My Grief Journey...I Don't Have the Luxury of Grieving
As an athlete, my Dad loved all sports but baseball was his passion. His goal was to be a professional pitcher but an injury ended that dream. The injury and the fact that he had only daughters didn’t stop him from playing sports. In fact, he would invite me, the oldest of his three girls, to play with him. I was like the son he didn’t have and I say that only because, if you know me, you know that I am not the athletic type. But I loved my Dad so it was a no brainer to play sports with and for him.
We would play catch in the backyard and go to the playground and shoot hoops. I even made the softball team but I didn’t make the basketball team. Man! I was I so relieved.
And then there was dancing! Dad was the one who introduced me to dance and how to follow. He would dance me around the house to Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and ….wait for it...The Ink Spots (his favorite). My love for music came from him along with his serious collection of albums. Every Saturday morning, we would arrive before the stores opened and spend hours looking over the music selections. I would save my money so I could by 45’s because I was creating my own collection of music.
NOTE to those born after 1980: 45’s were those smaller than an album record, like downloading just one song from iTunes. :)
I would be my Dad’s little helper and read the instructions and help him assemble things. And when I went through my divorce, he was there for my daughter and became her male role model.
My Dad and his family had a history of heart disease which brought early deaths. Poppy died at 48 years old, Dad’s sister died at the age of 42 and Dad’s brother died at 50. Even though he had several “mini strokes” and heart attacks, Dad was always in denial and would say, “The doctor said I had a heart attack.”, as though the doctor was making it up.
He would not do what the doctors told him to do, mainly because he didn’t believe them and he was pretty stubborn. All the while, he was living with about 30% of his heart functioning, basically, a living time bomb.
It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in 1994. Dad was not feeling well so he went to the doctor’s office that morning. They wanted to admit him to the hospital but Dad refused and said he would come back on Tuesday after the holiday.
A few hours later, at home, in his kitchen, while eating a sandwich, he died of a massive heart attack. I was there. I heard him fall, ran into the kitchen and found him lying on the floor. I called 911 and started performing CPR. It felt like it took forever for the EMTs to get there. My Mom was there and I kept telling her to stay in the other room because I knew it was too late and that my Dad was gone.
I rode in the ambulance to the hospital as they continued to work on him, trying to revive him. They never did.
When we arrived at the hospital, they called us into one of “those rooms” pretty quickly. You know it is never a good thing when you are called into a private room. We were all permitted to see my Dad again, to say our good- byes. He was only 63 years old.
The process of planning a funeral started and since my Dad hadn’t prepared for this , there was a lot to do. With the sudden loss, my family was in shock and they looked to me to make the decisions. I had to be strong for them. So again, I jumped into action.
I didn’t have the time and honestly, I didn’t make the time, to grieve my father’s death until years later.
Living out the myths below led me to believe that I was ok, but I was not okay - not by a long shot.
I’ve learned the truth that we cannot be objective about ourselves, especially when it comes to grieving. And putting on the front that we are ok is not sustainable.
Be Strong For Others
My family was dealing with the shock of my Dad’s death so I decided I needed to be strong for them. They looked to me to make decisions, to be the logical one. So I did.
I know this role all too well and it played right into the “stay busy” behavior that I was perfecting and it became the substitute for sitting in the grief.
Grieve Alone/Keep Busy
I did not allow myself or even know I had permission to grieve. I was so concerned about my family that I didn’t want to bring my grief into their pain. I thought I would have time to grieve later. Well, later did not come for years.
Which then led me to believe that I was ok, but I wasn’t - not by a long shot. We cannot be objective about ourselves. Putting on the front that we are ok is not sustainable.
When I allowed myself to lean into grieving with the right tools, I learned that healing was possible.
Healing is not about forgetting the loss.
And it is not about never feeling sad again.
Avoiding or ignoring the feeling of grief only prolongs the pain of grief.