January 17, 2017 will be one year my father is gone. 365 days since I held my dad’s hand. 8,760 hours since I told him, “I love you more Dad.” 525,600 minutes since my Dad told me, “No, I love YOU more.” His death was expected; he suffered the last four years of his life. He was eager to cross over to Heaven, I didn’t want to let go.

His final resting place is in a beautiful, well maintained cemetery located in the heart of an affluent community. He’s buried next to my grandparents with a big beautiful headstone. The grounds are perfectly manicured, his grave is in a private area where the deer roam freely and the birds sing songs of love and eternal life. My parents picked their final resting place carefully; it’s private and away from the main road. You have to turn down a cute little road and pass older monuments weathered by time. My dad used to say it was something out of a storybook. 

When my father was alive, and my parents were younger they would spend hours at the cemetery perfecting the grounds. Once a week my dad would replace the grave light by my grandparents. In the spring, my parents would clean the monument and trim all the trees. It’s only natural that I feel like now it’s my job to make sure that both grave lights are proudly lit and the grounds are manicured. I watched my once vibrant father put his blood, sweat, and tears into our family plots.

But visiting my father’s grave is a difficult task for me. Accepting my father’s mortality, and now my own mortality is an emotional roller coaster.

In the 10 months my father has been there, I have yet to go alone. I can’t do it, I need a buddy system and by default my better half goes with me for every single visit. We now have a new Saturday morning ritual. We go to the gym, have breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, and pay our respects at the cemetery. Sometimes it’s difficult for me just to get out of the car. I see my last name proudly etched in the granite glistening in the sunlight and then as I carefully scan the headstone, I see my father’s first name.

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Instantly, I feel ill. Nothing can prepare you for seeing a loved one’s name etched on a monument. Many times I become paralyzed by my grief. Slowly, with heavy feet I make my way out of the vehicle. Together, we replace the candles in the grave lights; I lay down fresh flowers and leave. 

It’s that simple.

I don’t speak, I only cry as I look around, but I never speak. I don’t feel my father’s presence there. I feel his presence at my parents’ home, my home, in my car, but never at the cemetery. My father’s soul is in paradise, and to me the cemetery is a place for the family to pay their respects. My family headstone, the one my father carefully selected commemorates three lives well lived.

My grandparents and now my father’s final resting place should be treated with the utmost love and respect.

Over the summer, my mother placed a stone cherub on the edge of the headstone. A few weeks later it vanished. I don’t remember exactly when, but one day the angel was gone. Maybe it was kids passing by on bikes, maybe another visitor liked it. I really don’t know, and when you prioritize life after loss, a lawn ornament on my dad’s grave isn’t top priority. Learning how to live without this person of massive significance is priority. I have been reduced to spending every Saturday morning visiting my father’s grave after watching him suffer for years, materialistic things no longer matter.

Grief is a thief. Grief robs you of joy, time, and sanity. Some grievers lose patches of memory. I consider that self-preservation and survival.

Grief is painful. Grief is a gut-wrenching pain.

Headaches, stomach aches, panic attacks, chest pain, aches and fatigue. They all invade your body during this horrific process.

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Attached to the flag by my father’s grave were two photos carefully wrapped to withstand the elements. One of me holding my dad’s hand the night he passed the second was my parent’s wedding photo. This weekend I found the photos crumbled and placed into a freezer bag with a rock I placed on his headstone, a rock that said, “I love you.”

These items are replaceable. The cherub, the photos, the rock can all be replaced and reprinted. My memories with my dad will last forever. The powerful father-daughter relationship I have with my father is eternal.

Love never dies, it evolves and gets stronger.

My grief will always be a part of me, but bitterness and anger are no longer welcome. I’m choosing to live as my father raised me, to enjoy life and love others regardless of their ignorance and faults. 

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To the person who stole and vandalized my dad’s grave, I won’t give you the power to detour my grief journey. See, I am too busy grieving a great man, a hero, a person of significance. So, if you can kindly bring back the cherub, and when you do make sure the flowers I left by my father’s headstone have water. And if I happen to be there when you stop by, let’s talk because life is too short to be spent desecrating graves. 

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” Headstone in Ireland

Lisa Ingrassia

Lisa is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm located in Freehold, NJ. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must walk. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty & Her View From Home. She is also a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. Fun fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston terrier Diesel and loves the color blue.