This month marked one year since my dad died. It is the most significant loss I’ve experienced and I find myself still experiencing waves of grief. Certain sights smells, songs and stories are obvious triggers. But it’s the unexplained, unexpected moments of sheer sadness that catch me by surprise, that sneak up out of nowhere, that leave me breathless, tear-stricken and broken hearted. Grief is unpredictable and doesn’t follow any rules. There’s no guidebook or timeline and everyone’s journey is unique.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful as I journey with grief:
- I quit my job– This is not something I would recommend to everyone. I would have likely quit my job regardless of my dad’s death, but this certainly expedited the decision. I no longer had the emotional resources or physical stamina to continue with such intense work. Although I loved my work for many years, this is a decision that I’ve never regretted.
- Self-care– This is a work in progress. It’s probably my mid-western, Protestant upbringing but “self-care” still strikes me at times as selfish or lazy and leaves me feeling weak. Despite all of that, I have done the following: participated in a weeklong retreat on Boundless Compassion, prioritized my health with exercise (see more below) and continued with psychotherapy and spiritual direction. I’ve also had days where I just gave myself permission to not “do” anything.
- Support group– As a former bereavement coordinator with hospice, I knew the importance and helpfulness of support groups. I just wasn’t sure it was for me. But I tried it. And I met some amazing people (all experiencing parent loss) and we shared about our loved ones and our experiences.
- Reaching out– This has probably been one of the hardest and scariest for me. I’ve called more than one friend to just say that I’m sad and having a hard time. I asked two friends to rearrange their lives to come to California and spend my birthday with me (and they did)! Not sure why this is difficult, given that I have the most amazing friends.
- Remembering my dad– I don’t think there’s a single day that’s passed that I haven’t thought about my dad. The reality is we talked everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. He was a significant part of my daily life and now that is gone. But I want to remember him. I want to share stories and hear other people’s memories….even if it still makes me cry. I’m grateful for the Nava family and the times we’ve been able to share this past year. They knew and loved my dad deeply and being with them is a joy.
- Yoga– I had no idea when I started my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in Feb. 2018 that 6 months later I would be saying goodbye to my dad. Upon returning to San Diego last August after a wild month in Illinois, I spent days on my living room couch, stunned and unable to move. When I eventually made my way back to yoga I found an emotional release I hadn’t anticipated. Being in a safe and supportive space, as well as the quietness and stillness throughout the practice, allowed my body to relax and release. Yoga has continued to bring healing physically and emotionally. It has also provided opportunities to try new things: teaching private yoga, teaching community classes, even leading a yoga retreat.
- Dogs– Sooner & Aussie provide incredible support. They are loving and affectionate. They also forced me to get up and get moving. Whether it was sitting out on the patio watching them chase birds or actually taking them for a walk, getting outside always felt good. And if I was having a sad day, I could just hold them and pet them and even cry on them. I’m convinced dogs just make everything better.
I don’t expect I’ll ever “get over it.” And I don’t want to. I’ve been forever changed by the experience of losing my dad. My hope is that I continue to learn, grow and heal. What has been helpful this past year may change in the days ahead and that’s ok.
Grief changes us and shapes us. Hopefully it makes us more gracious and compassionate, to others and ourselves.