I heard someone say grief is like glitter you can never quite get rid of it no matter how hard you try it is always there. So for me it is 4 years, 9 months and 9 days since my Dad passed. Those going through a similar journey will know this journey is excruciatingly hard but we have no choice but to walk through this in our own unique way.
Today I want to touch on the things or shall I say the tools I used to help me during the climb. A snap shot of where I was in the early days will kind of put this into some context. In the early days I felt I was actually going mad. I was offered anti depressants but I said no this was grief and it is healthy to process it if I can without a crutch. I did not know if I could but I wanted to try. The truth is I did not believe I could survive without my Dad’s physical presence let alone go past his first death anniversary. My life grinded to a halt amidst a world that was busy moving but I was at a standstill. My life was empty, joyless and without meaning. I felt I was stood in the middle of an earthquake totally exposed to the elements with no one holding my back or even my hand. Alone, fatherless, bereft and all I wanted was my dad to console me and to tell me I would be okay.
The only person who could possibly get near to me to help me come to terms with my Dad’s passing was ironically the one person I most yearned for and trusted, and that was my father. I hit the lowest point when one day while walking to work I put a measure tape in my pocket to see if I could climb over a bridge railing. I did nothing of the sort but the measure of my grief was that many of my friends thought I would never ever ‘recover’. Of course, one never does recover and I don’t want to ever forget what a privilege this journey has been and how transformational this experience has been for me in terms of finding a bit of me. I say this with complete humility because ‘we’ are so fragile that while seemingly we seem to be ‘normal ‘ now it only takes one little set back like a feather which knocks you sides ways and you go back spiralling down to feeling that hurt again.
So from feeling a fatherless orphan (which I still am) I come to the present. I have repeatedly reinvented myself. When you accept your own vulnerability and accept that you are broken you reach a point where you feel you have nothing to lose by taking risks and doing things you never dared to comprehend before you were broken. I have actually walked on hot coal, I’ve run a marathon and I have left my job twice without another job in place..I have stretched myself and I have had helpful souls who believed in me that I could so I had nothing to lose but try.
I have gone from thinking my Dad had died and that I had ‘lost’ him to now believing and knowing that he is walking with me every step of the way. I have not lost him and he has not died. I found this card which perfectly sums up my now and sits on our conservatory wall. The words are ” I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS.”
He is I know. And I am glad I know this fact. In my book this is one tiny step to enlightenment I know I still have a long way to go when it comes to learning the universal truth of my existence.
Recently, I keep coming across words that are like messages. No, I am not losing my mind and I am not lost either. An advert on a bus shelter “NEVER LOOK BACK”, a bread lorry with “FRESH THINKING” and words on a university wall “CONNECTING WITH YOU” are nothing more than mere adverts but to me it feels like I am getting messages from my Pops. I have noticed I see these things just when I am about to ‘crack’ then I centre myself, smile and carry on. I may put on the radio and a song comes on that is almost like a message like “sunshine in the rain, love is still the same, tears on my face, love is still the same..”. In my small world I am still work in progress but there has been progress. Put it this way I am no longer afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve and I do not hesitate to tell a friend that I love them.
The ‘Tools’ I have used to help me on this pilgrimage come from learning what others have helpfully shared and also come from my own journey.
- Rituals- this word sounds rather dogmatic but in its right sense it is not. In our conservatory I have my Dad’s favourite picture. I light a candle everyday. Sometimes I talk to him, sometimes I leave a note asking for his thoughts on a particular issue or sometimes I just sit and thank him in silence. Sometimes when I am not in a great mood I don’t say anything and I know he gets me!. This practice of lighting a candle and sitting in front of his picture is something I do daily come rain or shine.
- Talking to my Daddy- A good Samaritan like friend gave me a sympathy card with this lovely poem below by Henry Scott Holland. It took a while to sink in but I understand it. I wake up and say good morning to my Dad, I say thank you and good night also. I come home from work and call him just like I did before to say Dado I am home. When I am in pain and I really need him I call him at the top of my lungs. I can do that because I live in a detached house (not advisable otherwise).
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
By Henry Scott Holland.
I cannot beat the sentiments of this lovely poem but I would say my Dad is only a thought away. He feels my pain, my joy and he reads me just like he did when he was in the physical world.
3. Writing- As a lawyer I draft and write for a living but I love words now more than before. They have been my companion. I can pour my heart out, process my feelings and express my gratitude for the every day comforts and joys that I am blessed with. Just before my father passed I started to keep a journal. 4 years on I have about 25 journals because first thing in the morning I write a conversation with my father and sometimes the Lord. Oprah Winfrey often talks about having a gratitude journal. Mine is a mix of reflection and everyday things the kind of stuff my Dad and I would have talked about. Where ever I go I always have my journal to hand. I have not yet missed a day of not writing. On particular challenging days I start by writing about it I make a conscious efforts to use only positive words but sometimes it is not possible so I say it how I feel. Putting our thoughts on paper is therapeutic and I have found it to give me strength and clarity. This habit has been my helpful companion and it is a daily record of how I have walked this journey.
4. Reaching out & Volunteering- I thought my profession made me empathetic but actually I learnt to become more compassionate and empathetic after my Dad’s passing because so many kind souls reached out to me in my hour of need. I now make it my business to reach out to those on a similar journey. Having a small idea of how one may feel all we need to do is not to intrude on someone’s private hurt but to just let them know you are there for them. I found in my early days I had a handful of friends who checked in on me just to see I was ‘okay’ with the full knowledge that I may not respond but they knew I knew they were there for me if necessary. That knowledge is powerful both for the giver and the recipient. I have volunteered as a mentor to undergraduate law students and have found it has benefitted me hugely by this simple act of sharing. I volunteer with Silver Line which is a charity for isolated senior citizens, again the benefit to me far outweighs anything I may seemingly give. I just completed my 75th weekly call to a lovely soul.
5. Just be- There are still times when even the most necessary but mundaneness of life becomes impossible to handle. I went from someone who was always on top of her paperwork to having days when I would have unopened post. My Sundays are my sacred day for ‘me’. I rest, read, or may be do nothing and just be. For most of us we usually have a list of things we need to do. I have come to realise the grief we feeling following the passing of a significant loved one is exhausting on many levels. Sheer emotional and physical exhaustion is the best description. Your mind becomes numb, your body feels tired and no matter how hard you rest you still feel like you need more rest. I usually spot the signs of reaching the about to ‘crash’ state and I let go in readiness. Reading can be uplifting as well as listening to music. I have had days when I have turned off the phone, the laptop and I lie down with my Dad’s favourite duvet feeling him closed to me actually helps me to re-energise. When we go through this seismic journey it is imperative that we are kind to ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to just be and to give ourselves some slack because only we know how we have got from point A to point B. The saying that we can only appreciate another’s journey if we have walked in their shoes is spot on here.
6. Walking- In the early days I wasn’t working. In fact aside from looking after me, running a household , sorting the probate and many things one needs to do after the death of a loved one I did function in an autopilot way experiencing many crashes along with way. These crashes were like going into free fall losing control with no emergency brakes to stop. For many months I wasn’t able to sleep a whole night. Prior to my Dad’s passing I was like a fire fighter getting up so many times during the night meant having an uninterrupted night’s sleep was a luxury. Added to that was the feeling of why was I still alive, who am I and what is the point et cetera. You’ll get my drift getting a good nights sleep was my major challenge consequently I would wake up feeling very lethargic. My father loved walking and until the age of 92 he walked every day about 4 miles so I decided I would follow in his footsteps and I am glad I did. In the early days when I could not stand my own company or felt I was about to break I would just put my coat on and walk, walk and walk for hours on end. Being out in nature feeling the breeze touch my face reminded me I was alive. Seeing trees solid and it’s magnificent state taught me so much and I kept me going where I had no idea back then. I would walk all day to feel physically tired but would come home ‘proud’ that I managed to set foot out of the house. That’s usually the first battle. No matter how bad we feel, get up, get dressed and get out and do something. Even if you can smile at another and say good morning you have made an effort. I could not stand the sound of noise and that is still a problem. So going for a long walk in a park looking at the blue sky and feeding the ducks became my purpose. In fact every weekend in the morning I still attend morning worship, no not in the Temple but I go to our local park where I have scattered my Dad’s ashes to feed the ducks. I feel I am feeding the hungry ducks but in fact they have saved me from me losing myself. Now I walk to and back from work so on average I can easily clock up to 40 to 50 miles per week of walking. The added benefit of this is fitness and better endurance. We feel better for trying and every little effort helps with our overall wellbeing.
In my next post I will add a few more ‘tools’ in the hope that even if one person going through a similar journey to mine finds a little bit of help to take the next step forward writing about my personal and very private journey has been worthwhile.
Whether one believes in God or not I do believe there is a supreme power higher than me who guides me and helps me to raise my game. My Dad is still the centre of my universe and I am so grateful that he is. I have met God through my father’s smiling eyes.
Until next time I wish you peace and inner joy. Keep walking..
9th October 2018