DIY project or recipe, you’re in for something different today. My father, Stan, passed away four weeks ago – complications from an illness that plagued him for the past 5 or so years. He was 67, and even though I knew he was sick, I think I had convinced myself he would always “bounce back”. Needless to say, it felt sudden to me.

This post is for my friends who have been asking after me since the passing of my father. I thought it would be helpful to me to write out my thoughts, and perhaps helpful for you and maybe others to read it.

How am I? I’m fine. Really. Seems weird huh?

I’m fine because I can’t cope being any other way. I’m either fine – this very controlled state which I’m currently residing – or I’m desperately hurting.

I’m laughing, surfing the web, being lazy, going for walks, cooking dinner – with grief just a moment away, like it’s something hovering behind me. It may appear as if life is functioning as it did 5 weeks ago – but I’m a different person. It’s so hard to articulate, I feel as if I’ve deepened some cavern in my soul. Something has happened in my life that is terribly sad and changed my path. Physically, I can’t be conscious of all that’s happened, but it’s happened. I don’t want to ignore it. I don’t want you to ignore it. But I can’t express my anger or grief readily for all to see. So please, ask me about it. I want to be asked. My carrying on as normal is not a sign that I’m done with it or that I don’t want to talk about it. I do.

I often find my emotions shutting off with a flip of a switch. Suddenly I can’t be sad. I can’t be angry. Try as hard as I might…there’s nothing there to draw on. I wonder if that’s a safety mechanism. Are the feelings too great for me to handle?

SO, If I want to function in any way, I can’t allow myself to “go there”. Most of the time I ignore it. When I can’t ignore it, a long drive in our radio-less car, a shower, struggling to fall asleep, those are the moments I start to see pictures. Flashes of my dad. His hands – his squared thumbnail, his rings. His hugs – pats on the back, the smell of his leather jacket. His laugh – his chipped front tooth, cracking lips, squeaky eye rub, the amusement on his face. His hospital visits – his thoughtful eyes, chapped lips, tired body.

I see flashes of our last visit at his house together. Two days before he went to the hospital for the last time, I gave him a hug as he sat on the couch, exhausted from pain. He took my palm in his palm and kissed the back of my hand gently. I can still feel it.

I wonder if he knew how sick he was then? Why didn’t I ask? Why wouldn’t he tell me? Two days later when I overheard my dad, my very own dad, tell the doctor that he was tired and ready to let his body go, absolute shock washed over me. My internal dialogue: “There has been a mistake. We shouldn’t be here. This isn’t happening. There is no way they will let that happen.” He saw me crying. To the best of his ability at the time, in all his pain he asked me if I understood. I told him I understood…but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

Then he needed privacy for the nurses to tend to him, I was ushered out and spoke with the doctor about what this all meant. Why didn’t I ask him if he was scared? Why didn’t I listen better? Less than 24 hours later, he would be gone.

The thoughts of his physical presence, our tangible moments together are painful enough to remember, only because I can’t replicate them. There’s no more hugs, exchange of jokes, FroYo, or card games.

With these flashes come deeper questions. What happens now? He won’t be here when Matt and I have our first child. He won’t see me become a mom. He won’t be here to help me. And I need his help. I need my dad.

Why can’t I remember his theories on heaven? My faith has been shaken a bit, though I assume in a way that is expected and natural. For instance I find myself thinking, “I just wish I knew where he was…that it is real.”

Then come flashes of a deep festering anger. What he dedicated his life to, the church, it hurt him deeply. That’s all too common a story. My father was a super complicated person. One instance being the most warm, thoughtful and inquisitive person ever, the next he could be difficult, and set firm boundaries that often made him seem unapproachable to others. But I have to tell you…one thing that has stood out to me about who my father was that was so perfectly put by many at his memorial, is that he was someone that would SHOW UP for people. Regardless of their bullshit, their story, their difficult personalities, their broken lives. It was about them and he listened well and journeyed with people. He set aside the freakishly difficult and complex stories people brought to him…just to be present with them. He did that for people, people didn’t return the favor. I know he wasn’t perfect, trust me I do. There are times when I feel so angry at him for different reasons. But I don’t remember there being a rule that we only show up to help, understand, love, and support perfect people, or only when someone is easy to help. That’s certainly not what he did. Where was grace when he needed it?

My anger fades into a river of gratitude when I remember that there were indeed people looking out for him, people showing up. They saw the truth of what was happening in his life. The truth of how much grace he was still carrying for so many, even as they mistreated him. I am truly indebted to those who gave this brilliant and sick man, my father, a chance to live in to his full potential before he passed away. What an absolute gift they gave him. It’s all so terribly tragic and so hard to think about.

It seems he has left a chasm of complexity for me to weed through in every area of my life. The stress has subsided, which I’m grateful for, though I’m still left without him and without his affirmation for the decisions that I’ve made and will be making.

The night after he passed away, I was trying to fall asleep. I was tearful, restless. Guilt overwhelmed me. Did I do things right? Is he ok? I kept remembering things we talked about, and it was weighing down on my chest. It felt that if I exhaled, I wouldn’t have the strength to push against the weight and fill my lungs again. Suddenly I was aware of a presence in my room. It felt like my dad’s spirit was there. I was sure of it. I heard in my mind my dad’s voice say, “I’m sorry Sweetie.” A sad calm washed over me. I could breathe more easily. I’m grateful for that moment, even though it was hard.

See what I mean? What if I just walked around all day every day feeling all this crap? I can’t do it. But it hits me when I least expect it. While grocery shopping I saw a man who looked a lot like my dad. Same hair, leather jacket, gait, shoes, skin tone. I stopped and stared at him. If there had been any closer resemblance I would have asked him for a hug. I walked away to the cereal aisle, and bawled.

How am I?

I’m fine, I’m really not fine, I’m angry, I’m OK, I’m numb, I’m hurting, I’m searching, I’m alright, I’m hopeful, I’m talkative, I’m quiet, I’m tired, I’m fine.

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26 thoughts on “coping

    • I miss you too Evelyn!!! I’ve been thinking about you often actually. Thinking about the conversations we used to have about your mom. I hope becoming a mom yourself has been a healing experience…albeit a hard one I bet. Lots of love to you.

  1. I am a stranger who follows your blog. This is a thoughtful,honest post and as my Dad is in hospital, I do know where you were. What you are experiencing is grief and believe me feeling guilt is a sign that you are in the first stage of grief and of course you must talk, treasure the happy memories which is what your Dad would want. Look after yourself and if you can find some external support you can turn to so you can express your emotions. People will say time is a great healer, Rubbish all time does is pass, it is how you use the time that counts. Do come to your blog and tell us how you feel, rant and rave as much as you like, but don’t bottle it up. I have experienced very deep grief, it still hurts like crazy, but gradually a minute, then an hour passes and you haven’t thought about your loved one and you smile again. You will be in my prayers. Cathy xx

    • NanaCathy2!! I’m so honored you read this. I’m so so sorry to hear your dad is in the hospital. I agree…time is a great healing. In hindsight it’s always easier to make sense of what went on. In the meantime it’s hard. Keep me updated on your pops!

  2. Tears are literally pouring off of my face right now. Your family was like a 2nd family for me. Your dad like a weird (in a good way) 2nd dad who always had something strange and supportive to say to me. The last time I saw him, last summer, he seemed distant. We exchanged maybe two sentences in passing, but I could tell he was thinking about something deep in that moment. I walked away thinking, “I wonder if he’s ok.” I wish our last meeting had more substance to it. I wish I’d asked him if he was ok. But I will always cherish the memories of time spent with your dad. Of annoyed looks thrown our way during sermons, of the times he’d say EXACTLY what I needed to hear even if I didn’t know it. I know it may not feel like it, but I think you’re handling your grief beautifully and appropriately. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s also ok to be ok. You’re feeling the way you need to feel. And we’ll all be here for you when you need it.

    • Carrie…He always LOVED you. I told you that before. He thought all you had overcome in life was a total miracle. I HATE how it’s so easy to look back on conversations and try to replay them. Don’t you wish we would have payed attention to even ONE sermon? Gawd, I’ve got no idea what he ever preached on. I love you muchly Carrie. Thanks for you sweet and thoughtful response.

  3. Haley,
    I lost my dad in November and I have yet to hear or read something that so accurately articulated how I have felt and dealt since then. Thank you for writing this and taking the time to think it through. Even this week I have been surprised by grief because something in my soul has be broken. When I read about your dad on facebook my heart broke for you because I knew the pain of your heartbreak. How thankful I am to read that you are fine (and I know what you mean) and that you are finding things to laugh about and ways to live your life. I love you miss Haley! Thank you for your words here.

    • Katie –
      Holy moly. I had NO idea your dad had passed. I’m so so terribly sorry. I’m filled with absolute joy that you related to this. I literally sat down and rambled, not thinking many would find it interesting. Guess when we actually just speak truth, it shows.

      I’m sure you have a great support system around you (I HOPE!) but you can always reach out to me for whatever. I think it’s fascinating what you said about grief sneaking up on you, even now. Somehow I know it doesn’t get easier…you just learn to live with it.

      Were you left with a bunch of baggage to weed through? It’s the worst.

  4. Oh Haley, You described the feeling that surround each of us when a precious dear one dies. You will always miss him like no one else will, but for those of us that have walked this walk you describe is so well. All I can say is we understand and if you need a hug or a hand to hold Jim and I will be there for you. You know where to find us. It was so good to see you Sunday. Hugs, Marilyn

    • Marilyn – Thank you SO much for taking the time to read this! You’re so sweet to have shared what you did – thanks for being a good friend to my dad.

  5. Oh my. I lost my dad almost 4 weeks ago as well. I don’t have many words write now but yours were beautiful as they were painful. I too remember my dads chapped lips…that stuck with me. I don’t feel so alone now. Thank you for that. May both our dads be resting well.

    • I’m so so sorry Jojo. Was your dad sick as well? I really can’t describe how much it means to me that you commented. I’m so grateful that you heard something in all that rambling that made you feel understood.

      How do you find your memories coming back? In flashes and pictures? Certain images just haunt me. His belongings are too hard for me to see. Something about seeing his shoes makes me crumble.

      Thinking of you – Haley

      • Yes, Haley my dad was sick. He had double bypass surgery in February and his lungs never recovered (had COPD and congestive heart failure). We removed him from his ventilator in April and he passed an hour later.
        I can’t look at his shoes, either. His wallet, something he touched every day is hard to see as well. My mom has been sleeping on his side of the bed which sometimes freaks me out when I walk by their room.
        The memories are comforting to me. They usually flood back without warning when I hear someone say something he used to say. Its hard still. Maybe our dads have crossed heavenly paths by now. Take care.

  6. i lost my Mum in November last year and i can relate to EVERYTHING you have written. I don’t feel like the same person anymore. oh, and the grief really does hit when you least expect it. My siblings and i call them ‘sneak attacks’ or ‘surprise attacks’. One second you are fine, and then the next you’re crying in the supermarket. It’s hard….writing it down helps though. xo

    • i just wanted to add – i craft for therapy. maybe you could choose a project that relates to your Dad….patchwork blanket from his clothes or something similar. :)

      • You are SO sweet!! Crafting is SUCH a good idea! Right now I’m really only good for about an hour…then I just sort of crash. But sewing is definitely on my mind. I’m so sorry about your mom. It sounds like you’ve got good support in your siblings? I hope so…it helps astronomically to have others to process with.

  7. Love this Haley! And love YOU… You have such an honest spirit and I feel blessed to be able to journey through life with you… the good and the bad! I’m inspired by you everytime we talk and motivated to see things a little differently every time you share! I’m positive your Dad is so proud of the women you are and the wonderful character and grace you have had through all the tough stuff life has brought your way… Keep smiling, keep crying, keep laughing and keep loving… That’s how we continue living!

    • Katie –
      How gracious of you to read all this when you get to hear about it all the time! My rambling! I too am blessed to journey through life with you my friend. Thanks for the support I feel from you every time I see you.

  8. Thank you for sharing. I had known your dad since I was 19. I am now 61. While I was recovering from heart surgery at St Vincents I ran into your dad. This was in november. I was walking the halls to gain my strength when I saw you dad standing at the elevator. My heart lept with joy. For one of the things on my list to do when I was able was to seek out your dad and ask for his forgiveness. But here he was standing right in front if me. I was so scared that he wouldn’t forgive me. But he did. And he made laugh. Which was painful at the time. I am so thankful thst God gave me that moment with your dad. I was able to go to the service and so enjoyed listening to everyones stories. Your dad taught me many things and he did show up. Every time. Even in a hospital at an elevator. When he had no idea he was about to put a mans tortured conscious to rest. I loved your dad. Alot

    • Oh my. Anthony – What a meaningful and beautiful story you’ve just shared. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing it down – I’m sure that wasn’t easy. But I’ll cherish the words for a long time. I too am thankful that God gave you that moment with my dad…how like him to appear like that.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Words are so limited but can sometimes be stretched further if wielded by the right person and an honest heart. Your words are amazing, and I hope writing them down helped you as much as reading them has helped so many of us.

    I also just have to say that if you feel isolated in your emotions and struggles, you should read A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis. It’s not a book he wrote, but his personal journals after he lost his wife. Your thoughts rival his.

    • Brit – I used to own that book – never read, now it’s disappeared, ironically. I’ll have to find it again! Thanks for taking the time to read this and respond – and for all you’ve done for me since he passed away. I know you LOVED him and he loved you and Grant as well. I’ll have to tell you a funny story next time I see you about what he said about you two :)

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