When Words Fail
My last post was in honor of my Dad on Father’s Day. It was also the day I got the news that the cancer Dad had only recently been diagnosed with was taking over his whole body, and his organs were beginning to shut down. I didn’t know that I would only have 8 more days with him before he passed away.
In the wake of my Dad’s unexpected death this summer, I’m finding that being honest about what I’m feeling is important. It’s not always easy. But I always feel better when I am honest.
My kids are almost 13 & 16, so we were able to share the diagnosis, and our hope – but uncertainty – that he would be able to be treated and survive the cancer. Too soon, I had to make the decision to tell them he was really dying and they needed to spend time and say goodbye. I couldn’t protect them from that reality. All I could do was encourage them to be brave with their love – not to hold back, not to play it safe. That they couldn’t count on “next time”.
That’s all I could do, in the end. Be present, try to be brave, not play it safe. I vowed not to look away, as much as it hurt to watch and to feel so helpless. My heart is still a gaping wound.
I’m feeling free to be real with my kids. It helps. I don’t think there’s a “right” way to do it. I don’t want to over burden them, but I do want them to know that loss and pain are real. And that we can survive them.
Here are some things I’ve been learning about parenting through loss; some practices and intentions that I’m finding helpful during a tough time.
I’m being honest about how I’m feeling. Sad. A little lost. Ripped off. Regret. Untethered. Exhausted. Sometimes hopeful. Grateful. Angry. Disbelieving.
Doing it this way (at least right now) sometimes brings remembrances of my Dad from them, which are dear to me. Sometimes they offer a hug. I’m finding they have a pretty surprising ability to just “be with” me without trying to make me feel better. It’s really powerful to be on the receiving end of that.
I’m making room for them to share their own feelings. And remembering that their experience is different from mine. One has a fair amount to share, the other not much to say.
Being clear that there is no “right way” to get through it. Sometimes it’s with tears, sometimes anger or despair, sometimes hope and happy memories.
Reassuring them that the range of feelings is fine.
Explaining it’s possible they might feel sad but not experience it as a huge loss right now. That each person in our family feels it differently and expresses grief differently. That our feelings will change over time.
Reminding myself that permission to actually FEEL whatever I feel is how I can eventually move through the painful stuff and back into whatever the present moment holds. The present moment is a lot easier to understand. It’s a respite from the fear of the future. In this moment, there is love. Peace. Joy. Laughter. And pain, too. But it’s not all pain, all the time, which I am so very grateful for. I pop in and out of grief. Sometimes it’s all I can see. Other times I forget for a little while before coming back to it.
Getting support for myself from other adults This is part of what helps me discern how much to talk with my kids about all this I want to be sensitive to their needs, not just dump my feelings on them because I don’t have another outlet.
I feel part of an unhappy club now – those who know the pain of losing a parent. It’s as if my eyes have been opened to a whole other world I never knew existed. Kind of like before you have kids.
I’m finding solace in the experience, wisdom and compassion of friends. Of others who have suffered the loss of their parents. And in some unexpected places, too.
I’m so very grateful to be able to say my Dad loved me, and I knew it, I felt his love and support. I’m grateful to have had the kind of relationship where I could tell him I love him. I realized, pretty late in the game, that I hadn’t told him enough how proud I was of him. He was a wonderful man in so many ways.
He gave me everything I could need. I just wish there had been more time.
Thank you for everything, Dad. I love you.