Last night, I came from the wake of my friend’s lola. This particular friend was raised by her grandparents, and her lola’s passing felt more like the loss of a parent than an extended family member.
Just a few days before that, I found myself chatting with her. It was then that she gave me the sad news that her grandmother wasn’t doing very well. And she was asking me for advise on what to expect or on how to deal when her lola does pass away. I racked my brains for something wise or comforting to say, but I couldn’t find the right words.
The truth is, unless you experience the death of a loved one firsthand, I don’t think you can ever really fathom how it feels . And as someone who has lost a father, I sincerely and honestly felt for her. I wanted so badly to reach out, but all the words just seem to pale in comparison to the actual devastation that you feel when confronted with grief. It was just one of those things that you had to figure out for yourself.
In an attempt to really help her out however (albeit belatedly), I decided to collate some things I learned about grief after my dad died.
1. Every person deals with grief differently
I guess I just wanted to start this with some sort of disclaimer. These are my truths about grief. I have no idea if what I’m experiencing is universal. Nor can I claim these are the “right” or “normal” experiences to have. I just know that these were the things that I personally went through.
Moreover I don’t think anyone ever really experiences grief in the same way. Although it helped me alot to talk to friends whose parents have also passed, it made me realize that because my personality and my relationship with my dad were different from theirs, the way they grieved would be very different too.
Even members of my family had different ways of dealing with my dad’s death. Mom wore black for an entire year and refused to let any of my dad’s possessions go (we recently just removed his toothbrush from the banyo. Seriously). I went to the cemetery at least twice a week and would have pity parties while listening to Beatles (my dad’s favorite band) songs. My brother just went back to his normal routine and focused on practical matters.
There was mutual respect on all of our parts, knowing that although we all shared each other’s pain, we were totally different people and we had to all learn how to deal in our own way
2. Grief sucks
Way to start with something so glaringly obvious right? But honestly I don’t think people really realize that it’s really just supposed to suck. Well-meaning friends and family would try to give me solace by saying stuff like “at least your dad wasn’t in pain when he passed” or “he’s with nanay and tatay now”, not knowing that although it gave me some level of comfort, it was really poor consolation for losing my daddy.
Don’t get me wrong I’m happy that he has found reprieve from his physical pain, and he probably is really in a better place. But he didn’t exactly leave me with much of a choice when he decided to leave us (Yes, i really think it was my dad’s decision to leave. More on that maybe in another entry)
His death had left me with an overwhelming feeling of finality.. There was just so much to deal with. I was never going to see him again. I would start having milestones and going through experiences without him. He was never gonna walk me down the aisle. What if i forget what his voice sounds like? What if I forget his scent? It seemed like I was just losing so much.
As a psychologist who fancied herself a Buddhist for a certain time, I dealt with all of these feelings the best way I knew how. I just let myself be. I didn’t try to cope with the pain. I made no effort to manage it. I just literally let myself feel whatever it is that I was feeling. I figured the sooner I accept that his death is painful and that I would probably be in pain for a long time (probably even the rest of my life), the better off I’d be.
So that’s how I dealt with it. i wallowed when I needed to wallow. I would have pity parties in my room, in the car or any other place I felt was appropriate (Ofcourse I avoided letting go in public. I was grief-stricken, not loopy).
Ever so slowly, things started getting better. I would be lying if I said I stopped feeling the pain altogether. Papa’s death has left a dull ache that would probably take a lifetime to heal. And occasionally I would feel a stab of pain triggered by a memory or some sappy thing I see on TV. But I’m ok. I’m actually even at the stage where I’m slowly starting to accept that his passing was for the best.
3. Every day is different
I remember years ago I was seeking counseling with my college psych professor because I went through my first ever breakup with my first real boyfriend (babaw no?). He gave me what I consider one of the wisest analogies on grief and loss. He said that the pain that you feel when you lose someone can be likened to a pendulum, it swings from one extreme to the other, erratically at first until it gradually slows down and comes to a complete halt.
With my dad, I experienced a myriad of extreme emotions. My good days consisted of feelings of gratitude, relief and sometimes even peace. My bad days were a mixture of anger, guilt and sadness.
Anything could trigger this roller coaster.
What made things a little bit more difficult was we also had to adjust to the everyday life without him. On some aspects it was a little bit easier. We didn’t have to go to 3 hour dialysis sessions MWF, no more weekly visits to the doctor etc. But I never really realized how much we emotionally relied on our dad until he was gone.
He was the voice of reason, the one who calmed us down when we were in a panic. Whenever I was sick or had a booboo, he would to tell me what medicine to take. Normal every day things got so difficult because my dad wasn’t around anymore.
But once again, the pendelum analogy that got me through every small and big loss did not fail me. Eventually things are now starting to simmer. The pain, anger and sadness that I feel are not as intense. And slowly, I’m starting to build a new routine for myself. One that accepts that my dad isn’t around anymore
4. Time heals all wounds but sometimes wounds can leave scars
Alot of people gauge whether they’re “ok” after a death of a loved one if their “back to their old selves”.
Honestly though, I think anyone who says that he or she is exactly the same after experiencing death and grief is probably lying. For some people, the pain probably goes away in time, but I don’t think one can go through such a painful loss without being changed.
The very nature of death forces you to adjust and transition. And going back to your old self and your old routine becomes almost impossible.
In my case I think I became more compassionate when my dad passed away. I’m also more secure about the relationships that I keep and am very careful not to take any of the people in my life for granted.
At the same time, I’m a little bit more cynical and have become more intolerant of certain behaviors. I’ve also become a simpering, sentimental idiot and would cry every time somebody talks about death or losing a loved one (the other day I was crying while watching a story in Insider. Insider for crying out loud.)
I’m not very sure if you could say I became a better person after my dad’s death. But it was very evident to me that I’ve changed. And at the end of the day, it was much easier for me to embrace these changes rather than force myself to go back to how I used to be.
5. You need to be kind to yourself
This is probably the one I advise that I would insist on. After my dad’s death. I was a big ball of guilt. I felt I wasn’t there for him enough during the last moments of his life. I felt I was being a bad daughter to my mom because I chose not to stay in the house very often. I didn’t want to do happy things such as go to the beach because I felt I was disrespecting my dad’s memory. It got to the point that the guilt got debilitating.
It wasn’t so much as as I wasn’t prepared to move on. I just wasn’t allowing myself to because I felt like i needed to show remorse and sadness in order to prove to my dad that I loved him.
Eventually, it got to the point that I had to let it all go.
I had to remind myself that although I made a lot of mistakes, I dealt with his illness the best way I knew how at that particular moment. Moreover, I’m dealing with his passing and taking care of my mom in my fullest capacity as well. Enjoying the rest of my life did not mean I loved my dad any less.
It may be different for other people. Guilt may not be everybody’s primary emotion. But whatever it is that you’re going through, you must learn to be very patient and kind to yourself.
Like I said earlier, grief is such a personal experience. And the best person who would know how to comfort you is you. In as much as you still have to look out for a sibling, a mom, a dad who was also left behind, you also need to learn how to listen to yourself and your needs. Take the time to get to know yourself and regroup.. healing only begins when you learn how to be there for yourself.