The past few months have been the hardest of my entire 23 years. If you are a friend of mine, or have been following me on social media, you probably already know that my Dad recently passed away. I’ve shared a few photos, memories, and even information about his services. And while looking at photos and sharing stories eases the pain, I still have been going through an immense amount of grief that is not always talked about.
I wrestled back and forth about whether I wanted to share my experience with grief deeper than surface level, because it is so personal – so raw. But it wasn’t until I was listening to Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger Podcast with Emily Meyers of A Freckled Fox on ‘Handling Grief Publicly’ that I had changed my mind. As I listened to Emily and Jenna’s story I felt a little less alone. Losing someone you love is never easy – but it’s also never the same as anyone else. I’m an only child and my parents are divorced, so when my Dad died I felt so alone even when I was surrounded by people who loved me.
It was up to me to coordinate the funeral, write the obituary, plan the services and try my very hardest to do it all in the way my Dad would have wanted. I had so much weight on my shoulders. But beyond the logistics, I felt like no one understood the pain I was feeling or even began to understand what I was going through. And quite frankly, I didn’t want them to. I never want them to. But I was feeling all these waves of emotions (and still do) and I had to find a way to navigate them on my own.
But after hearing Emily & Jenna talk about their experience, there were so many times I was like yes, I feel that too. And because of that I felt a little more at peace. So even though this might be a long post, it might be way too personal, it might not be for you. But it’s for me. And its for someone out there that needs to feel the same way I did. A little less alone, and a little more at peace.
What grieving has been like for me…
I guess I should start with the fact that all of this, still doesn’t feel real. And I’m not sure it ever will.
Thanksgiving morning I got a call that instantly sent chills up my spine. I was told that no one had heard from my Dad and that they were putting in a missing persons report at the police station. I was the only one with a key to his condo. As Cole drove me to his place I imagined 100 different scenarios in my head. When I ran into his home I found him laying in his recliner looking so peaceful – as if he was sleeping, but this time he wasn’t ever going to wake up. I remember dropping to my knees and doing nothing but holding his hand for the next few hours.
Whenever I tell someone I found him they look at me with eyes full of pity imagining this traumatic experience. And although, I never wish it upon anyone, seeing him and remembering him like that brings me so much peace. He was comfortable, in his pajamas, slippers, and a little smile on his face. He didn’t suffer, he felt no pain.
The next few days and weeks were honestly a blur. But I can remember having this immense amount of strength. It’s so weird to even say. I was sad, and I was grieving but I felt so strong like I knew I could make it through. I’m not super religious and I don’t have clear beliefs but there is no doubt in my mind that my Dad was giving me strength to get through.
Everyone told me, “this is the hardest part” and I smiled politely and probably said all the right things but I knew in my heart that wasn’t true. The funeral, the endless food and support surrounding you – that is the easy part. Today, tomorrow, my wedding day, the day my Dad was supposed to be a grandfather, a random Tuesday afternoon– those are the hard days. The hard moments are the days he was supposed to be there. The days that literally just suck for absolutely no reason. The times that your family and friends continue with their life while you feel like you’re standing still. The days you just feel sad, irritable, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change it.
But with each passing day, I find a little more peace. Peace with the fact that my grief is mine and not everyone has to understand it. I find peace in writing, in photographs, in memories, in Cole, in my future, and in the sunlight that comes beaming through my rearview mirror warming my body as if my Dad is waving to me.
But I’ve learned there is no right or wrong way to feel – but only to embrace and honor all of the emotions throughout the waves.
I like to look at my Dad’s life in the fullness he lived rather than the shortness of time. I believe he fulfilled his purpose in life and now is an angel looking down on all of the people who loved him dearly.
But I also believe there are ways in which my Dad could have prolonged his life or prevented this from happening. Which is what leads me to why I’m sharing my heart this February. I want to connect this emotion to the very real truths about heart disease. Put a story to the statistic. Hoping that you can make a change in your life or impact your loved ones so you or someone you know doesn’t have to experience this pain.
February is American Heart Month. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women? 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. That’s every 33 seconds someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease. Which is roughly equivalent of a September 11th-like tragedy repeating itself every 24 hours, 365 days a year. That makes it feel real, doesn’t it?
I’m not sharing my story because I want your pity or sympathy but that in order to find peace in my own grief – I have to make my Dad’s death mean something. I have to use this small but beautiful platform to share my story so you can change yours.
So what can you do about it? Make a commitment to a healthy lifestyle and take action to improve your heart health. Schedule a visit with your doctor. Learn about your family history, ask questions about your health, be PROactive. Exercise & Eat Healthy. Remember that New Years resolution you had? Are you sticking to it? Your body is the ONLY place you have to live. So love it and nurture it. For you – and for all the people who love you.