The last time I saw my father alive was Christmas 2017. He died suddenly less than a month later. Two years ago today.
I was utterly and completely unprepared for grief. For its intensity and its vastness. For an emotional pain so deep my bones ached.
Children bury their parents. It’s the natural order of things. I was an adult when I lost my father. We had 31 good years. He was a good father. He walked me down the aisle and danced at my wedding. He helped me move into my first house. I didn’t have to watch him suffer through a long illness. I should count myself lucky. My brain tells me these things often.
But grief, it turns out, is not something you can reason your way out of. Because your heart, like a toddler throwing a tantrum, will remind you that it’s not fair that he won’t ever get to be a grandfather, it’s not fair that many worse fathers live longer lives, it’s not fair that, according to the average life expectancy, you were robbed of almost two decades with your dad, and it certainly isn’t fair that you didn’t get to say goodbye.
My grief has involved many battles between my heart and my brain. On anniversaries like today, it’s my temper tantrum-throwing heart that speaks loudest. And on anniversaries like today, I allow it.
Over the past two years, I’ve read, been told, and developed many ideas about grief. One of them is that although grief never goes away, it changes. Or perhaps you do. You find a place for the loss in your life. You make space for it. You adapt around it.
As time passes, you become less overwhelmed by the finality of the death and better able to appreciate the years of life.
On an anniversary like today, I think a lot about that last Christmas. But I’m making space to reflect on our 30 other Christmases too. Like the one in this picture. My first Christmas. I love how dad and I look like we’re sharing some kind of private joke.
I share this because I want to keep the memory of my father alive, but I also share this because we are a grief illiterate society. After the wake and the funeral, the freezer empties out and the cards stop coming and you go back to work and there is this expectation that you get on with the business of living. And you can and you do and it becomes easier over time.
But grief is still there. And your heart may sometimes shout louder than your brain. And that’s normal and that’s okay. And you may not know that, because grief is often very well-hidden, spilling out only in solitary moments.
Despite his tough exterior, my dad was a softy. He hated to see people suffer. I got that from him. Grief is hard. Loss is hard. It’s also a universal part of the human experience. You don’t have to do it alone. I see you. I’m here for you. My dad’s compassion lives on in me.