One year ago today, my daddy died.
I can still tell you every detail of that day. Beautiful and sunny. I wore a deep purple sweater and dark jeans. The last time I saw my dad – two nights earlier – he was wearing a cheery yellow polo shirt and the very last words he said to me were “I love you, kiddo” and kissed me on the head.
And then he was gone. In the middle of an afternoon run.
This is a year where grief has pressed in on all sides. I’ve written about what grief feels like and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that months later, it still feels the same. What I am coming to learn is that grief simply is. You don’t manage it – you experience it. You don’t justify it – you walk with it.
My daddy will never walk me down the aisle. He will never know that I am finally living where he always wanted me to be. Grief reminds me I lost the hands-down easiest person to shop for at Christmas (Dunkin Donuts coffee and a history book).
I’m a Daddy’s girl who lost her daddy. I lost my protector.
And I think that may be the hardest grief to feel.
About one month ago today, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic cancer located in the fluid around both of her lungs. The thought of losing both of my parents in a one year period nearly devastated me. Grief rushed in again. Not knowing if she had two weeks, two months, or two years left to live somehow translated into my thinking that the best course of action was to skip the shower, drink wine, and watch Downton Abbey.
The past 30 days has been defined by little more than doctors appointments, uncertainty, fear, amazing doctors, lots of hope, immeasurable outpouring of love, family, laughter, and tears. It’s been a lot. Meanwhile, we are actively treating the cancer and hopeful for the future. I won’t go into more detail because this is my mom’s story to tell, but I wanted you to have a picture of what everyday life has been like lately.
And that brings us to today.
525,600 minutes my dad has been in Heaven. I often wonder about what he’s doing and how aware he is of our life here. I talk to him. I can’t make myself get back to the cemetery, but I’ll sit in his swing and jog his running route. I drink coffee from his mug every Sunday. Those are the ways I grieve and heal.
Today, I remember.
I miss my dad.
I’m dreading turning 35 in two weeks.
I love Christmas cards more than almost any holiday tradition, but seeing the faces of friends my age with their kids and husbands and plaid shirts and boots romping through Fall leaves, just stings.
The holidays – and I love them, I truly do – bring an uncomfortable reminder that I am both part of a family and not yet a family.
Normally it’s fine. Normally I push through when I feel the twinge of sadness and count my many blessings and name them one-by-one. But this year, this year everything is different.
I just pulled myself out of my comfy chair where I have been crying for the last 45 minutes. My poor dog. While he didn’t know what was happening, he somehow knew his one job was to keep his cute fluffy head nestled on my shoulder.
The tears seemed to come out of nowhere, but I know they didn’t.
Yesterday I got a Christmas tree.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my dad hand-delivered a live Christmas tree to my house and set it up on the Friday after Thanksgiving (only on Saturday if his shift was on Friday). During the week he died, I distinctly remember wondering how I was ever going to get a Christmas tree again. I even thought about buying a fake one (oh the shame!) just so I wouldn’t have to face this situation year after year.
But there I was, sitting in my comfy chair, staring at the most beautiful Christmas tree. In my house. And I knew God had provided it. But I wasn’t crying tears of joy. I was crying tears of deep, profound sadness.
It has been a year for me of looking for glimpses of faith around every corner but honestly having a hard time believing if I want to keep believing. That kind of statement isn’t exactly kosher given my circles, but there you have it. And then this Christmas tree shows up as this surprising tangible reminder that my Heavenly Father still loves me. He knows that I was worried about it, which means He also knows my doubts – and He answers. And He’s there.
I’d like to say “and then we all lived happily ever after.” Jesus turned my mourning into dancing and it’s candy canes and mistletoe from here on out.
But that’s simply not life.
The fact is, this first Christmas without my dad is going to be hard. This first birthday without my dad is going to be hard. Thanksgiving was hard. On Thursday, I sat next to what would have been his seat at the table, just to feel like I was close to him. Grief is extraordinarily painful and there is no playbook. It just is.
I do believe Jesus turns mourning into dancing. But then it turns back into mourning. And then dancing. And then mourning again.
I know the next 30 days will be bumpy. And I know this, too. Prior to losing my dad, I never once thought about grief at Christmastime. I would jingle bell and carol all month long. But this year, this year I have the beautiful gift of awareness. (I know this comes naturally to most of you, but I’m not sensitive by nature. Ask….anyone). This year, I am aware of the pain behind the smiles. That odds are, someone I talk to in a grocery store or pass in the neighborhood is a little sad. A little lonely. A little wondering if they should keep up with the tradition of the lights and the presents and the parties because the person they love is no longer with them. And odds are, they are keeping up with the traditions and the presents and the parties because they are choosing joy. Choosing to keep a memory alive. Choosing dancing in the midst of mourning.
Today, I am sad. But not always. Tomorrow, I will dance.
“Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.” – Proverbs 14:13
Yesterday marked the 6 month anniversary of my dad’s sudden death.
This afternoon I shared how the horrors going on in Iraq are personal.
Tonight, Robin Williams saw no way out of his pain and committed suicide.
And it all feels like too much.
I jumped on Twitter right after I heard the news about Robin Williams. Social media – as expected – was overflowing with movie quotes and images and love for a man who made us belly laugh. Who inspired us. Who called us to greater purpose. Carpe diem! Who made us cry. It’s not your fault. Who was an actor’s actor.
And all of it reminded me of my dad.
When you lose someone who makes you feel important, who makes you laugh, who makes you feel alive, you lose something of yourself.
When my dad died, Facebook statuses changed, profile photos switched to the badge of mourning, and we started to hear story after story of how my dad made every person feel like they mattered.
And it made me wonder if he knew.
And if Robin Williams knew.
Because we have this habit of waiting until someone dies to say you are important. To say, I love you. To say you made my life better. To say I changed my life because of you. To say thank you.
I get it. I have a box of 80 blank notecards that for six months I have wanted to write and say thank you to people who met me in my time of deepest need. But I haven’t done it. Because I think that writing about that time will remind me of the pain. And that’s absurd. Because the pain is always there. An ever-present ache. Because I lost someone whom I loved. And he loved me.
And in a 24 hour period when the world feels like it’s crashing in, I want to hang a giant notecard in the sky to everyone who feels like giving up too and say You matter! People may not be telling you this because of their own pain. But it’s not because of you. You matter. You are important. The world is broken now, but it will not always be this way. Jesus, our Rescuer, is coming! Keep the faith.
So tonight, I’m going to bed a little sadder. But a little richer. Because I had a dad who gave me my sense of humor, who never once made me feel unloved, and who inspires me to be courageous in the face of daily grief.
And I have a Heavenly Father who has never once given up on me. Who loves me. Who rescues me. Who calls me His very own.
It’s been a wild couple of months.
Life came to a sudden halt in February when my dad died. I managed to squeeze out a post or two on what grief feels like but all in all, my public life was pretty silent. I largely quit twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogging. I just didn’t have the words or the energy.
Even though I felt like life stopped, it didn’t. In fact, looking back now, it seems like just the opposite.
In the last 4 months, I have:
- moved into my mom’s house
- lived out of 2 suitcases
- traveled to 3 countries
- moved into a new home
- sold my house
In that order.
Yesterday at 4:04 PM I officially became a former home-owner. And boy does it feel good! So long, American dream. Now I’m living in a place where the landlord is actually going to put in a white picket fence. As if this town could get any better?!
Since I’m pretty much living in my mom’s backyard in a one bedroom studio with a blind poodle, it would be easy to say I am…”regressing.” At a particular low point, I figured I should crank out an eHarmony profile if I didn’t want to spend all my nights around people with whom I share DNA. And then it forces you to type actual answers to questions like “what is my passion?” at which point I said screw it because I clearly don’t have what it takes to survive a 2014 relationship.
Do you know when you sell a house, the contract states “TO HAVE AND TO HOLD” ? I didn’t just sell a house, I broke up with it.
So that’s what’s been happening around here. I miss blogging. I miss all of you. I miss Twitter!
But I’M BACK!
Today marks 90 days since my dad died.
People say that in the first year, everything is a milestone. First Easter. First birthday. First trip to Disney World. So in this long road ahead, today marks the completion of the first mile.
As a runner, mile markers are important. They encourage me to show how far I’ve come and also serve as a benchmark to help me pace myself for the miles ahead.
Life doesn’t give you a course map. You don’t know where the finish line is. My dad’s finish line was, literally, on a run at the corner of 1st and Main St. These last 90 days have taught me the importance of the ancient Scripture, “Teach me to number my days so that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
I want to go back to Friday Favorites and cooking fails and running missteps. I really do. In fact, everything in me wants to go back to the way it was. The way things were before February 10, 2014.
But then Saturday happened. Officer Robbie German, 31 years old, was shot in the head in my perfect little town of Windermere. The same officer who, five weeks earlier, stood at attention to honor my dad as our funeral procession drove through town.
And now the town is covered in blue ribbons on every tree and mailbox. Flowers cover his police car. People in the town are still leaving fresh flowers on the sidewalk where my dad died.
My grief has been very private and then this happens, and the grief becomes public all over again.
And I feel guilty because I should be mourning an officer, but I’m really mourning a firefighter. In the sea of blue ribbons and medals with black bands, all I can see is the badge of a red maltese cross in its place.
And when I see the black patent leather shoes on an officer in dress uniform, I come undone.
Experts tell you this grief is normal. There are triggers and some you expect and others surprise you.
I know grief is a natural part of life. I’ve grieved before, or at least I thought I have. But never this deeply. Certainly never this openly. In this week alone, a friend lost her dad suddenly and another friend lost her grandmother. And I found myself crumbling under the weight all over again.
Like I said, I do want to get back to the laughter and the joy and the lightheartedness. I think I’m mostly there in real life. And I’m slowly easing back into my Twitter and Facebook worlds (I would love to follow you!). Until then, thanks for sticking with me. Your comments and messages have meant the world. Truly.