Grief


A Healing Goodbye to Our Dog 1

About three years ago, we welcomed our first dog into our family Bella.

Sadly, a few weeks ago, we had to let her go.

I had been resistant to getting a dog despite my husband’s and kid’s desire for a family dog. We had a chance to dog-sit Bella a couple times for our friends and loved her.

I told my husband, “Well, if we had a dog like Bella, then maybe we could get one.”

Then, one day, our friends told us that they were going to have to find another home for Bella and my ears perked up and I started thinking….hmmmm.

Long story short, one day, for Father’s Day, we brought Bella to our house and surprised everyone – especially my husband – when we told them she was ours to keep if we wanted. It didn’t take long for everyone to say, “Yes!”

Bella was about seven, we weren’t for sure, and so it was the perfect way to introduce our family to dog ownership. She was trained, wasn’t quite as energetic as a puppy but loved to play with all of us, even the toddler at the time, and she was used to being an outdoor dog – my main requirement.

We all grew to love Bella and, in the beginning, everyone did a good job helping to give her attention and care. Like most new things, the excitement wore down over time and she had a few bad habits we didn’t appreciate (chewing on kids’ toys, peeing in the house if we weren’t constantly watching her, eating her…nevermind that’s too gross.) Nevertheless, we all still loved having her, including me.

She was a good friend for me especially last year in the dream-like daze of intense grief. Sometimes I’d go outside and just sit on the back steps. She’d come up to me, tail wagging, and set her snout on my knee and beg me to stroke her. As I stroked her soft fur, it brought us both comfort. The repetitive action and the soothing texture calmed my mind and soothed my sorrowful heart. My Dad loved Bella so, in a way, I felt connected with him during those moments.

Whenever I was feeling frustrated and angry with myself or because of behavioral difficulties with the kids, I’d go out and throw the ball around with Bella or run around the yard with her  – providing her needed exercise and entertainment and me a positive release of my emotions.

Admittedly, she was so  laid back it was easy to take her for granted. One evening, after being gone for the day, we came back and I noticed her stomach area was suddenly very enlarged, which was unusual since she was always on the skinnier side of an average lab.

The next day, I noticed it even more and I remember sitting out on the back porch and rubbing her tummy like she loved so much. I gently pressed on it and could tell it was very hard and it made her uncomfortable, though she didn’t whimper or show any other obvious signs of pain.

However, there was something….familiar. I had felt this feeling before. The feeling of knowing, somehow, that death is close. I stroked her fur and scratched behind her ears and felt a foreboding sadness for her, and our family. Later that day, I went out to throw the ball around with her and noticed she didn’t seem interested. She’d run and get it and then slowly trudge back. With the last toss, she trotted over to get it but then dropped it back in the grass and sulked back to her favorite spot to lay down in the sun, as if she was saying, “I want to…but I just can’t anymore.”

The next morning, I brought her to the vet to see if we could figure out what was ailing her. After poking around and examining her, she determined the cause of her abdominal swelling was pretty serious.

“Possibly liver disease…or a cancerous tumor…,” I heard the vet gently explain.

I knew where the conversation headed and, to my surprise, I started tearing up as memories of sitting in a doctor’s office listening to the doctor briefly explain my Dad’s diagnosis suddenly flooded my mind.

Lung cancer….mutation….stage IV….incurable….

I looked at sweet Bella, peacefully ignorant to the meaning of our conversation, and felt pity and shame. She had probably been in pain for a little while now but, being the sweet mild-tempered dog that she was, just didn’t show it until now. I knew we could choose to go all out and try to “cure” her illness. I also knew this would be highly expensive and, as the vet agreed, had a low chance of success.  In the end, I left the clinic with Bella and a day’s worth of pain medicine for her.

That evening, my husband and I sat down with all the kids and Bella in our family room and shared what the vet told us about Bella. (another familiar scene) We gently explained why exploratory surgery or medicine most likely could not help her. Our oldest picked up on what the other option would be and cried out, “No, not that, we can’t do that to her!”

The younger boys picked up on her emotions and pretty soon everyone had tears in their eyes.  Gently, slowly, calmly, we explained that we needed to think of Bella and her pain. There was a lot of confusion and questions.

“But, I thought we weren’t supposed to kill?” Our oldest son, so practically and black-and-white minded, couldn’t quite understand how this could be ok.

“We all love Bella,” I said, “and we don’t want her to die….but we also don’t want her to be in so much pain. We can’t keep her alive for us and make her continue living a life of pain.”

They took these words in and it was the same oldest son, who usually struggles with showing empathy, who was the first to say, “I think we should do option two. So she isn’t in pain anymore.”

My heart swelled and broke all at once in that moment. My son grasped the reality of the situation and was able to appreciate what Bella really needed.

That night, we let Bella sleep in our daughter’s room, since she was struggling the most with the decision and because we didn’t want Bella to sleep on her own that night. Despite the pain medicine we’d given her, Bella was very restless. She wouldn’t sit or lay down in her bed no matter what we tried. In the morning, our daughter said Bella never went to sleep and kept pacing around the room.  Through that night, our daughter’s reluctance over having to let her go turned to a sorrowful acceptance. She had seen how much pain Bella was in and knew it wouldn’t be right to prolong her life just because we wanted to keep her with us longer.

We let the kids each have time to say tearful and quiet goodbyes to Bella before leaving for school, knowing she’d be gone when they came home. My husband and I brought her to the vet together and they kindly showed us into a room. The vet gently and compassionately explained the procedure and let us know we were welcome to stay for however long or little we wanted.  We said we’d probably only stay for the first part – the Valium that puts her into a relaxed state before the final injection.

We had a few more moments alone with Bella while they prepared the medications. Though still in obvious pain, Bella stood alert by the door, her ears perked up listening to the sounds of other dogs or cats and people there for regular check-ups. It struck me, how she stood in front of me then with no idea what awaited. In that moment, I felt a conflicted sorrow.

Is this ok? To purposefully end her life instead of letting her die naturally?

I tried again to get her to sit but she wouldn’t, her abdominal pain too intense now. She looked up at me with kind and loyal eyes, and I stroked her back and rubbed her ears like she loved so much. In that moment, looking at her, I felt a great sense of gratitude. 

“Thank you, Bella, for being such a good dog for our family. ”

The door opened and the vet and her assistant came in. They laid a white towel on the floor and had Bella stand on it. Gently, slowly, with soothing words, the vet injected the Valium in. Within seconds, Bella let out a low groan, as if she was saying, “Ahh…that feels good.” Then, she sat down – the first time she’d done that since the day before – and then her legs gave in and her body melted down to the floor as my husband and I gently stroked her. The vet explained that she was now in a deep sleep.

I felt happy for her, relieved of her pain and finally able to sleep after the past restless nights. This was the point we had decided earlier that we’d leave but now that we were there, we couldn’t leave, we wanted to stay with her until the end.

The vet quietly injected the final medication. We stayed with her as her body went limp, her eyes closed, and her chest stopped swelling in and out. I wiped my eyes  filled with tears I couldn’t contain. In those moments, my body was with Bella in the vet’s office but my mind was back in the hospital room watching the same process happen to my dad’s body a little over a year ago.

I felt like a hole in time opened up in that hospital room, all other noises outside vanished and a warm glow of light vignetted us.  The seas of time parted and swirled around us, the whirlpool of eternity spiraled in, gently pulling and guiding my dad’s soul through the “birth canal” of death into new life.  Once his soul passed through, his heart deafeningly silent and his chest formidably motionless, the whirlpool lifted out, the warm glow of light faded, and the seas of time crashed down around us again, pushing us down into the intense pain of shock and grief.

The nurse came back in the room and put her stethoscope on his still chest. I asked, “Is it done?” She nodded and gently confirmed, “yes.”

Back in the vet’s office, the vet put her stethoscope to Bella’s chest, paused, then quietly confirmed, “She’s gone, at rest and in no more pain now.”

We nodded our heads and let out long sighs.  Slowly I wiped my tears, we offered our final thank you’s and gave Bella one last stroke goodbye. Then, we stood up, opened the door, and walked back into the world of time.

We drove back home in silence, both of us struck again by the jarring finality of death and surprised by our grief. After all, she was “just a dog”. But…she had been our dog. And, in the way only animals can, she loved us and we loved her. We hated that we had to do that, wishing she could have gotten better on her own, but accepting that, for her sake and not ours, we had to let her go.

I hated that my dad got sick, that he had to leave us so soon before we had barely begun to process his out-of-the-blue diagnoses. In the 24 hours I spent with him in the hospital, I saw his pain and his incredible discomfort. The more we tried to save him, the further away he sank. Through a torturous night, I began to see the reality of his prognosis.  By the morning, I knew we’d need to let him go, for his sake even if not for ours.

And so it is, with life and death:

The Lord giveth…and the Lord taketh.  (Job 1:21)

He blesses us with the gift and joy of life….and then, after a time, He retrieves life – His beloved creatures – back into Himself where we ultimately belong.

Thank you, Lord for the gift of Bella. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of my Dad. Take them into you, and bless our mourning hearts with your loving and comforting mercy. 


It Just Takes Time 4

It just takes Time

It just takes time [for the heart to heal].

A friend whispered this to me during my adoration hour and I let the phrase seep into me and guide my thoughts.

What does that mean, “it takes time”?

Usually, when I hear this phrase I think of time as abstract and passive. But this time I envisioned time as a tangible and active material object – like a salve I could apply to heal my internal wounds.

I pondered this a while and realized God has answered my prayers for healing by giving me time, loads of time. But I often squander it with chronic busyness to avoid the pain and make that time go by faster.

Yet, what I’ve discovered, as many others have, is you can’t rush the healing from grief or other life crises and you can pretend the pain away all you want but it only buries it deeper and deeper, making it harder to heal and causing it to fester.

I knew this intellectually but emotionally I felt lost, confused and didn’t really know what else to do but to “keep going” and “stay busy”.

Everyone complains about not having enough time to do what they really want or really need to do. But, in reality, we all have the same exact amount of time every day. It’s how much we try to pack into a single day that makes it feel longer or shorter.

This year, I decided I needed to listen to my friend’s advice and fully embrace the gift of time and rediscover joy and hope in the little grace-filled moments of everyday life.  

I’ve lessened my personal and family commitments, said no more to extrafamilial activities and yes more to spending time just being with my family and friends.

One of the biggest changes I made was the decision to limit my time on Facebook and social media in general and, as you may have noticed, a break from writing and keeping up with the blog as much. (Though I’ve missed that!)

I’m thankful for the ability to stay connected with family and friends and do agree that social media has become an important communication tool. That said, I felt I had become so attached to all my social media connections that I’d find myself scrolling or “just checking” so many times throughout the day that I didn’t even know I was doing it anymore.

Like a cigarette, checking Facebook on my phone was my “go-to” when I felt stressed and overwhelmed with life or just didn’t feel like doing the dishes or dealing with yet another squabble or whiny complaint.

Instead of actively and personally engaging with friends and family, I felt more like a passive friend, peering into their lives through status updates and pictures they shared but not really taking the time to know how they are really doing.

I knew I needed to pray more but whenever I had a few moments of quiet time, instead of praying I’d get my phone out and “just check” and end up using all my rare moments to myself scanning through others’ lives instead of “checking in” with God and opening my heart to Him. I wasn’t sure how I would spend my time without Facebook, and that’s when I knew I needed to uninstall it. If I couldn’t remember or imagine what my life would be like without it, it was time to give it up.

I decided I wanted – needed – to remove this from my life, or at least greatly limit the time I spent using social media. I uninstalled Facebook from my phone, leaving the Messenger, Groups and Facebook page app so I could still stay connected with specific people and groups that use Facebook to plan get togethers. I didn’t give it up completely, I still check it on my computer every now and then and I usually get emails if someone tags me.

The morning after I uninstalled it I felt…free. Like a huge weight had been lifted and I was no longer chained, though I didn’t even realize I had been.

It was a little hard, and still is sometimes, feeling like I’m probably missing out on important information – or not so important. I also worry that people may get the wrong idea and think I just don’t care about them anymore or think I’m somehow “better than”.

I do care very much and most definitely do not think of myself as “better than” anyone. The problem is, as much as I love the ability to share glimpses of our lives with those we truly do care about, I still feel dissatisfied and empty after scrolling through my newsfeeds.  It’s because I desire a deeper more personal connection than what social media can offer.

I want to know how my friends and family really are and listen openly to their thoughts with a personal conversation. 

By limiting my commitments and spending less time hypnotized by a screen, it’s like my eyes are slowly reopening and seeing the tangible world around me again.

Shortly after my dad passed away, I shared with a friend that I didn’t know what else to do with my days except fill them with activity,  “I mean, what am I gonna do, just sit and stare out the window all day?”

“Maybe.” She wisely responded.

Hmmm, yeah…maybe.

Instead of rushing around from one activity to another, frantically working to meet deadline after deadline, I’ve turned the speed dial of my days wayyyy  down.

And guess what? I feel like I have more time to do the things I need to do with more joy and more time to do things I like and which are good for my health with less guilt.

I’ve had more time to meet friends for coffee or playdates, call or write letters to friends I don’t get to see often. I’ve reworked my exercise goals to focus on rebuilding my “core” strength (in more than one sense of that word) instead of escaping my sorrow with only high-intensity workouts. I have more time to plan and prepare simple yet nutritious meals and #eatmoresalads. 😉

I try to take a short nap in the afternoons so I can devote my attention to the kids after school with more energy and I’ve started cooking as much ahead during the day so I’m available to help with homework without as many distractions.

I spend more time reading and creating on my own and with my family. I’ve been able to spend more focused time with my husband to talk with each other instead of rushing off to evening packed with activities or only sitting and staring at our phones or computers the whole evening.

Like I said before, at first I worried I might miss out by not checking in on Facebook throughout the day. Now, I see I was missing out on those raw yet profound moments of life that were starting to pass me by without my awareness.

And sometimes, I just sit and stare out the window and allow my mind to ponder, remember, and pray.

Yes, time heals.


Remembering All Souls with a Joyful Sorrow 2

When we stop running from God's invitation to open our hearts ever wider to the magnificent chasm of His love and mercy, we will discover peace infiltrating our entire being.

This week the Church celebratedAll Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – “Dia de los Muertos” – the day of the dead – and dedicates the whole month of November to remembering and praying for all souls who have gone passed from this life to the next.

If I were an anthropologist  (maybe in another life) I’d present an essay on the all similarities found among cultures throughout human history when it comes to how people deal with death. While the beliefs and traditions vary widely, humans have consistently participated in some form of remembrance and ritual to honor those who have died. No matter what, death always affects us, in one way or another.

Growing up, I always liked All Saints’ Day better than All Souls. Celebrating those who are already enjoying peace and ultimate happiness in heaven is much happier and exciting than thinking of the ones who may still be suffering in purgatory. Plus, the Catholic schools always had All Saints’ Day off school but not All Souls.

Yet, life has a way of changing our perspectives and now, as I’ve grown older and lost more close family and friends over the recent years, and especially after my dad’s in December last year, I have a greater appreciation for All Souls’ Day now.

A good friend sent me a message letting me know she, who has also lost someone very close, was thinking of me and my family today and praying for us and my dad’s soul along with her loved one’s. She knows days like this are hard as it causes us to remember that we now have someone close to miss – a soul – who is no longer with us here but may not be fully united with Christ yet either.

And that’s the beauty and wisdom of the Church. She gives us days like this for us to remember and pray for the souls of those gone but also to provide grace, strength, and support to those of us who are grieving as we miss them.

I appreciated how my friend reached out so much, it truly lifted my own heavy soul and I was aware that God had sent me His Grace through this friend. I admitted that, yes, days like this are hard but there is also much grace that comes from this day also.

The kids had the day off from school for All Saints’ Day and so we were able to join my mom at the cemetery where my Dad’s remains are.  We joined her in praying the first day of a special Novena (nine-day prayer) for Holy Souls in Purgatory.  We prayed for his soul and other family and friends of ours who have passed on and the kids liked looking at the names engraved on the niches and praying for them too.

After the novena prayer that was about all the kids could handle inside – and me too – so we decided to take a little walk to see how the new mausoleum is coming along.  It was a lovely autumn day –  70’s with very little breeze, whispy clouds dancing like angels in the clear blue sky above, crisp leaves crunching under the kids’ feet, a late-morning sun casting slanty shadows on the green grass.

I inhaled deeply, feeling the fresh oxygen fill my lungs and a mixture of emotions bubble up in my heart, then I slowly let it out...releasing.  

The kids gleefully ran along the path, innocently oblivious to the fact that they were running around in a cemetery not just a park.  Their zeal for life and endless energy vividly contrasted with the absolute lack of life below the ground they ran by (but not on!).

We all sat down on the nice benches set up around the mausoleum and I handed out the Halloween candy we’d brought with us to eat together in honor of their Grandpa since he missed out on the trick-or-treating with us this year and sneaking his fingers into the kids’ candy bags. Kit Kats will now forever make me happysad.

Happysad: when you feel both happy and yet sad all at the same time. One of my 4th grade son’s classmates said this the other day when I was there for a Dia de los Muertos art project and we talked about those who have died and purgatory and heaven and all that “light” stuff. 😉  She said when she hears about someone who has died, she “feels sad…but also happy because I know they are probably happier now but I’m still sad because I miss them. So I’m happysad.”

Yes, Happysad, indeed.

Halloween last year was one of our last “happy” memories with my dad before, a couple weeks later, we first got the news of his cancer diagnosis. The seasons are changing and, just like a mother reflects back on the events surrounding the time before her baby was born, I find myself doing the same about the memories from last year – only for a different reason.

It’s hard, the memories. They are always lurking, always following me everywhere. I’ve tried ignoring them, tried to just “go on with my life”, hiding my face from them, shutting my eyes tightly so I can’t see them. I want to remember, don’t ever want to forget him. And really, I am thankful for so many memories I have of him. But sometimes it just hurts too much.

But the memories remain and they are stronger than me. And I’m starting to see, through prayer, that maybe God is trying to get me to look at them for a reason. Maybe he wants to show me something I wasn’t able to see before.

I read something the other day that gave me such a great pause I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it:

Joyful Sorrow.

Did you know there could be such a thing?

Well, I think this is the phrase God wants me to ponder on, he wants to show me that even in sorrow – there can be joy. But I have to accept the sorrow first before I can see the joy.

I have to slowly release, loosen my tight grip, and slowly open my eyes and look – so that He can show me what I didn’t see before, what I couldn’t: the Joy.

Like my friend, Jeannie Ewing, says so well in her book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph

When we stop running from God’s invitation to open our hearts ever wider to the magnificent chasm of His love and mercy, we will discover peace infiltrating our entire being. – Jeannie Ewing, From Grief to Grace

Pray for me as I go through this process, this new “stage” of grief I must go to as part of the healing process.

For the souls of all the departed,

May Christ grant them eternal peace.

For the souls grieving,

May Christ send his grace and strength to sustain them.


Running on Grief 6

Running on Grief

I’d like to try and start sharing a few other thoughts here about running and exercise and faith and grief that I’ve “kept in my heart” and pondered over, even though it’s almost impossible to try and put these feelings into the right words.

Sometimes while I’m running, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious as I think about what I’m doing and how silly it must look. Not just because of how I run (which I’m sure looks silly enough by itself), but I think about the why? Why would I run unless I was late (which happens often) or unless a hungry tiger was chasing me? (That happens less frequently.)

I’ve been a runner – meaning I’ve freely chosen to go out and run for “fun” – off and on for many years since about the time I was in 5th grade and track season was starting up. To many people, and even to me at times in the middle of a hard race or practice, I’ve wondered –

Why? Why in the world am I doing this?!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s always a deeper meaning and reason to running beyond pumping your legs as fast as you can and trying not to die in the process. 

For me, that reason has varied during different seasons of my life but it’s always provided a great space and time to process my thoughts and pray.

Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to make exercise a daily habit instead of something I did every now and then when I felt like it. A friend invited me to join her in an online “Challenge Group” – basically an online fitness accountability group.

Together with that and another friend’s advice to try the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred programs and the BeFit videos and acquiring a treadmill from another friend (I have great friends!), I was doing very well with developing a good routine and starting to feel pretty good too.

Then mid-November came, when my Dad’s doctors found cancer on his lungs, and then early December, when they confirmed it was non-smoker’s stage IV lung cancer (but with a very positive “years not months” prognosis”), and then, just a few weeks later, his incredibly unexpected and shocking death right before Christmas.

 

Needless to really have to say, I had a hard time exercising during that time – it’s hard to run or do much of anything when you have a big huge emotional knot in your stomach.

In the weeks and months after that, it was still too hard to think about exercising – it was hard enough just getting out of bed and trying to continue life “as normal” since it was anything but normal anymore.

By March, I decided I needed to do something to get myself moving again but knew it would be too hard to do it on my own at home. I needed a place to plug in until I could get moving on my own again. So I joined the Y, knowing that by paying money per month I’d have to go and make the money well spent.  I made a daily schedule for myself based on the group exercise schedule and asked a few friends to help me stay committed by inviting me to come with them when they went.  I thank God for the many good friends he has blessed me with.

Most people say exercising helps them feel better when dealing with anxieties. At first, for me, it made me feel worse.

I honestly didn’t really feel like doing it and I mostly hated it while I was there. I struggled a lot with thoughts and questions like, “if we’re all going to die one day and the eternal life is all that really matters why waste my time on the things of this world by exercising?” I didn’t feel like dying (though I wished I could at least take a peek and see where my dad was), yet I didn’t know how to continue living, I honestly didn’t really know what I was supposed to do.  I was stuck in a room with no obvious way out.

I wanted a place to escape my grief and instead found myself confronted with it – it followed me and even intensified the harder I worked out. 

The faster I ran or the harder I pushed, I’d get flashbacks of our 24-hour ordeal in the hospital, re-living the trauma of those moments.  Images of my Dad in the hospital and weeks preceding it flashed in my mind with every surge of adrenaline. I missed him so, so, so much. I couldn’t get away from it.

I was lifting weights with my arms while hauling around the deadweight of grief in my heart. 

Yet, since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to keep going.

I remember one evening – or maybe it was morning, I can’t remember that time very well – I couldn’t stand it anymore. My spirit was drowning in grief and I could hardly breathe anymore, frustrated, annoyed, desperate and confused about life, death, God, everything. 

I angrily went downstairs, grabbed the treadmill key, turned it on and, like Forest, I just started running, and I ran, and ran, and ran. (Though I didn’t run till I grew a beard or reached every ocean in the US.)

I ran and it felt as if my heart opened while I ran and all the waves of emotions of sadness and confusion flowed out of me and pumped through my veins, powering me along. My legs and arms pumped and my heart sobbed and sobbed and prayed and cursed and grunted and screamed.

When I finally stopped – I have no idea how long I ran and didn’t care – a strange feeling came over me. Peace, maybe? Relief? Whatever it was, I knew it was good.

My body ran and my soul began thawing – healing.

Ten months later, I’m still running, still exercising regularly, and even ran my first 5K in my life! Slowly, I’ve started enjoying running and exercising again instead of just forcing myself to do it without any satisfaction.

I used to see people’s pictures they’d post of themselves captioning their exercise or running accomplishments and feel almost jealous of their outward “perfection” and happiness. Now I wonder if that’s what others think when they see me at the gym or hear about my running/exercise accomplishments. Maybe others think “she’s got it all together”. But really I’m still healing.

I think everyone finds different ways to process grief or anxiety or other challenges in life. For me, running and exercise (and writing about it) have become an important tool and aid in my own healing process.

Running and exercise have always provided an analogous way for me to better understand life and my faith. I’m still pondering how the finite and temporal act of exercising fits in with the whole eternal life thing. More on that to come…


Missing what’s Gone and Remembering the Good on Father’s Day 7

Tomorrow is Father’s Day – a day we remember, celebrate, and honor the Fathers in our lives in a special and dedicated way.

A friend asked if this would be a hard day for me [without my dad here for the first time]. At the time I hadn’t really thought about it too much – or at least I hadn’t been allowing myself to.

It’ll be fine…it’s just a day made up by the greeting card and retail companies, right?

Yes…and no.

Despite the historical story of how we’ve come to celebrate “Father’s Day“, it’s a good opportunity to think about the fathers in our lives and why they deserve recognition and thanks.

I’m sure this day brings all sorts of mixed emotions for many. Fathers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, love languages and temperaments.

Fathers have gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, especially considering the sad high rate of father-less children around the world. Fathers have been portrayed as just the guy who “brings home the bacon” but then zones out in the recliner with potato chips and beer while mom – or the kids alone – fend for themselves only receiving his attention if they get in his way or make too much noise.

While I’m saddened to know this might be an accurate caricature of many dads it’s not that way for everyone and, I’d say for a majority, it’s quite the opposite.

Even those who didn’t have some fantasy super-star dad, we can’t deny that each of us – even those who have never met their own fathers – have been influenced in some deep and lasting way by our fathers. Our dads make up at least half of who we are, we come from them – they are our root.

And, for those of us who have been blessed to know our dads present in our lives but have recently – or even not-so-recently, “lost them” in death, this is a sensitive day.

For me, this being another “first” without him, I’m more aware of my dad than maybe even before. I’m grateful for the good memories I have of him and I’m trying to focus on those as I hold them even closer to my heart.

Even though he is not “here” for me to tell him so, I feel incredibly grateful for my dad – for the life he gave me, for the way he sacrificed for me and my siblings so we could have a good life and “become better people” as he always prayed at our meal times: “Help make us better people.”

That said, even though it’s almost been six months (which seems like a lot but isn’t really), I miss my dad, very, very much.

The funny thing is that we never really did anything too exciting for Father’s Day with my dad. Maybe a nice meal, I liked to try and make him a special dessert. We usually didn’t go out to eat because my dad didn’t like to “spend that kind of money”.  Once I was old enough to earn my own money, I tried getting him a cool new gadget or a new polo shirt and of course I could never go wrong with a package of his favorite chocolate bar – KIT KAT.

This year, though, Father’s Day means almost more to me than when he was physically here because his absence has left a gaping hole – exposing a space in my life that has always just been there…but is now “gone.” I can’t help but notice it.

Whenever I go to his house, I look for him still. I wait for him to come out of his room or up from the basement talking in his thickly accented voice that flooded out anyone else’s. I look for him out in his yard, puttering about in his garden or thinking over things on his bench or sneaking his finger into the candy jar in the kitchen. I think my kids still secretly wish he’d come out and play with them, build those amazing train tracks or fall asleep on the floor with them after reading countless books. We all miss seeing him wave us goodbye from his front porch or try to sneak in one last word through the van window as we hurried on to our next activity or home for bed.

I miss his voice. I miss listening to him interrupt us or go on and on…and on and on…about this or that. I miss being able to ask his advice or opinion, even if I usually received more than his two cents worth in reply.

I miss hearing his dry and calloused bare feet shuffle across the creaky wood floors.

I miss his face, even his worried eyes and furrowed brow. And his thick hair. 

I miss it all.

Yet, while all these memories of him make me feel his absence so profoundly and intensely that it fills me with a pain unlike anything else, they also carry a certain…good. These memories make me feel sad for what I don’t have anymore, but they also fill me with a special kind of joy and a deep and sincere gratitude for all the little things I loved – or even disliked – about him that I didn’t really appreciate or give much thought to before.These memories fill my soul to the brim and a wave of sorrow and gratitude spills over. 

One of the hardest things I’m learning with loss, is wondering what it’s like for them after death. When my husband travels I can text him or talk to him on the phone and see how his day is like. We can share pictures of our adventures with friends and family miles and oceans apart. But when someone dies, there’s no “Facebook” or Instagram, no long-distance phone service to find out how their journey is going.  I sometimes find myself scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds, maybe somehow subconsciously hoping I’ll be able to “find” him there, as silly as that sounds.

I wonder if he can hear me or see me. Maybe it’s like a baby monitor – he can hear and see me, I just can’t receive his transmissions back. 

But as I think and pray and reflect and let God speak through the silence of my grief, I realize that if I believe all of us, the living people here, are united with each other through Christ, I suppose those in heaven are still united with us here… In a different way, a deeper way.

It’s a highly sophisticated technology right, Dad? That allows you to be with me in my deepest inner self.

One day, a few weeks after he’d passed away, I was so torn and wished I could go and find him somewhere and just hug him or hold his hand.  In my heart, I felt as if my dad said to me –

You don’t need to go anywhere to find me. You don’t need to miss me because I’m right here with you now…in your soul now. And we are connected, joined,  now in a deeper way than we could have been before.  A better way. 

And so, that’s what I cling to. Some would say this is just a psychological survival mechanism to “get me through this”. Maybe so. But so what? I know I can’t prove that my dad is “in my soul” but you know what, it doesn’t matter. I can either choose to believe it or not. I choose to believe he is somehow connected with me still, not only because it makes me feel better, but because in some unexplained mysterious way, I know it’s true. Even though I know there’s nothing I can say to prove it to anyone else. 

So, to those who have no father physically present with you on this Father’s Day, let us celebrate and honor them anyway.

Let us remember the good memories. Let us reflect on their lives in a way we couldn’t have before – when we maybe took their presence with us for granted or when we couldn’t see the good through the bad. Let us be thankful – for the gift of our existence and life. Let us forgive any pains or regrets they may have caused us in the past. Let us hold them in our hearts, now, in a special and very intimate way. It’s through the spirit of gratitude that we will find peace and healing.

Here’s to you Dad. I love you. Thank you for being my dad when you were with my physically and now, as you are with me in a new – and maybe even better – way.

One day we’ll dance together again. I only hope they don’t play country music in heaven. 😉

 

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