January 31st, 2020 was day 365. Exactly 365 more days than I thought my heart was ever going to be able to handle.
Approximately 372 days earlier I began a journey, the type of journey that splits your life into two parts—the time before day 372 and the time after 372. On the evening of January 21st, 2019, my dad was admitted into the hospital for what we thought was a simple upper respiratory infection. He immediately got better upon admission, but within 48 hours, my brothers and I were making the hardest decisions of our lives, all while trusting God that He would carry us through. To this day, we have no answers as to why or what caused my dad to get so sick, so fast.
After I helped my dad understand his advanced directives, his last earthly decisions, and watched him sign them with terror in his eyes, I whispered my last words into my dad’s ear.
With so much love, I held his hand and told him, “You will be OK, and I will see you on the other side of this Daddy, I love you.”
This all while he was being intubated, begging the doctor to just wait a few more hours until he could see his oldest son. My dad then slowly coded twice in front of my brother and me, and in those moments the second half of my journey started.
Physically I was paralyzed, I couldn’t breathe, and the only thing I knew to do was to pray, I recited the Hail Mary over and over, saying the words mindlessly.
And on a seemingly sunny Thursday in Phoenix, my world turned gray and I began living out my worst nightmare.
My dad didn’t pass that day, instead, our family was blessed with seven more days filled with ups and downs, with love, with healing, and with prayer. And eventually, my father’s body made the decision none of us children could stand to bear on our own. January 31st, 2019, my dad was welcomed into Heaven.
Over the last year, there were days I had to consciously make the decision to get out of bed, to go through the motions of the day, and to tell myself I was not going to allow my grief to consume me. There were also days I woke up with excitement, with joy, with happiness, and with hope. Regardless of how I felt that day, you would meet me with a smile because my heart was too hurt to ever share my pain.
Here is the funny thing about grief—you won’t find a manual or a “Grief for Dummies” book. Your grief will not look like your spouses’, your children’s, or your siblings’.
Grief can be consuming, it can be lonely, and it can be down-right devastating but only if you do not allow yourself the opportunity to grieve.
It took me months to work up the courage to process my dad’s death. Month eight, on the day before my birthday, I received a very random message from someone who had also experienced concurrent losses to tell me it was OK to not be superwoman, to normalize my right to grieve, and to also share with me the value of taking care of my mental health, and this is all while working as a nurse telling others to do the very opposite thing I was doing.
It took three more months for me to accept and consider the words she told me. Eleven months later on my dad’s birthday, I decided I had two choices—I could continue to let month after month pass with this gaping hole in my heart, or I could actively decide to care for myself just like I would recommend to a patient or friend in the same position.
On day 365, I am here to tell you grief can also be a lot of good things, especially when you allow it to be.
It can be the smile that no longer feels fake, it can be the belly laugh you enjoy with your family as you joke about your loved one’s old habits, it can be the song on the radio that reminds you of a special moment in time, it can be the picture that froze a moment in time, it can be the little nudges from Heaven in so many forms, it can be the happiness or sadness, the anger, the doubt, the questioning, or the gratitude.
As a very wise therapist recently told me, the key to grief is allowing yourself to feel.
Today, on day 365, I am allowing myself to feel the sadness, to laugh with my brothers, to cry, to honor traditions, to be grateful for the many lessons learned over the last year, and ultimately to share my vulnerabilities in hopes it can be the encouraging message for someone else, similar to my encouraging message I received when I needed it the most.
When you are ready, here is how to start . . .
· I suggest calling the number on the back of your insurance card—ask for a list of in-network mental health providers in your area. Be persistent and know you have every right to ask for this information to be provided to you, and you do not need to settle for the answer of “it can be obtained online.”
· If you prefer to look up things online, sign into your health plan and do a provider search.
· You can also search on Psychology Today for a list of providers based upon your zip code.
Are your copays not in the budget? Here are some suggestions . . .
· Ask your provider about any sliding scale prices they may offer.
· Look to see if your place of employment has an employee assistance program (EAP)
· Visit The National Alliance on Mental Illness, this website offers a hotline, and an informational tab completely designated to finding support.
· I also suggest looking into support groups offered in your area. You can also search this on Psychology Today’s website.
Previously published on the author’s blog