Losing my Dad at 18 yrs….What Life Looks Like Now That He’s Gone

This post was written by our daughter Genevieve. She is the oldest of our blended family, and Ray’s only natural daughter. Genevieve has been brave enough to share the story of losing her father with all of us in order to shed some light on how this impacts a child her age. I am incredibly proud of her, as I know her father would be too. Our hope is that her words would bring you new knowledge, insight and peace in knowing a little bit of what might be going on for someone who is experiencing this.


I
’ve written this more times than I can count and every draft has been left unfinished because I struggle so much with the reality that my dad is gone, forever. I could tell you about what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now, however I genuinely feel that instead of painting a picture of the events of finding out my dad was sick, having an ill parent, and then losing a parent, I would prefer to write about my experience of the situation, and how my life and my perception has been forever altered.

It didn’t hit me that my dad was very sick until a long time after he was diagnosed. I could say he was sick, but I didn’t truly believe it, and I certainly didn’t believe that his life was at stake in this battle. Cancer was just going to be one of those things that my family would overcome, much like they overcame all the havoc I had brought to our family. I was in denial about the severity of the situation. My parents had me quite young and I always joked that we would be in the same old folks’ home one day, so the idea that I would lose one of them at eighteen was completely unfathomable. Somewhere along the line, close to the end, something clicked for me, realizing the seriousness of this situation. Right away I was engulfed in the guilt and shame around how much time I had wasted and how I treated my dad and just how I behaved as a daughter. Just as I was amidst these realizations and the complete shame and remorse that accompanied them, I had another realization that I could not change the past and I only had now to step up and be the daughter my dad truly deserved. So, that’s what I decided to do.

I was often told how brave I was for doing the best I could to show up for him in his last months but I genuinely see no bravery. I was just doing what I had to do to give my dad the daughter he deserved all along in his last month or so here with us. I have a lot of pride when I talk or think about my father because he was an incredible man. He was so goofy, loving, kind, humble, patient, understanding, strong, and honestly the best dad a girl could ask for. In between all the chaos that I caused in our relationship, I have many, many happy memories of him and I. I know how much my dad loved me and it still really sucks to think about just how awful I was to him.

After my dad passed I felt completely numb and in a fog which was not what I was expecting, I knew that the time was coming so this feeling of numb and fogginess seemed like a weird reaction. I had done so much crying and pleading with God in the months prior that I felt cried out. I just felt nothing. My family, especially Donna’Lee, my Mom, my good friend Kesia, the Ashdowns, and the Halls were all so incredible during this time. It seems that a societal norm for dealing with death is to be surrounded by your loved ones which was the opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be around people because being around them made it all more real.

The first few weeks were a blur, all that sticks out was the funeral which was an absolutely beautiful celebration. I cried for the first time that day, but continued to have desert eyes afterwards. Life kept happening and I was angry because the more time passed the more real it became. There’s a constant tape playing in my head reminding me that he’s gone. Beforehand, I did a lot of reading about grieving and it seemed reasonable, and somewhat clean cut. You would handle the seven stages and then you were done. What I seemed to miss in all the reading, was that grieving is not simple or clean cut. Sometimes I might handle stage 7, 1, 3, and 6, all before noon. Some days, I can’t get out of bed and some days the littles things turn me into an angry dragon.

I don’t cry a lot; I just get angry. Things set me off that seem weird to others but make sense to me. Like petite vanilla scones, or a certain song, or seeing fathers and daughters out together, or just the fact that life is continuing to happen. I don’t know who or what I’m angry at necessarily, but I know that I’m angry that my dad won’t walk me down the aisle, or see my brother grow from a little boy to a man, or watch my sister grow into the incredible young woman that she is becoming. I hate that my brother is four years old and prays to have his daddy back from heaven and that my sister is among the hardest years while having to grieve a parent. This all makes my blood boil. And then, whenever I talk about my dad and having to deal with these struggles, people always throw clichés out there like “He’s watching over me” and, “He’s there in spirit” or “He’s in a better place”. Maybe to some they are words that comfort, and because this is such a sucky situation people feel the need to be fixers and comfort me. I know that before I experienced this I said the same clichés with all the right intentions but now being on the receiving end, I dread them.

Yes, he is watching, and yes, he is here in spirit, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is gone forever. I can never ever hug him or call him, or have him give me words of encouragement. Yes, he is in a better place, I wouldn’t ask for him to be back here or in the state that he left in, but that doesn’t change the reality of him being gone. He won’t meet my children, he didn’t get to see me get clean, he didn’t get to see me move into my first apartment, he won’t meet my first boyfriend or see me go to university. I can’t call him and tell him about how hard it is being an adult and how I just want to be his little princess again, dancing in the kitchen making crepes. I can’t even eat crepes anymore. I feel guilty about how good my life is getting because I think I should be suffering for wasting so much time and just being so awful to my own father who loved me SO much.

I dread holidays because it is a clear reminder that life is continuing and my dad isn’t here for it. I know in my heart that he wouldn’t want me to be living my life with so much anger, and shame; so, every day I just try and do the next right thing- if not for me then for him. I know there isn’t anything anyone could say to change my feelings, and that this is something I need to work through myself. I know that I won’t live like this forever, and that just because my grieving process is different than others doesn’t make it wrong.

By no means am I writing this in hopes of a perfect response, sympathy, or an answer to make me feel 100% better- those are the last things I’m looking for. I am writing this to share my experience of the hardest time of my life, in case someone out there is struggling with a similar situation. That they might come across this and have their heart say, “me too.”

~Genevieve

Merry 2017!

As you can see I decided not to write any grief posts during the holidays because I know for many people it is already difficult and the last thing they probably wanted to hear is how sad or difficult the Christmas season can be for others. On the other hand it is meant to be a time of joy, celebration, love and togetherness. Even for those of us who are still nursing a loss. I would rather not add to the sadness.

Instead I have saved my new series for the New Year. It will be mainly guest posts offering a window into what loss looks like from different angles: As a young adult, teenage step-child, bystander, the surviving parent and maybe one more……I hope that this series will be helpful to those either in one of these situations or on the outside trying to gain some perspective. I’m incredibly grateful for these amazing people who have chosen to share their very personal experience with you all. Vulnerability and openness is so incredibly healing. I hope the healing spreads far and wide.

On that note, my hope for everyone is that you all found moments of joy over the holidays. That you recognized them and cherished them right then and there for as long as you could keep them alive. It’s so easy for us to obsess over the past, get distracted, or worry over the future. In 2017 I hope we can all put the phones away, turn the t.v. off (unless you have children and that’s your only hope of sanity!) and savour the good moments together. Stay present. Be in love and peace with one another.

It’s been a crazy year but this family is going to do their best to keep capturing smiles, excitement and enjoyment with one another. Despite everything, we will continue to let God’s goodness seep in. Even if we’re a little teary, it still feels good, warm and welcome.

On that note, stay tuned for my first guest post this week. Feel free to subscribe at the top of the page to make sure you never miss a post. And comment below to share with us how you managed your loss over the holidays.

Love you all,

~DL

XO

The Ugly Side of Grief

*WARNING* use of foul language may offend some readers. My apologies.

I wrote this post about 5 months after Ray died while I was going through a difficult period of grief. Seeing as I feel like I’ve slipped back there with the holidays here I figured now is as good a time as any to publish it. As healing as it is to share this experience there are times when nothing softens the blow of the loss. The holidays are incredibly hard. This time last year we were barely hanging on to our last few threads of hope which was swiftly taken from us, my husband rushed to the hospital on Christmas Eve, never to return home again. Within about a month this year I will have a birthday, a Christmas, a New Year and Ray’s first angelversary all lumped together. There’s too much to say here about that so I will save it for another day but take a read below. It is but a small window into the darkness that can set in at any given time for us bereaved.

F*@*% Grief!

Yup, I said it. F@#$ Grief. Yes, I’m a Christian, yes I’m familiar with the verse Ephesians 4:29: “Don’t use foul or abusive language”….And no, I don’t care that I just dropped an F-bomb in my faith based blog, and quite frankly I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t either, but that’s another conversation.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m mad. Straight up pissed off. The personality trait I am most often associated with is resilience and it’s doing sh** all for me right now. Who cares if I’m resilient and can carry on a relatively normal life with fairly emotionally healthy relationships and, considering the circumstances, well-rounded kids. I mean, I’m thankful-of course, but I’m sorry to say I don’t feel like it’s enough. I would say that I don’t mean to sound selfish, but I am. I want it all. I’m tired. I’m tired of living a year + with the prospect of death looming over my family’s head. I’m tired of our hopes being dashed. I’m tired of the flashback memories and navigating my way through people’s expectations and sometimes strange ideas. Most of all, I’m tired of grief.

I’m sick of walking in the quicksand of grief everyday desperately clutching the branch of life. I’m tired of grief riding shotgun to every single happy moment I experience, reminding me of what could have been and what isn’t. I’m tired of experiencing the sun-kissed feeling of love for life and everything in it just to look down and realize that I’m still wading in the murky waters of sadness, my feet stuck in the mud of missing him.

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When will it ever go away? I imagine never. It feels as though I’m walking around with a cannon-sized hole through my chest. I can reach my arm straight through to the other side. I look at my hand bewildered, thinking what the hell just happened.  But I know exactly what happened. The same thing that’s going to happen to all of us. Death. Why then, if we know it will happen, is it so flippin’ hard?! Is it cultural? Are we just not emotionally prepared for the inevitable coming of death? Is it because it was too soon? Is there a too soon?

I’m not going to wish Ray back. It’s impossible and besides I truly believe he’s in a much better place. I just miss him. I miss him for me, my kids, his family. Oh, God do I miss him! I couldn’t even tell you what about him I miss, I just do. Purely his existence, the knowing that he’s there.

My life is moving forward, it’s true. I don’t know that there’s any other direction it can move? People say time heals all wounds. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. According to dictionary.com ‘heal’ means to make healthy, whole or sound; restore to health; free from ailment. If that’s the case, I don’t think that’s what happens. I can’t say for sure, it’s only been 5 months, but I get the feeling this hole will always be here. It might hurt less as time goes on, some parts may even grow over, but it will still exist.

Sometimes I wonder if us grievers come to like the hole, as though it is a way of honouring the deceased. I don’t like that, nor do I want to do that. I hate that damn hole. More than anything I wish it never happened, but since it did I wish it would just go away. I would consider myself pretty proactive in processing my feelings and seeking recovery and help emotionally, self-analytical to a fault for sure. Unfortunately, all that stuff only takes you so far. I’ve talked before about all the things I do to help me heal. It’s not enough, or maybe it is… who the hell knows?! Time, that’s what I’m counting on and it’s the one thing I have zero control over. Probably why I’m this close to pulling my hair out. I have no control in this situation just like I had no control in keeping Ray alive. Maddening.

I don’t care to be philosophical today. I know that God’s got a bigger plan and all that. I just don’t care. I’m mad. I’m tired and I’m ready for this to be over. I want Ray to stay special and remembered forever without having an anvil take me out every time he’s called to memory. I want to think of him with joy rather than the ‘why did you leave me?” cry from my heart. I want to not feel guilty for living. It’s a feeling I don’t understand in this situation. I’m pretty logical and know that there’s no reason for me to feel that way, yet I do. It’s biological. Kind of like the time I miscarried. I had carried and birthed a child before. I wasn’t even through my first trimester this time. There wasn’t even a fetus growing. It was a blighted ovum. Essentially an empty sac.  Yet, when I woke up from my DNC I woke up in tears. We weren’t ready for a baby at the time.  I was too early in my pregnancy to feel any kind of bond, yet my body knew something was missing. It felt very strange but very similar to how I feel now. Logic tells me one thing: There was never a baby to mourn. There’s no reason to feel guilty about moving on. But I feel it anyway, in my body, my heart and my mind. Ray is gone, there’s no changing it and he’s exactly where I hope to be one day but it still hurts. My heart and body still sense something missing even if my brain can rationalize. DAMN you biology!

Nevertheless grief is here. Stagnant grief, blurring my vision, plaguing my joy.

C.S. Lewis says, “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”

img_3392I guess that’s where I’m at.

Here’s to the next steps. I guess we’ll see where they take me…..

xo

~DL

 

 

Lesson #6: You Will Never Stop Missing Your Loved One

dsc_0672-2This lesson is altogether burdensome and relieving. One thing is for sure, at least so far for me, the longing never goes away. Even as I settle into my new life without Ray, as I find new love and new passions, the longing hangs from my heart. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s reminiscent, other times it just wants. Wants for a day time text from work, a laugh, something familiar. Just the sound or the smell. Something.

I don’t spend all my time moping around missing him. It’s just there. It’s becoming a part of me. There are days that I fight it. I think, “I just want this part to be over.” And then I realize, it will never be over. It can’t be. It was too special. I admit, at times it makes me feel a bit ill that this feeling will stay with me forever. It can be uncomfortable. It can tie one down. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable or tied down. Thankfully, that part only has to be temporary. For me, it comes and goes now. I sense this longing beginning to find a place to rest. I like that feeling. The feeling of the longing resting peacefully in my body, like it’s supposed to be there. Like HE’s there. That is comforting. That feels good.

This post isn’t going to be very long because, quite honestly, it doesn’t need to be. It is here to both calm your concerns over leaving them behind and equip you with the knowledge that this feeling is here to stay. You need to know this. You need to know so that you can help it find a safe place inside of you. You need to know so that you aren’t afraid of it. Not afraid of it going away and not afraid of it taking you out.

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I am quite young still and although I have had to say goodbye to a number of friends and family, losing my husband has been the hardest. Everyone else I was able to put into a nicely decorated room in my heart. My longing for Ray is still a little restless. It floats from here to there tickling my senses, rattling my memory, pulling at my heart strings. It demands attention and attention I give it.

As I said, at times it finds it’s resting place. I feel confident that, with time, it will get cozier in the room I am making for it. Right now, though, we still have some things to sort out. I’m okay with that. In fact, sometimes it’s soothing. I have accepted that my new friend Longing, is here to stay. We still have days in which we fight, but mostly we work at being friends. I think sometimes we relate missing someone to the equivalent of remembering them. I don’t know if that’s true, or healthy for that matter.

I accept (usually) that I will always miss Ray, that I will always FEEL the missing of him. I don’t worry about forgetting him. I know that won’t happen. It can’t, and I talk about that in one of my upcoming posts. But I don’t want the missing to finish me. I want to be friends with it. I’m determined to cultivate this friendship. I expect that over the years, despite our best efforts, we will still have tiffs, that’s okay. We’ve already established we’re in it for the long haul. I think, this is, if not the only solution, the best one.

Maybe you would like to join me in my resistant acceptance of Longing or better yet, tell me about your experience or thoughts on it. As you well know, I’m still a novice in the grieving field. It’s only been 10 months since my love passed away. I’m sure there’s a lot I have yet to go through. There are some things I already see on the horizon. Needless to say, I crave the words of the wise when it comes to this stuff.

Much love,

~DL,

xo

I’ve Been Away But I’m Comin’ Back!

Hello Everyone!

Sorry for the huge time gap between posts and thank you so much for hanging in there! I’m going away this weekend to do a bunch of writing and am so excited for the future of Mercy and Might! I don’t know why? I just am. I love the community we’re building here! I love the encouragement, patience, understanding and grace that we all give each other. Thank you for all of it. I can’t express how much it means to me! I’m going to be FINALLY sharing the last post of the series ‘6 Lessons I’ve Learned in 6 Months Since My Husband Died‘ and moving into a new series with some really insightful guest posts. As usual they will be pretty meaty and heart-tugging but I’m super pumped and proud- and all of the things, of the people who have been brave enough to answer this calling on sharing their hearts and experiences with the world.

I know I used a lot of exclamation marks in that really short paragraph, but whatever….I’m feeling good:D!……!!!!!! Check your mailboxes next week for a new post and stay tuned while some new, fresh perspectives start rolling out.

scribbled-black-pink-heartLove you all!

~DL

XOXO

Change is Good

Okay guys, I know, I know. I’ve been away FOREVER. So much has been happening, but that’s kind of fitting for this post, isn’t it? Change! It’s good! I used to resist it so much but man, has this experience altered my perception!

In my ‘Lessons‘ blog summary I said this,

Change is good. It’s hard to believe but this is a lesson my girls and I have just recently learned. I can’t really summarize this but to say that there’s something refreshing about allowing and even choosing change. Sometimes having everything the same with just your person missing makes his absence seem so much bigger.

Let me expand. When I first lost Ray. I couldn’t imagine things being different, even though they had been for a while. He had been in the hospital for months. His symptoms often clouded his personality. His active role as husband and father, though preserved in heart and memory to this day, was fading. Initially we tried to include Ray in everything. We thought, “what would Ray do?” Veronica changed her jersey number to his birth year. We kept (still do) pictures of him everywhere. Listened to his music, wore his clothes, celebrated his birthday, brought him (his urn) with us, spoke of him all the time. Quite frankly, it was exhausting. Trying to keep everything the same, as though he were still alive. was living a lie and not a very good one. It took so much energy.

Decisions had to be made and he wasn’t here to help make them. Sure, we could ask, what would Ray say? And ya, we had a pretty good idea most of the time, but the times that we weren’t sure, the times that it was a totally new situation we would stress ourselves out racking our brains for his opinion. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone-into heaven with him. We had to do it without him. That’s OK. Because guess what? We’re living life without him now. We need to figure out how to make decisions this way. Things ARE NOT THE SAME. We are missing a key player and that CHANGES EVERYTHING. So how do we keep from changing when this is the case? Simple. We don’t. We change too. *(The answer is simple, implementing not necessarily so).

From left to right: Genevieve, Veronica, Me (Donna'Lee) and Manny. August 2016
From left to right: Genevieve, Veronica, Me (Donna’Lee) and Manny.

We changed A LOT of things. Genevieve moved to a new town to start a new venture. Veronica changed schools and ball teams. I started dating, traveling and went back to school. And Manny’s whole life has been nothing but change….He’s waiting for some sameness. All of these things are things that people warn against. All the books say, “don’t make any major changes.” And yes, they’re right to a degree. We didn’t make any decisions that couldn’t be reversed, but we made some pretty big ones and we did it together. And you know what? IT FELT GOOD. Not only did we feel a huge weight lifted from us but our love for and from Ray didn’t change a single bit. In fact I might even say it brought us back into a relationship with him rather than trying to preserve a memory of him. It’s nice to have him back, and I know he would be so happy and proud of each and every one of us for moving forward to forge new paths, especially since we’re doing it together, closer than ever.

Now, I will say this. Ray was a very special guy. A man without a jealous bone in his body. A kind, gentle, joyful, fun-loving guy. He would want nothing more than to see this family take this experience and mold it into something great. And what a great way to honour him. He was a curious guy, always open to new ideas. He would be proud.

This family was getting so depressed, desperately clinging to Ray and his role in our family unit. Trying to keep him here, his memory, his personality, his ways. The harder we tried the bigger his absence felt. He felt further and further away. He felt gone. So far gone. It was only once we were able to start letting go, changing directions, that we truly started to feel closer to him. It’s a hard thing to explain. Kind of like that ” can’t see the forest for the trees” saying. We are letting him find his place in our lives. Accepting that he’s still here with us, just from a different angle. As I write this tears flow. It’s still hard. We still hurt. There’s no ‘cure’ to loss. The hole remains. The symptoms of grief, especially when it’s this fresh, prevail. I’m just saying that submitting to what is and fondly cherishing what was helps us.

Veronica at BC Summer Games
Veronica at BC Summer Games

I can give one example. Veronica (our 15 yr old) is a softball player. She loves it. She has a passion for it and so did Ray. He was her personal mentor, cheerleader and supporter. Going to softball games after he died, playing for the same team, surrounded by the same families, coached by the same coaches-everything exactly the same-but without Ray, made his absence HUGE. Veronica couldn’t hear or see him cheering confidently from the stands anymore. He wasn’t walking with her after the game giving her a run down of the plays, telling her what she did right, what she did wrong, what to improve. He recognized things that I can’t, technique that myself and many others would never pick up on. He knew sports and he knew them well. He was no longer here to give her advice on what to expect or how to handle certain situations. It was killing her. The grief accosted all of her senses every time she stood on that ball field. It was too much. She needed a change.

Thank God she didn’t have to give up softball altogether to accommodate that. A new team and a new school made the difference. As amazing as her previous team had been in helping our family out and supporting us through one of the worst experiences of our life, it just wasn’t the right place for her to be any more. It was a hard thing to do, it was very sad, but the relief she got from the change was worth it. She could start new. Forge her own softball path. It was as though she could leave all of the amazing memories and incredible softball experiences there with Ray while she started a new journey without guilt or a “what would Ray say” mindset. Sometimes we need the external factors to change in order to get our minds to change and that was the case for her. In many ways it has also been the case for Gen and I.

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Mexico 2016

It can be hard for outsiders to understand some of our choices around change. And when I say outsiders I mean anyone outside of myself or my children.  Again, that’s totally okay. We all have to do things in our own time and how we feel is how we feel. As long as we are respectful and don’t force our expectations on each other, it’s all good. Although our decisions may at times appear selfish or inconsiderate, I assure you they are made out of necessity. The necessity to survive the pain, the loss, the suffocating absence of a loved one. The desire to feel alive again because we are alive. To live, give, and receive love, joy, hope and laughter.

Personally, I feel much better focusing more on the present and the future because now I realize that Ray is a part of me no matter what. I still have days of lounging in his shirt, listening to our music and looking at pictures-I will always have those days, they’re healthy. He will forever influence my decisions, our past, present and future. I don’t need to make the effort to include him. Our life together, what we shared will forever ripple into the future of myself and my children and THAT is a beautiful thing.

 

You Will Lose Some Friends (and maybe even family)

This is a pretty sensitive subject and is unique to each person’s family and social relationships. Since I lost my spouse the grief books and blogs I read are geared more toward spousal loss so that is where I will have the most insight to share about. In saying that, I don’t doubt that all of us who suffer a loss in our immediate family experience a sense of abandonment or isolation from friends or family at some point. Whether it’s as simple as someone changing the subject due to their own discomfort with the topic or as drastic as removing herself from your life altogether. On the flip side, you will (hopefully) also develop some new friendships or support systems. 

12764775_10153332988522761_21596028088382461_oMy experience has been varied but mostly good. My in-laws have been incredibly supportive.‘ My’ friends and ‘our‘ friends have remained in my life, although, at times unsure or uncomfortable with some of my choices they still keep showing up to let me know that they love me. The most significant loss, which honestly has been minimal, would be on the side of Ray’s personal circle. Some of this is just a natural falling away as one would expect, like losing touch with people from his work place. It’s not like I would even have much reason to maintain a relationship with that crew save for endlessly expressing my overwhelming gratitude for all of their support and generosity.

The part that hit me hardest was suddenly being removed from a small section of Ray’s social circle. In an odd way it was surprising but not. They were people I didn’t know well for the most part or had little in common with but it’s funny how those minute absences make him seem so much further away. I think I may have subconsciously expected anyone who knew Ray or our family to come rushing to console us after he died, particularly me, my mother-in-law and my children, like we were celebrities or something??? Weird. Especially since they were also probably exhausted from aiding us during the dying part and anticipating the inevitable. OBVIOUSLY they had their own grieving to do. Besides many of our closest people did come rushing to me. They were so amazing, I couldn’t even deal.

It took me a couple months to accept that some things would be different. Some people I would only see in passing or on social media now. I wouldn’t get invited to certain parties (Ray was way cooler than me), and some people wouldn’t show up to my gatherings. It was a raw and rude realization but part of the process I suppose. I’ve read that this type of loss of friends is most significant when spousal loss occurs since the widow(er) feels or is treated like the third wheel and ends up being dropped from the couples events.

I presume some people think they’re actually doing you a favour when they don’t invite you- so that you don’t have to show up ‘alone.’ The thing is we’re not alone. We’re with all of you. We’re ‘alone’ when we’re at home lying in bed crying next to a giant empty space. Yes, we may decline, maybe even many times over a long stretch. But please, at least give us the option. At the very least it lets us know you’re thinking of us and that we matter to you too.

img_0522As I mentioned earlier, however, you will likely also develop some new relationships. This may happen along your caregiving journey, it may be old friends who hear of your hardship and reappear to give a helping hand. It may be through a grief group or just a chance meeting where you connect over your loss. Some relationships will become stronger, some will be just for a season and some will simply be new, lovely and refreshing. It all matters. The losing, shifting, gaining. It all means something. I don’t know what, but I know that it does.

As usual I have a quote. It’s by the late Brennan Manning, who I absolutely adore for his beautiful, raw faith, authenticity and gracious acceptance of the world we live in and every person in it. 

The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become- the more we realize that everything in life is a gift. The tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into wondrous light and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.

I absolutely feel hurt, angry and helpless at times still. I forget that so many others don’t know what this is like and I pray that they never will. There is nothing I can do to change what has happened or how people respond but I can choose to try to grow deeper into the Holy Spirit. I can honestly say that losing Ray and having the privilege to witness his life and his transition out of it has caused me to focus on the light over the dark. I don’t want to get tangled in other peoples hang-ups. I don’t want to be brought down by other people’s choices. I want to feel MORE LOVE, MORE CONNECTION and MORE GRACE. Some people are only meant to be in our lives for a time, some need room to work out their own grievances. Yes, it can hurt immensely, but it doesn’t have to forever. As long as you’re still here, there’s more of life to be had. Live it for the one you’ve lost.  

With Love, 

~DL

P.S. I realize that sometimes my posts sound overly positive or unusually promising but I assure you, I still break down in the most human of ways. This post is late because I got so overwhelmed with the start of the school year without my husband, as a single mom, trying to hold up my kids as they felt the weight of their father’s absence. I spent 24 hrs crying, half a day laying in bed, sent my little one off to grandma’s for the weekend and essentially threw a big pity party for myself. Only when these moments subside do I attempt climbing back on the horse of life, hoping to find some light and love. Hope, faith and love. That’s what keeps me going! I Just want to emphasize that by no means do I expect anyone who’s reading this, inlcuding myself, to walk through this unscathed or unbroken. I have no idea how long this will last, maybe forever?! But I’m going to keep trudging through and giving myself permission to sit in the ugliness of it all when it’s all that I feel I can do. Just sayin’ 😉

xo

 

 

Other People Are Grieving Too

IMG_3275This has been tricky for me since before Ray died, and to be perfectly honest I’m probably still going to monopolize this post with, “you have no idea,” and, “this is what it’s like for me.” Clearly this is an extremely slow process for me but I figured I should still write about it since I have become aware of it and, really, it’s kind of annoying when people write about things all the time telling you how they’ve figured it all out so now you just need to do exactly this. NOPE. I’m right in the thick of this messy life and I have no problem sharing that, often, I am clueless but I can point and say, “this is happening. I see it I know it’s there, and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.”

For those of you who are new to our story here is a quick run down of our experience: mid February 2015: Ray is diagnosed with cancer (at 39 yrs old) – fear, uncertainty hope, prayer. Mid March 2015: It’s stage 2. We will remove some organs and you will live but it will mean a big change and a long recovery-hope, fear, grief, more hope. April 2 2015: Ray is re-diagnosed stage 4, we cannot proceed with the surgery to remove the cancer, statistics aren’t good but we will keep trying with plan B-IMMENSE FEAR, despair, lots of prayer, anger, frustration, grief, reflection, still….hope.

ray&MannySitting in the room, listening to the doctors, living with the disease 24 hrs a day is very different than knowing this news from the comfort of your own home with your healthy family around you. For me, the grief process started April 2. I knew there was a very good chance that I would lose my husband and my mind had to start processing in two ways at once. Plans to keep him here and dreams for us to hold onto. Plans to be a widowed single mom. At least, though, I could be with Ray day in and day out. I could feel like I was doing something, like I was making a difference. For family, it was scary and I’m sure also triggered a grief response and a frustration of helplessness, as they didn’t live with Ray and couldn’t at least have that satisfaction of feeling like they were giving 110% (even though they totally were!).

As for friends, I’m guessing here, but I’m going to say it was scary, frustrating, unbelievable and heart-wrenching. They knew it was serious, but we kept a positive front, for our children and quite frankly, our own psyche. They wanted to know how to help, but we were so overwhelmed we couldn’t even organize in our heads what we needed or how to get it. This probably felt like we were pushing people away but really we were just trying to get by, especially since Ray was in so much pain all of the time. His ability to visit or even hold a conversation was luck of the draw.

Ray passed away Jan 30 this year. I hardly cried that day. I was exhausted. I had been living in hospice with Ray for the week while my aunt cared for our children. I was torn by guilt daily feeling as though I was always neglecting someone-either my kids or Ray. I had many sleepless nights. I experienced both beautiful and horrific moments. It was an intense, emotional roller coaster.

Ray knew he was dying, he was so sick and in so much pain every single day. I’ve never seen anyone in that much pain for so long. He knew where he was going and he truly couldn’t wait for his new body in heaven. He made peace with the loss that he was experiencing and started preparing in excitement for his journey home. It was so incredible IMG_0668to witness. It made everything easier (for us).

People on the outside didn’t get this experience. Many didn’t get to say goodbye. I can’t imagine how hard this was for them. I wish everyone was able to have their moment alone with Ray but the reality was that it was just too hard for him. All of his energy went into managing his pain. It was exhausting to even speak. It had been weeks since he could focus on a TV show or a podcast. He loved hearing scripture and God’s promises for his life. He loved hearing about what heaven was like. But he was tired. Tired of saying goodbye over and over again. Tired of reassuring people of his love for them (we already knew) as they did the same (HE already knew).

The first few days following Ray’s passing are forgettable. I think I probably slept. Life felt strangely normal as it had been months since Ray had been home. I was used to visiting him in a hospital. I was used to it being just me and the kids at home. I was tired. Then things needed to get done. People wanted to do things for our family, wanted to know when the funeral was going to be, wanted to know how we were doing, wanted paperwork filled out. I hid. I hid in my room while my aunt answered the door. I silently did the things I needed to do. I was angry. I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted nothing but my husband. I was angry at life, at the world, at my circumstance. I was just angry. I was also spent. I was caring for my husband for about a year, around the clock. Even when he was in the hospital, I was there nearly every day, taking care of our kids at home, making both him and us meals, managing finances, doing research. I had no energy anymore for anyone or anything. I gave all of myself to my husband and more. He was my other half and despite it all I couldn’t keep him alive. I just couldn’t function for anyone else any longer.

We’re emotional human beings that occasionally think.” -Brene Brown.

I’m not angry anymore. I’m not even sure how long that lasted. Now I feel bad for the feelings that may have been hurt in the process. It was easy to forget that other people were grieving too. It still is. I was too wrapped up in my own struggles that I just couldn’t see past them. I don’t even know if there was a way to, really. Losing someone that close to you is just so messy. I’m trying to be more considerate of those in Ray’s circle. I’m not gonna lie, my energy is still low. As it increases I choose carefully what it goes to: my kids, attempting to be organized in my life and relying less on others, returning to school, my writing/my therapy, relationships. It’s sad and kind of embarrassing but the truth is I have little energy for other people’s grief. I hate saying that out loud because it makes me feel so selfish and it really isn’t who I am at all. I’m the girl who will always show up for you no matter what’s happening in my life. Like the time I threw my best friends bridal shower and stagette in the middle of caregiving for my husband and my dad. I usually do those things! But now my energy is spent on things like crying with my (almost) 4 yr old son who begs me, “please, please, pleeeaaassssee can Daddy come to my birthday?! I want his body fixed!” or with my girls for all the milestones of theirs that he’s missing. It never ends.

I am here to say that I see it though. I see that you are hurting. I know it looks different for you than me. I know that it is special to you because it is just yours and there are memories between you two that nobody else will ever know or get. There are moments that bonded the two of you that are sacred. There are lessons that were learned together that grew you. It’s hard for you too. It affects your life too. You loved him too. For that I say thank you. Thank you for everything. For being angry and sad,  hopeful and hopeless. For being prayerful and damning, honouring and generous. Thank you for having that place in your heart and please forgive the rest of us when we are too thick in our grief to reach out to you, to be understanding or even nice. Know that it’s not because your pain doesn’t matter (even if we project that) we just can’t see. We’ll come around. We’ll want to hear your story, what it meant to you, because it is special, even to us. It is special. We see you, we know. You’re grieving too.

With Love,

~DL xo

Most People Won’t Understand

The truth is, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to understand your loss. There may be a lot of similarities, but it’s never the same. As human beings we are all so unique, which in turn, makes each of our relationships even more so.

Let’s start with the basics. The loss will be experienced differently simply based on the type of relationship. To begin with there’s family, and within that subcategories: Parent/child, sibling, spouse, etc. I have recognized with the loss of my husband that there are some things that are harder for each one of us. For example, I can’t imagine the pain my mother-in-law lives with everyday, as I have never lost a child. I don’t and won’t pretend to know. To lose someone who is of you, who you grew inside of you, who you helped mold into the human they became is unfathomable. To lose the person who changed your name to Mommy/Daddy is beyond the words of anyone. My heart aches for all those parents who have had to endure the loss of a child.

Manny1Next, there’s the sibling loss, you’ve lost someone who has been there either since the day you were born or vice versa. It’s the only way you have ever known life to be. A built-in friend. Someone who shares pieces of you-real, genetic pieces of you.

Still, there’s the child of the deceased, and within that several subcategories: adult child, adolescent, school age, under 5 and step-child. As an adult you expect to lose your parent but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As an adolescent you are already experiencing so many overwhelming feelings and moods. You are bombarded daily with challenges as you develop your character and your brain tries to mature. Losing a parent during this time can compound these challenges. School age can be confusing. You’re old enough to remember but too young to really be able to put it all together. Your childhood innocence suffers. Under 5, you probably won’t remember much, you are still quite dependent on the remaining parent, who may not be very available, leaving you feeling insecure and unsure. You will hear stories of the deceased parent and long to know if you really were like him, looked like her or shared the same traits.

Photo by Jones Photography 2015

In my case, it was my spouse, my other half. The one I went to sleep with, woke up with, made all of my decisions with. The one I daily laughed with, planned with, reared my children with. He was my future. We made a family together, one that we were supposed to raise together. He was the main provider. He had a role in our household and daily routine. He was the one my kids looked to for fun, the easy one, the calm. He was the sports mentor, the homework reader, the bed time cuddler. My everyday was turned upside down.  I no longer smell him, I wake up alone. I don’t get woken up by my morning kiss and “I love you” as he heads off to work. There is no more excitement from the little one anticipating his Daddy walking through the door from work. All gone. My morning to night is forever changed.

There are Aunties and Uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, grandparents, in-laws. The list goes on. There is the friend. The childhood friend, the adolescent friend, the young adult friend, the work friends, the family friends and the forever friends. Each one special, each one feeling like something is missing and feeling like they just can’t get close enough to what was. Wishing for more time, conversations, experiences, pictures and memories.

It gets even more complex within those basic relationships depending on so many factors: culture, age, interests/commonalities, conflict. Length of relationship vs quality of relationship, practical everyday impact, relational history.

As you can see it’s nearly impossible for anyone to fully grasp the impact of your personal loss. It’s not unusual to feel alone or grief ridden, or even less affected than you expected. You’re own personal journey and season of life will have an effect on how you respond also. There are just so many factors that play a part in each person’s experience of losing a loved one. It took me several months to accept that not everyone would understand or appreciate my (our) loss and my choices following Ray’s death. In fact, very few did or do. Some things are still hard.

There’s a few things that I often remind myself and my kids of when this is bringing us down:

  1. We don’t need to make everyone understand. Some people just won’t or can’t. That’s okay. We can spend far too much energy trying to plead our case when the truth is, they just may not have the life experience to understand. It’s nobody’s fault. We need to do what we feel is right for us. If it is soaked in prayer and aligns with our values then we’re doing alright.
  2. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re human. EVERYONE DOES IT! During the course of grieving, or any other tragedy for that matter, give yourself room to roll around in the mud for a bit. Wrestle with the thoughts and emotions that plague you. Pray, search your heart, seek wise counsel. It’s a process. Be gentle with yourself, try to do the same for others. Forgive yourself, forgive others. Apologize when necessary and try not to repeat the same mistake twice.
  3. Repeat.

So, even if you think you understand or have people in your life who think they understand because of their own experience, know that none of us probably truly do. Respect that. Respect each relationship. Accept that we all process and deal differently. It looks different in all circumstances, whether it’s time, coping strategies, mental health. We’re all wired differently.

When Ray first passed away I wouldn’t go to a grief group because first of all, there weren’t many, if any, other young widows attending. Second, I didn’t think I could bear listening to older people talk about the spouse they lost that they got to spend 50 years with. It seemed unfair when I only got 9. I needed one on one grief counseling (among other things). I’m glad I recognized that and followed my own path. Now, I am ready. I WILL be joining a grief group because I AM READY. I am out of my grief enough to be able to hear others. I long to connect with people who have experienced a profound loss because I know that despite all of the differences I’ve listed there are commonalities. I just needed to get to a place where I could see and appreciate them. I WANT to connect, I WANT to understand. I WANT to share.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ~Albert Einstein~

The lesson that I’ve had to learn so far is that yes, most people won’t understand and that’s hard. But accepting that they can’t and recognizing that it goes both ways has been healing. My relationship with my husband was special. It was unique to us just as his relationship with each other person was unique to the two of them. There’s something sacred in that. I still find it difficult because my loss affects my everyday and my children and our future forevermore. People forget that and sometimes expect something more or different then I can give them. It’s difficult because I’m too blind by my own grief to understand how it might affect others’ day to day. It’s a journey. As with everything to do with grief, I will look to time and patience…

Please let me know what your experience has been in this arena and how it has affected you/how you have dealt with it! I’m sure we could all learn a thing or two from one another:)

xoxo

~DL

*Next week will be Lesson #3: Other People Are Grieving Too

 

Life Goes On, Even After Your Spouse Dies

Lesson #1, Life Really Does Go On.

IMG_3127 [72875]I resented this so much when Ray passed away. Why couldn’t the world just stand still for a moment to honour his passing? Why, when I called people, did they have responsibilities to attend to? Why couldn’t the earth stop spinning to give us a minute to catch our breath? These were the things that went through my head.

At some point, fairly early on, I accepted that I could not stop life from happening just like I couldn’t stop death from happening. It was impossible. There was no pause button. Someone still needed to get groceries, make dinner, clean, do laundry, pay bills. Forms needed to be filled out, appointments needed attending; insurance, banks, government, work, etc. Follow-up appointments and calls needed to be made. Kids needed to return to activities. Finances needed to be sorted out. These things couldn’t wait and they seemed to go on and on. I kept waiting for a break, for the commitments and responsibilities to calm for just a moment but they didn’t. It was all I could do to open my eyes in the morning, maybe get dressed. Try and find something for everyone to eat, no care regarding nutritional value. Just something to soothe the empty pit in the gut. Drive to school. Drive home.

I learned pretty quickly that resisting life, pushing it back, makes it worse. It just piles up and then, in your already overwhelmed state, you start to panic. Finally you realize it’s just not worth it to avoid the responsibilities. Life is happening around you. Even if you manage to get the paperwork done and the kids on a schedule, there’s still more. There’s field trips and birthday parties. There’s dances and tournaments. There’s all the ‘firsts’ that are happening in between. Life is going on. You can step into it or you can push it away, but if you push it away you will be met with a host of other problems. You will become lonely and angry. You will resent others for living and end up losing even more.

Now, I am by no means saying participating in life after loss is easy. It isn’t. You’re brain is foggy. You struggle to remember the simplest things. You engage in conversations on autopilot not absorbing a single word or even being aware of what you said. You are simply surviving.* You will still be emotional (and irrational), many of your decisions will appear selfish, and they may very well be. Don’t worry about it, it’s allowed. As time passes you will start to do the things you used to do like shower regularly, dress in something other than sweats, go for coffee with friends. Your emotions and reason may stay scattered for a while (still for me) but you will get better at managing them in public at least (for the most part). Things will start coming together. Have patience though. You will have days/weeks where you go backwards. Just breathe.

IMG_2945
On vacation in Mexico July 2016 at a secluded beach

As more time passes and you begin to appear ‘better’ people will think that means you are ‘better.’ They won’t understand that you may see this ‘moving forward’ as defeat. That you might feel like you lost the battle to simply lay in bed with the blinds pulled shut and the covers over your head. It’s hard for them to understand that you HATE that life is going on. You’re just doing it because you have no other choice. You are NOT better, you are just functioning. The functioning will turn into getting better but it is a very, very slow process. Make sure you have someone to talk to about this. A counselor, a good friend, anyone you trust to listen with empathy, compassion and patience. This misunderstanding of others can add a whole other layer to your grief and you will need support through it.

Now, even though I advocate leaning into life that doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced sadness, longing, anger, depression and all the other things that come after losing a loved one, each and every week. I still miss my husband everyday. I still think about him everyday. Nobody and nothing will ever be him again. Acknowledging that and giving myself permission to mourn that helps me move forward.

There are a host of other things that help me heal, particularly reading. I find comfort in the wise words of others and am always on the hunt to learn and grow more. Since Ray passed I have been taking an online course (very slowly) by Brene Brown which has included reading her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. I have completed the first one and am just getting through Rising Strong right now. I have found this set of books (and course) to be incredibly helpful on my journey to healing. Below I have listed a few quotes that I use as a reminder of why I do what I do and to motivate me to keep going.

  1. “I believe that vulnerability-the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome is the only path to more love, belonging and joy.” THE DOWNSIDE:  “You’re going to stumble, fall and get your ass kicked.”
  2. “Hiding out, pretending, and armoring up against vulnerability are killing us: killing our spirits our hopes, our potential, our creativity, our ability to lead, our love, our faith and our joy.” Haven’t we lost enough already? I refuse to give up any more of any of these things. If practicing vulnerability is what it takes, then so be it!
  3. “We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” Take this with a grain of salt. When you are mourning sometimes comfort IS courage. It’s giving yourself permission to meet your own needs, no matter how selfish or extravagant they may seem to others.

When you do make this choice to step back into life be aware of this: You will be different, forever. You will see and engage with the world and it’s contents in a new way. Hopefully, a better one. It will hurt at first. You will have lots of confusing moments. Many that you will forget, especially in the beginning. That’s okay. Know that you are loved. Love yourself. Let others love you.

Remember: Lesson #1 Life Goes On, and you deserve to be part of it.

Be vulnerable. Be gracious- to yourself and others. Choose courage, and when you need to, choose comfort.

Don’t worry about the mistakes. If you’re out there doing life you are already winning!

So much love, IMG_3142 [74630]

~DL xo

Stay tuned for Lesson #2 NEXT WEEK!

*Also if you’re curious as to what it was like for me when I first jumped back into life you can read about it here and here.