Sunday, November 4, 2007

What Death Will Teach You.

1. Don’t put off.
When my Dad was diagnosed in 2001 with pancreatic cancer, he was given 3-6 months to live. There was so much we could’ve done together but he died just 9 short days later. Why didn’t we do those things before? It’s so easy to let “daily life” become more important when you don’t realize the “whole life” can leave you at any time. There are no guarantees.

2. Say what needs to be said.
Two days after his diagnosis, he was hit with a stroke that robbed him of his ability to carry on a conversation. Luckily for me, my Dad and I never held back on the “I Love You’s” , the “I Need You’s” and the “I’m Proud of You’s”. There wasn’t anything I needed to say or anything I needed to hear. This, alone, was an amazing comfort to me then and remains so today. Tell that person whatever it is you need to say or they need to hear. No one ever regrets speaking in love, but people do regret not speaking when it’s too late.

3. Take more pictures.
I have plenty of pictures of my Dad. I have plenty of pictures of me. What I don’t have are pictures of us together. The last one I have was taken in 1991. A decade without pictures of my Dad and I together? That’s just heartbreaking. Don’t wait for a “special occasion”. Everyday you are with someone you love is occasion enough. You can’t say, “Well, I’ll just come back and take a picture when I have a moment”. Moments don’t come back.

4. The joy of not forgetting.
After my Dad passed, there wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t think of him. Each time, it was like someone punched me in the chest. I knew time would heal my wounds but I longed for when I could finally make it through a whole day without thinking of him. Thankfully, God knows better than me. What happened, instead, was the thoughts of his death turned into the memories of his life. And the tears of my grief turned into the smiles and laughter of good times remembered. It’s been over 6 years now and, Thank God, not a day has gone by without a thought or two of him. I wouldn’t have it any other way. No one wants to be forgotten.

5. Cherish the gift you’re given.
While sitting with my Dad in the hospital one day across from my step-mother, I said to her, “As much as this sucks, losing my dad when I’m only 32, I think of all the women out there who grew-up never knowing their fathers or not having a relationship with them. That’s so much worse. At least I had 32 good years”. Words cannot express how thankful to God I am for those 32 years. Sure, some people got 35, 40, 50 years or more. Some got 10. Some didn’t get any.

6. Face grief head-on.
It’s often said that there are 5 stages of grief. I was pretty familiar with denial, since that is how I made it through the day those first few weeks, but I wasn’t interested in any other phase except the final one - acceptance. I figured the sooner I got there, the better. So I just jumped ahead to it. If you are familiar with the movie, “Finding Nemo”, you’ll remember the part where Marlin and Dory are supposed to go through the trench but to Marlin it looks dark and scary. He wants to go over it instead, so they do. They end up running into trouble they never expected - didn’t even see coming, really, and ended up worse off. Trust me on this one, there’s a lot of pain you won’t see coming when you just skip across the top of grief. You really do need to go deep and go through it.

7. Lean on God.
What people who have lost a loved one need more than anything is for someone to just listen to them. There is no better listener than God. Pour it all on to Him. He will never tire. I didn’t do this enough. I wonder how much of the pain would’ve been taken from me had I just released my grief to God. The good news is, it’s never too late. I can still give it to him.

8. Everyone grieves differently - Let them.
When I had spoken to a long time friend of my dad’s after his death, she described it as a “real bummer”. I was shocked! “Bummed” hardly described my feelings. Perhaps, that was all she could express, I don’t know. What I realize now is that not everyone celebrates birthdays the same and not everyone grieves the loss of a loved one the same. People do what they can. They are just trying to make it day by day, as well. Sometimes, I wish I would’ve provided more comfort to others instead of working so hard to secure my own.

9. Find comfort in where they are now.
When my dad died, I was actually a little jealous of him. He was now living in a place where all he felt was peace and love. He was restored to newness and fullness. He knew nothing of pain or fear or loneliness. He was with God and he was home. I never wanted my dad dead, but once he was gone, I never wanted him back. I was too happy for him.

10. Forgiveness.
My step-mom and I did not always have a good relationship. My dad was often in the middle of it. Sometimes, we put him there, sometimes he volunteered for the spot. Twenty plus years of, “She said ‘this’” and “She did ‘that’”. Sitting across the bed from her in the hospital room, she holding one hand of dad’s, me holding the other, all of that vanished. Funny how the death of someone you love will focus your mind and spirit. It’s amazing how it will also bring reality into focus and force you to see, clearly, what is important and what, so rightfully, can be called petty. I wish I could’ve gained that vision years before, but I’m happy to report I’m still seeing pretty clearly today.


Laurel said...

I lost my dad suddenly in July of 2000. I saw so much of myself in this post. I remember how it took the longest time for my brain to accept the entirety of it. One day, months and months later, I was driving home from work contemplating something, and I thought, "I'll call Dad about that. I need to talk to him." Like I'd forgotten for a brief moment that he was gone. And then it hit me so forcibly that I could not hear his voice. I couldn't get his advice. I just began to sob. It was like my mind and body could only accept so much grief at a time, in sections.

I still miss him, regardless of my faith that he lives on. I miss him here. Physically. Like a hole in my gut.

But the appreciation of his life, his influence, that is what makes it okay. How blessed I am to have known him, to have had his influence and love.

Thank you for a meaningful post.

Amanda said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Laurel. It's never easy - no matter how old we are or how they went. I did the same thing once - I was looking at a broken chair and I thought, "Eh. No big deal. Dad will fix it." I think if the realization of their deaths hit us all at once, it really would be too much for us to bear. Thankfully, God knows just how much to lay upon us at a time. Grief should never be rushed but should work its way through us like a sieve.

Thank you for your response. *hugs*

andrea said...

Thanks for writing about losing your Dad. That was beautiful.You know that our stories of losing our Dad's are very similar. My Dad will be gone (but not forgotten) six years the day after Thanksgiving this year. Every year on the anniversary of his death I light an angel candle that was given to me as a gift when he passed. I light it and let it burn all day to remember him. It feels like he is there in the room with me and helps me to recall special times with him.