When I lost my father unexpectedly, I felt like my life stopped along with his. I wondered how I would be able to go on without him. I have a wonderful husband and three beautiful children, and I still questioned whether I would be able to go on. I found out almost immediately that my life had to go on, despite the impossible volume of grief I had just been dealt.
The night I found out my father died, I sat on the carpet, hidden away in the basement, stunned—for I don’t know how many minutes, maybe hours—unable to comprehend the enormity of my loss. We were celebrating my 11-year-old’s birthday with some classmates and a few parents when I got the phone call. I still don’t know exactly how my husband wrapped up the party. All I do know is I sat on the floor in my basement as our party guests left, and our house became empty.
Feelings of wanting to crawl into a hole or cave and stay in there forever frequented my mind in the period of time immediately following my father’s death. I still did things. I had three kids, so I had to do things. In the immediate timeframe, I also spent a lot of time questioning reality. I kept trying to force myself to wake up out of an intensely realistic nightmare. It was a nightmare, but I was not dreaming. It was real. It took me a long time to accept it was real. I still do not think I have completely accepted it.
My grief was overwhelming and intrusive in the beginning.
It reminded me of the cicadas in the blasting heat of summertime when we lived in Okinawa—their sound booming and constant, sometimes easing up a bit but then coming back deafeningly loud. It would ebb and flow but was always present. So was my sense of grief in the beginning—booming and constant, easing up for a moment then rushing back with deafening intensity. I did not feel any joy for many months, and I seriously questioned whether I would ever feel joy again. I think some of the emotion registering parts of my brain had shut down temporarily maybe in an attempt of self-preservation.
Before I lost my father, I had always imagined that losing an immediate family member would be unbearable. I envisioned that on my worst days of grief, I might be able to fall asleep at night only to wake up suddenly with intense despair, as having fallen asleep allowed me to momentarily forget my loved one was no longer here. In reality, that was not the case for me. Even in my sleep, I was not able to forget what had happened. I would wake fully knowing and aware, no escape from the cruel reality.
Grief was especially devastating when I would somehow manage to find myself in a brief moment of normalness, a temporary lapse in memory. A familiar song would come on the radio and I would find myself thoughtlessly lost in the lyrics, and then boom, punch in the gut—the sudden and excruciating realization that dad was gone. Grocery shopping also, for some reason, tormented me. Was it the upbeat, happy-go-lucky, not-a-care-in-the-world grocery store music that would set me off? Perhaps the music painfully reminded me of my father? He was upbeat, happy-go-lucky, and so content with life.
As time has passed, I find that my grief has shifted from overwhelming and constant, to some hours being better than others, and now on to some days being better than others.
In the beginning, I would scour the internet on stages of grief, desperate to find out if what I was feeling was normal, and what I could expect as I passed through different stages of grief. I considered myself to be too sad for therapy or to join a support group. I found it impossible to speak about my dad in past tense, accepting that he was gone. Although I still have so much trouble admitting he is gone, I no longer feel completely overwhelmed with this reality.
In the beginning, I could not imagine ever getting back to an emotionally normal state again. It seemed impossible, but my grief has finally morphed into something more manageable. I remember people telling me that even though I would always miss him, one day it would get easier. I didn’t believe them. How could it ever get easier? Impossible.
Yet here I am now, a year later, no longer constantly consumed, no longer a constant throbbing in my head.
I still think about him all the time, and still hate with every fiber of my being that his life was unfairly cut short, but I believe I am beginning to accept he is no longer here. I am finally giving myself permission to live happily, the way he would want me to live.
To anyone experiencing intense grief from an unexpected death please know it will not always be this hard.