It’s been almost a year since I said goodbye to my dad. Life split at the seams that day and will forever be divided into before and after segments. Since he had been sick for a while, I thought I would be more prepared than I was. But nothing could ever prepare me to say goodbye to someone who held so much space in my heart.
I remember in the first couple of days, I felt like I was a detached observer of someone else’s nightmare. There are things about those first few days that are burned into my memory, but there are also big chunks of them I don’t remember at all—whole conversations and things I did have become a blur.
My baby boy was too young to understand what was going on, but he could still sense something wasn’t right. He would run over to my dad’s door and say “Papa!” He would point my dad out in every picture. He must have been so confused when his joyful exclamations were met with sobs from the rest of us.
I remember a new panic started to set in as I watched my sweet baby boy.
In the months that followed, how could I carry this grief while carrying the everyday responsibilities of parenting? How could I be the best parent I could be when I was so helplessly broken over the loss of one of my own parents? How could I make sure my dad would be honored and remembered as we navigated this next chapter without him?
The answers were support and grace.
I will never forget the way my husband made sure I had pockets of time to grieve and process alone. I will never forget the friends who stopped over and sent meals so there would be one less thing on my to-do list that day.
I will never forget the subtle shifts that turned painful moments into comforting ones. I felt this in the months that followed as my son would continue to point out pictures of my dad and proudly declare “Papa!” The tears still came, but I would smile and nod at him as I pulled him in close for a hug.
Grief is complicated. Parenting while grieving is even more so.
Your tasks pile up as you try your hardest to balance them like an ever-growing stack of dishes. But all it takes is one moment to make everything come crashing down and leave you feeling defeated and ashamed. Things that used to be so easy to balance now felt so insurmountable. And it makes you wonder How am I ever gonna get through this?
One day, I remember confiding in a friend about how guilty I felt. There were some days I knew I was just going through the motions and I wasn’t as present with my son as I wanted to be.
And she lovingly said to me, “Kids just want to know they are loved. They won’t remember every detail of every day, but they will remember that you were there.”
And that gave me permission to exhale. That statement gave my grieving heart so much grace.
I may not feel fully present in the fog of my grief, but I am showing up and trying.
I may have days when my son sees my tears, but I can explain to him why I’m sad and encourage him to open up about his feelings too as he gets older.
And as this grief journey continues, I may just find that the path to healing will give me lots of opportunities to carry my dad’s legacy with me.
I’ll make sure my son knows how much his papa loved him. I will make sure the story of my dad’s life is a story that is interwoven with the tapestry of our family so tightly that it can never be undone.
I will work hard to show my son that healing takes time and it’s OK to ask for help. I will work hard to show my son that grief is an overflow of love and that it’s brave to take each wave as it comes.
And as he hits new milestones, I know my heart will ache with the knowledge that my dad won’t be there to see them.
But my heart will also be held together by the love he showered us with while he was here.
My heart will remember all of the I love you immenselys that are mine to keep. And my heart will carry that immense love with me and share it with my son each and every day. Because my dad’s story was one of deep love and devotion to his family.
I owe it to him to make that a big part of my story too.