For those missing their Dads today, I feel you. Hang in there. This Father’s Day marks nearly 15 years since my Dad died. I was 26. It feels like forever and yesterday ago all at once.
Sometimes Father’s Day hits me funny (not like ha-ha, slip-on-a-banana-peel-while-farting funny, more like why-am-I-sobbing-all-I-did-was-make-coffee funny) and sometimes it doesn’t.
In the 15 years since his death, I’ve grown, I’ve adjusted, and things have changed in ways I couldn't even begin to understand back then. But, I don’t think I’ve “moved on,” I think I’ve “moved with.” My grief has become…something different. I don’t know if there’s a proper English word for this something different. The happiness and the sadness live side-by-side. It’s threaded together. It’s me.
I think it’s hard for many of us to let grief root in properly. I think we’re afraid the grief will remain forever and that it will take over our happiness. And I think that fear is often true for both the people grieving and the people trying to comfort the grieving. So, phrases are thrown around (with the kindest of intentions) like “they wouldn’t want me/you to be sad,” or, “remember the good times,” as if the problem is just a simple bait and switch – try a smile instead of tears.
One of the hardest lessons to learn was that it wasn’t my responsibility to feel in a way that made the world comfortable. Grief isn’t comfortable. It’s Earth-shaking and destabilizing. I think that’s universal, whether you believe in a higher power or not. Whatever you believe happens after death, the reality is that the life you knew is no longer the same. In the early months after my Dad died, I remember being panicked in simple everyday conversations because it felt insane to be talking about normal things when my world was upside down and smashed into smithereens. At that time, the most honest answer to, “how you holding up?” would have probably been to throw my head back and wail like a banshee.
And, of course, it changes and there are things you let go of and things you keep, but I don’t think we can really understand what’s important to let go of and what’s important to keep unless we’re given the space to feel our hurt. It’s not as simple as let go of the bad and keep the good. And I think we live in a society that feels the need to jump-start us into some kind of happiness instead of letting our roots sink down and get a good grip on our new reality.
The jump-starts are enticing. I know I tried a jump-start or two. But, in my experience, the healing wasn’t in the smile (I knew how to do that already), and it wasn’t in the being grateful (I knew how to do that already, too), the healing was in the hurt. To me, hearing that my Dad “wouldn’t want me to be sad,” or that I should “be grateful” for the good times felt like someone telling me to stop feeling hurt.
I know I had a great Dad. I’ve got lots of wonderful memories I could and often do share. I’m absolutely grateful for the time he was on this Earth. He was a baseball coach, a cub scout leader, a great provider, a wonderful storyteller, a doting father, a truly generous man, a guy who ran through traffic to give first aid to someone in a car accident (a story I learned at his funeral), a die-hard Browns fan, someone who would cry at the end of sad movies and never made us ashamed of that emotion, a Dad who said "I love you" and had a fantastic sense of humor. When my siblings and I would make him laugh, he’d toss his head back and let out the warmest bellow of belly laughter you’d ever heard. It always looked like he was absolutely thrilled to be caught so completely off-guard. I loved his laugh so very much. Still do. Brings tears to my eyes to write about it. They’re warm tears, happiness tinged with sadness. Sometimes the mixture is more happiness, sometimes it’s more sadness. I miss his laugh.
And here’s the thing. I absolutely know his laughter is still here. I hear it differently, but it’s in me. I feel that with absolutely everything I am, yet I also know it’s not the same as having your Dad right there laughing with you and sometimes that really catches me achingly off-guard.
This is my reality. And I’ve found an understanding here. An honest-to-God comfort here. Because it’s the truth of who I am. And I wouldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t given myself the space to feel. The feeling didn’t all come out in one fell swoop. It took time. It’s still a work in progress. But, I am grateful for this journey.
So, this is my gift to my Dad on this Father’s Day. It’s a bit of what I’ve learned since he passed:
To all those mourning the absence of your dads this Father’s Day, especially those new to this reality and to those on the young side, I’m sending you my support. I hope you’re feeling the freedom to feel…whatever it is you feel. I pray that you trust in your heart and let all your feelings take root. If you’re afraid of the hurt, believe me, I understand. I wish I had answers to how long it lasts or to what degree it hurts, but I don’t. I do know, though, that the hurt cannot be outrun or out-smiled. And I promise, if you trust in your feelings and let your roots sink in and nestle down in that fertile soil, you’ll find what you need. I don’t know what that need is. But, you do. You’ve got it in you.
And, to those trying to comfort someone who’s just lost a parent (particularly a young person), it’s okay to feel helpless. You don’t need to have answers. Just be there. If they need a shoulder and yours is available, give them a place to lay their head. Trust that they’ll get to a smile, to a laugh, when it’s time. I know it’s hard to watch someone you love hurt, but their timetable is not ours to define. Remember, just because something isn’t flowering doesn’t mean that its roots aren’t growing.
Much love to you all.