Father's Day is another reminder that grief is a lifelong process
The time on my phone reads 12:00 midnight as the day rolls over to May 11th. It’s my birthday. Any minute now, I expect my phone to alert me by lighting up. Just like every year on this day, I expect a text message, so I’ve stayed up later than usual just to see it.
But I don’t know why I’ve bothered to stay up this year. I know there won’t be a late night “Happy Birthday” message from my dad. Not this time. I know that if I call his phone number, I’ll only get his long-outdated voicemail with the heartbreaking sound of his long-gone voice. I still call his number and cry when I hear it. Just like I’m still waiting for that birthday text.
There is a part of me that has made peace with his death. It was quick and tragic, but we did well by him. My family and I fulfilled his last wishes and helped him live his final days with dignity. After he passed, I did all the things you’re supposed to do. I’ve written about it. I’ve talked about it. I’ve even prayed about it—although the part of me that still believes in God is mad at Him right now for taking my father away.
The point is, I’ve followed the essential steps you’re “supposed” to take when grieving the death of a loved one.
Still, I can’t help but be struck by the enormity of his death at random moments. This person—a man I’ve known every day of my life, someone whose teachings have become the voice inside my head—is gone forever. Who am I without him? What am I supposed to do now? It feels like a lie sometimes. It feels like some sort of sick joke.
I have dreams that my dad’s cancer diagnosis was a mistake. That he wasn’t that sick. In these dreams, after some much needed rest, my dad comes back. For a moment, upon waking, I’m relieved, until I realize it’s not real. It’s just another manifestation of my most earnest wish. It’s my heart longing for something that will never happen.
People say that there are stages of grieving, but even that is a misunderstanding. When Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the Five Stages of Grief, the model was not meant to be applied to the grief of losing a loved one. It was meant to explain the grief that someone who is dying would personally experience. Surprisingly, these are very different processes. I remember when my dad accepted that he would die. I also remember not wanting to give up.
The truth about grief is that we know very little about how it works for us individually. Bereavement impacts different people in different ways, so it’s an unpredictable element in everyday life. Even medical professionals are often at a loss with how to approach grief. It’s something they’re not thoroughly trained in. After all, they’re only human and can only do so much against the trauma of grief themselves.
The death of a loved one is something we can all empathize with. However, it isn’t until we experience that heartbreak ourselves that we begin to contemplate grief in a real way. After the initial shock from the loss of a loved one, the grief doesn’t go away.
Sometimes it just evolves into something that exists side-by-side with us.
When we’re able to move on after the death of a loved one, we experience “integrated mourning.” With integrated mourning, we still feel those bittersweet moments of longing but are able to function. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be at this stage—my mourning has been prolonged, and I don’t see a way out of it.
In a morbid way, I sometimes feel that my bereavement is the only thing that keeps me bound to my dad. He’s not here anymore, but the strength of my grief is proof that he was here, and that he was so immensely loved.
As Father’s Day creeps closer, my dad is on my mind more than ever.
So far, I’ve made it through nearly a year of holidays, special moments, and family achievements. Maybe Father’s Day is that one final milestone I’ll need to overcome so that this hurt will start to heal. I can only hope. I know my dad wouldn’t want me to feel so tied to my grief. Sometimes I feel like he’s near, watching me sorrowfully and wishing his feelings could break through.
“It’s okay, mija. You don’t have to be sad anymore,” I can almost hear him say.
It’s with that spirit in mind that I’ll try to move forward. There has to be a way to compromise. I can miss, love, and honor my father without allowing it to eat me up inside. I know that I can let go of my grief—piece by piece—and still hold on to everything my dad means to me.