The Day Jesus Took The Wheel

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There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

And that moment happened three weeks ago.

My father taught me everything I needed to know in life. He taught me how to dance, he taught me the importance of self-respect, he taught me how to be kind and compassionate and like many Dads, he taught me how to drive.

My Dad was a car guy, I remember being a young girl and he would sit me on his lap and let me “drive” in parking lots while we waited for my Mom in the store. This was the 80’s so that was normal back then, now not so much! But you get my gist.

When I was of driving age, my father taught me how to drive. Rule number one, always wear your seat belt. Rule number two, keep both hands on the wheel. My Dad was an excellent driver, he had lightning fast reflexes and eyesight like a hawk. He also had an undeniable belief that he owned the road. With my real life superhero by my side I learned how to navigate myself through traffic and never be afraid.

When I passed my driving test and he handed me the keys to the car, I remember my father telling me, “Lisa Mia, it’s not you I’m worried about it’s the other drivers on the road. You must have eyes all over, always drive defensive. Please honey, be careful.”

Years have passed since then and I’ve always considered myself a safe driver. Driving is when I have my alone time and I think. Driving is when I think of my Dad.

Three weeks ago, my entire life changed in the blink of an eye.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

It was a normal Saturday morning, I was on my way to do my normal boring Saturday morning routine, when I realized I forgot my cell phone at home. I was about a block away from my house, so I made the decision to return home to retrieve my cell phone. A decision I will regret for the rest of my life.

I put my blinker on, looked like I always do, and then something happened. I saw all white and instantly I felt my father’s presence – perhaps the strongest since his death three years ago.

For a brief moment I felt strong arms wrap around my body.

I wasn’t afraid because I felt surrounded by pure unconditional love. There are no words to accurately describe the love I felt surrounding me at that exact moment. I didn’t hear tires screeching or feel an impact, I only saw white. And then I realized I smelled smoke and my car was in the middle of a busy road. I saw people gathering on the sidewalk and I felt confused, I started to remember feeling a slight impact, I thought I was rear ended. A woman in a minivan slowed down, rolled down her window and yelled to see if I was okay. I couldn’t understand why so many people were coming to help me. I was only tapped, or so I thought. And then I realized my air bags were open. ALL OF THEM WERE OPEN ON THE DRIVERS SIDE OF THE CAR. And burning, I smelled something burning. Was there a fire? Oh God, please not a fire, I need to get out of here. Then my left eye started to hurt, REALLY HURT, and my vision was blurry. The entire left side of my face began to throb.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

I took a deep breath and I quickly looked around.  I wiggled my fingers and toes, I recited the Our Father in my head. I then screamed at the top of my lungs for God and said, “Dear God please give me the strength.” My vision was so blurry, and the smell was awful, the burning, where was it coming from? I realized I needed to open the door and get out of my car. With all my strength I pushed open my car door and made my way across the street.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

“You’re going to be okay, I am right here with you.” is what I heard in my head and I knew it was my father. It felt as if someone was guiding me across the street, helping me. Confused, because I still thought I was rear ended, I made my way across the street and turned to I looked at my car.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

I saw my wheel torn off, pieces of my car all over the road, plastic pieces everywhere, a puddle of fluid under my car. My airbags were deployed. I couldn’t believe all of that “stuff” came from my vehicle. The sight of my car made my entire body began to tremble, I could not believe my eyes.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

I made my way to a man standing on the side of the road with some other people.  The man offered me his hand and smiled at me. I looked at the Good Samaritan and between tears I said, “How is this possible? I thought I was rear ended, I was going home for my phone. I have to call my husband, I need my husband.” And then I started to cry while I stared at the heap of metal that was once my car in the middle of the road. The Good Samaritan looked at me and smiled, “You’re lucky to be alive, you can use my phone.”  He was so calm and reassuring. I remember trembling so badly that the Good Samaritan had to dial the phone. I remember him smiling at me saying, “You’re safe now, the police are here.” And he left. I’m so thankful that this stranger stopped what he was doing to wait with me for help to arrive.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

As the police began to pull up, I noticed a woman on the other side of the road. She was frantically waiving her arms, screaming for me. She was screaming, “You guys have the Boston Terrier! I’ll go get your husband!” She ran to my house to get my husband. I wish I knew her name, I only know her because I have noticed her walking her dog the weeks leading up to my accident. Now, a few weeks post-accident and I have yet to find that woman to thank her. My husband and I look for this woman daily, we want to thank her for her act of kindness.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

Despite all the chaos that Saturday morning, but I could feel my father’s strong presence. I could feel my father’s protection and love, but I felt something else, something even more powerful. I felt God’s love and protection that morning.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

I remember being loaded into the ambulance feeling shaken up but so incredibly thankful and blessed as I watched the mangled wreck that was once my car fade in the distance. I remember closing my eyes and quietly thanking God for being with me that morning and protecting me.

There are moments during my grief journey that I am positive my father is guiding me and comforting me.

Life can be messy and chaotic and we never know what tomorrow will bring. But through it all there is a God up there and God is good all the time, His grace and mercy are boundless. He is so willing to forgive, so eager to answer prayer, and so ready to bless us beyond what we deserve or hope for. I cry when I think of what happened to me a few weeks ago, I am forever thankful for all of the blessings bestowed upon me. And someday when God calls me home, I hope to tell Him in person, “Thank you God for being so good to me.” 

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The Power of Journaling

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Ten years ago, when my father was diagnosed with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer none told me that I was about to embark on the ride of my life. As my father began his grueling treatments I went out and purchased journals. I began to feverishly put my feelings down on paper and document this new, often horrific journey.

My journey with grief began the day a mass on the base of my father’s tongue was given a name – squamous cell carcinoma. As a matter of fact, I still have the paperwork that I frantically faxed over to the team of doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering to evaluate my father. The cover sheet in my father’s handwriting ends with “I would like to see the doctor as soon as possible. Thanks for your help.”

Our family had no idea the cruel battle we were about to embark on. We only knew that that we needed my father to live. Life without him was unimaginable, it still is and he’s been gone three years.

I watched cancer hijack my father’s body until I could hardly recognize him. Those radiation treatments for that “little” mass at the base of his tongue wreaked havoc on his entire body. The radiation eventually destroyed his entire epiglottis, making it impossible to eat or drink orally for the last four years of his life, relying on a feeding tube inserted in his belly for his sole means of nutrition.

Sunken cheekbones, his dark hair gone white. Pale, pasty skin. Brown eyes that were distant, almost empty. Strong hands that had guided me throughout my entire life became thin and frail, and often trembled. The last four years of my father’s life are forever etched in my brain, a painful reminder to never take life for granted.

A few weeks after my father’s death, my husband encouraged me to write down my feelings and send them to the Huffington Post. I thought he lost his mind. Who wants to hear my sob story? I was already on the verge of depression, why would I share my darkest feelings with the entire world? Instantly I envisioned internet trolls making a mockery of my grief. My husband’s response to me was, “Steve Harvey had a make up blogger on his show yesterday and I don’t really know what she was talking about, but I think you should share your articles. People will read them, I believe in you.” I laughed and began to critique a very private essay I wrote to my mom who was my father’s caregiver for his entire journey with cancer. I then decided to go big or go home, and I sent my article to Ariana Huffington. I remember thinking, well if I’m going to share my deepest feelings with the entire world let’s start with someone I admire.

The next day I was a Huffington Post Blogger. I also began journaling again.

Why? Because grief has a way of making you feel like you’re trapped on a deserted island and you’re all alone. My articles and journals have been my lifesaver when no one could save me. And guess what there have been no internet trolls, just some really incredible people who are also hurting as they embark on their own grief journey.

Grief is a long, lonely journey and my journals and expressive art are my most intimate, trusted friends during one of the darkest, most difficult times of my life.

If you’re lucky, friends and family will offer as much comfort as they can give, but they all have their own lives to live and after the funeral most people don’t want to hear your sad story repeatedly. Let’s face it, grief makes most people uncomfortable. We live in a society where death is taboo, and we are expected to “get over it.” Unfortunately, there is no getting over a person of significance. Where there is great love, there is great grief, and if we do not find an outlet we will not heal. If you broke your arm would you leave it unattended? So why do many choose to ignore their grief and think it will just vanish?

Writing has provided me immense comfort and relief at a time when nothing or no one else could. My writing is one of the places where I can speak the truth and express my emotions. My journal is always there for me to listen to the same story, over and over, without judgment until I am ready to move onto the next chapter.

Journaling is is an effective way to keep their legacy alive.

10 years ago, I was unaware that expressive writing and journal therapy are actual ways for healing. I’ve always grabbed a pen to document my feelings, to process what was happening. By putting my emotions on paper, I could somehow make sense of what seemed impossible and find strength to carry on.

Journaling is also the cheapest form of self-care there is and a great way to heal grief. Even if you don’t start your own blog and share your raw emotions with the entire world, I challenge you to go buy a journal and start documenting your feelings throughout your grief journey. Why not keep a journal by your bed and each night write down your feelings, you never know you might find it helpful.

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You Were Here…And Now You’re Gone

pexels-photo-105857.jpegYou were here, there and everywhere with me.

We shared private family jokes. We were friends, enemies, teammates and competitors.

You were here to take silly selfies, laugh and cry with me.

You were here to send text messages and discuss our day.

You were here to offer advice on clothing, makeup and hair.

Your laughter was infectious, your smile stunning.  Your presence glorious as you entered the room.

You were here to hold, to touch and then just like that you became a memory.

I miss you every single day.

I think about our last conversation and wonder…will you remember how much I love you, how I valued our relationship?

If my love could have saved you, you would be here.

We never really thought you wouldn’t be here, with us where you belong.

You were here for the small, uneventful moments as well as the significant life events.

My grief was thrust upon me without warning.

My grief is dark, tragic, messy and painful.  There are moments my grief completely knocks me off course leaving me feeling vulnerable, lonely and confused.

You were here and now you’re gone.

The pain is brutal and debilitating at times. This thing called grief can be incredibly isolating and empty at times. Despite the people surrounding me no one really knows the constant ache in my heart.

Things unfinished, words unspoken, a young life unlived.

You were here, there and everywhere and now you’re gone.

We were a dynamic duo, except I wasn’t your equal. You were the brains, the beauty and the laughter. I was the assistant, your accomplice.

We had an unwritten agreement to enter old age together, sipping hot cocoa by the fire reminiscing about the good ole days.  And now you’re gone, and I’m here alone awkwardly wandering through life without you.

But I am still here.

I am still here to be your living, breathing legacy.

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The Lies They Tell Us about Grief

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Grief is a natural reaction when we suffer the loss of a loved one.  Unfortunately our society has no idea on how to handle grief and how to treat someone who has just suffered the loss of a great love.

For starters when someone dies we say passed, transitioned or whatever else comes to mind.  When my father died I had an older relative (bless her soul) reprimand me for saying my father died.  What is wrong with the word dead?  Last time I checked that’s what he was dead.  But for some death forces us to think about our own mortality, our own failures in life and that’s just too much to handle.  So instead we fluff our words, walk on eggshells and avoid saying trigger words.

Something happens when someone you love dies.  If you are like me and you are forced to watch your real life super hero suffer it changes you.  You feel helpless as you watch someone you love slowly fade away.  When your person dies so does a piece of you.  You are left with a tremendous hole in your heart.  Your soul weeps and no matter what you do there is no way to comfort it.

As you begin to walk your grief journey well meaning friends repeat the myths they have heard or the lies that were told to them when they suffered a loss.  They know no other way because our society knows no other way.  Society wants us to get over it and move on, and if we can’t get over it they want us to put on a pretty grief mask when we are out in public.  Grief is the elephant in the room wearing a pink tutu that no one wants to acknowledge.  But the truth is where there is great love there is great grief that lasts a lifetime and us grievers desperately want to acknowledge it.

Below are some of the lies we encounter throughout our grief journey:

  1.  You must stop living in the past and move on

This is something we love to tell our widowed community.  As a grieving daughter I cringe when I hear people tell my newly widowed mother to “move on.”  People who tell someone grieving to move on do not know loss.   They say ignorance is bliss and in this situation it sure is.  It’s easy to tell a heart broken widow to move on when you’re going home to your significant other.  Think about the irony of that and how hurtful it is.  Instead of telling Peggy to move on try saying, “I have no idea how you’re feeling but I’m here for you.”

Remembering our loved ones keeps their presence with us and is a way of honoring them and a way of honoring our feelings.  It keeps the love alive.

2.  You need to get over it

No one has the right to tell you how you feel.  There is no time stamp on grief.  There is no normal way to grieve.  Our grief is as unique as a snowflake.  You do not have to get over it.

3.  You really shouldn’t talk about him or her so much

As long as I have breath in me I will be my father’s living breathing legacy.  I write to keep my father’s memory alive.  The only people who cannot bear to hear you speak of your beloved are those who are unable to accept their own mortality.  What better way to honor a beautiful life than to extend all the love we can no longer give our loved ones to others?  Talking about our loved ones creates legacy for our loved ones in a world that would rather bury its emotions and move on.

These are just some of the myths that we are told while grieving a great loss.  The truth is no one can understand what you lost.  No one can understand the searing pain you are feeling in your heart.  No one can understand that there are times you want to die as well; no not because you are suicidal but because you yearn to hear your loved ones voice one more time, to hug them one more time or to tell them you love them one last time.  Death is final, grief lasts a lifetime.

It is true, where there is great love there is great grief.  And what a privilege it is to love that deeply.

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I Became A Better Person The Day My Father Died

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Do you have a moment in your life when everything came to a screeching halt and life as you knew it changed instantly?  I do.  It was January 17, 2016  in the wee hours of the morning.  I watched my father take his final breath and leave this place we call earth.  This moment has played over and over in my mind.  If I close my eyes tight enough I can still feel his protective grip as we held hands one last time. Regardless of how old I was, or how sick my father became, the strength of my father’s hands symbolized a sense of security, power and protection for me.  I studied his hands that night knowing I would never see them or him again.  I can still feel the agony of my heart shattering as I watched him leave his earthly body and ascend to Heaven.

My Dad was sick for seven long years, the last four years of his life he was housebound barely surviving.  His pain management was a failed attempt by doctors to give him some sort of quality of life.  Many times I would walk into the room to find him screaming in pain, begging God for mercy.  My heart still breaks when I think of this memory and my eyes begin to flood with tears.

For four long years my father was unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid – he survived on a peg tube inserted in his stomach.  I vividly remember my father’s strong hands trembling in pain, his body becoming weak and frail.  I’m still angry that my father had to suffer endlessly.  There is no reason for anyone to suffer from life changing illnesses, there is no reason for anyone to suffer period.  As I watched my father deteriorate before my eyes, I felt robbed of things that seemed so basic.  Family meals, going out to dinner, and eventually just a simple conversation became too cumbersome for my father.  Life can be so unfair sometimes.  Until a basic human need is ripped away from a loved one and there is nothing you can do to help them it’s difficult to imagine how precious life is, how valuable your health is.  You begin to see how trivial some things are.  The problems you had pre illness now seem laughable and manageable.

I was given front row seats to watch cancer slowly dismantle my father.  In case you didn’t already know this, cancer is the biggest bitch on the planet.  Like a thief in the night cancer slowly stole pieces of my father until he couldn’t even get out of bed and we had to assist him with the most basic tasks.  I remember helping my father use the restroom during the final days of his life.  He cried and apologized to me, he was horrified that his daughter had to help him use the restroom.  I held back tears and told him that’s what adult children are for and I will love him forever.

Three days later our family sat in the hospital waiting for God to take my father home.  Watching someone you adore die is a life changing experience.  Death is not glamorous like a Hollywood movie.  Death is a life changing experience that annihilates your entire life while shattering your heart into a million pieces.  One minute your loved one is there the next they are gone.  Seven years of horrific pain, praying and pleading with God to save your loved one and then just like that they are gone.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of a person of significance.  Despite my father being so ill I simply could not grasp the enormous feeling of loss immediately following my father’s final breath.  I remember immediately thinking, “No wait, come back! Please! I need you Daddy.”  But it was too late my father was gone after a long valiant battle with cancer.

Grief is not linear.  It ebbs and flows.  Grief is messy, complicated and painful.  Regardless of how horrific someone’s illness is when they are alive, once they are gone, they are gone forever.  I cried more in the days following the loss of my father than I have ever cried in my entire life.  Just when I thought my tears had run out I cried some more.  As I began to walk my grief journey I became comfortable with my wide range of emotions and with the emotions of those around me.

My father’s death has made me a better person—more present, empathetic, and committed to others while trying to have a positive impact on those around me.  A year after my father’s death, with the help of the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders I established the Albert J. Ingrassia Fund.  This is my effort to raise awareness for the countless patients living like my father and for the families so they know they are not alone.  My fiancée and I have decided to donate the flowers from our wedding to patients receiving care at the inpatient oncology and hospice unit at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, NJ.  This is our effort to share our unconditional love with others.

My father was an incredible man.  He was kind, loving and larger than life.  He dedicated his life to his family and as a result led a rich life.  These small efforts are my way of keeping my father’s legacy alive.

I don’t think anything can prepare you for the loss of a parent.  Losing my father was a massive blow, he was not just my father, he was my best friend, he was my person.  I was robbed of the opportunity to watch my father grow old, celebrate milestone birthdays, take him to dinner, and have him walk me down the aisle later this month at my wedding.

I will never stop missing my father, he was my first love and my real life superhero.  As I walk my grief journey I have learned the following:

  1. Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you.”
  2. Don’t waste moments. None of this is monotonous, it all matters.
  3. It’s okay to be less than perfect. When you die the important people that matter only talk about the good.
  4. Strength has very little do with muscle and brawn.  Strength has everything to do with our unique ability to conquer the trials and tribulations that life throws in our path.
  5. A father’s legacy changes the world, one daughter at a time.

My father’s story is far from over. I am the beneficiary of an infinite inheritance of virtue, character and fortitude. I am my father’s living breathing legacy and as long as I have breath in me I will continue to tell his story.

What lessons have you learned as you walk your grief journey? Please share in the comments section.

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What Grieving Friends Really Need

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My feelings were crushed the night my father died.  My entire world exploded when my father died.

As I silently observed my father take his last breath, I felt my heart beat hard inside my chest, exactly six times before I burst into uncontrollable tears.  And then suddenly my sobbing stopped and so did my entire world.

My father’s death was expected after a very long illness.  But that still did not prepare me for the gut wrenching, debilitating pain of grief.  The days leading up to his death were mentally exhausting. Two days before my father died I sat next to his hospital bed begging him not to go, not to leave me alone.  And then the man who held my hand my entire life and gave me butterfly kisses was suddenly gone forever.

You are never ready to say good bye to a person of significance in your life.

The days following my father’s death I felt like the drunk friend who arrived to the party late.  I found myself angry, sad and devastated constantly misjudging everyone’s well meaning actions.  My thoughts revolved around one thought, “My father just died, my entire world just exploded, how do I go on?”

When someone you love dies, every single relationship in your life is reevaluated.  Friendships as well as relations with family members are now ranked by who offered condolences, who texted you, who picked up the phone and maybe even who “liked” your latest photo of your deceased loved one on social media.  If your loved one endured a lengthy illness you may even find yourself evaluating friendships based on who was there for you during the illness.

I began to question lifetime relationships.  How good of a friend is someone if they failed to recognize that my father died?  How strong of a bond do you have with a family member who begins spewing gossip just days after throwing the dirt on my father’s casket?  Did you really respect my father or your relationship with him if you are unable to show respect to his immediate family following his death?  Do I even want to bother to nurture these relationships after suffering such a horrific loss that they failed to recognize or respect?

Grief opens your eyes to one’s true colors.  The widow returns to an empty house, the children are now living a life with a massive piece of their identity missing.  Life as they knew it is forever changed.

The sad reality is after the funeral is over and the condolences stop rolling in everyone but the immediate family returns to life. And when that happens the immediate family can feel a profound sense of isolation.  They begin to look around feeling alone and sometimes abandoned.

Until you have been spouse of someone for 40 plus years it is impossible to comprehend how debilitating grief is.  I lost my father, but my mother lost her husband, her soul mate.  My mother spent the last 7 years of my father’s life selflessly caring for him, the last year of my father’s life assisting him with basic human needs while preserving his dignity.  She showered him, helped him use the restroom, fed him, she became his lifeline.  Slowly I watched my parents go from a dynamic inseparable duo to my mother learning how to live life as a soloist.  Losing my father has shattered my heart, but watching my mother endure losing her soul mate has taken my grief to a whole new level, often leaving me breathless, devastated and feeling utterly alone.

So what do you do?  How do you prevent you lifetime friend from feeling alone?  The massive void left by death can never be filled by another but it sure does help to be surrounded by supportive, kind individuals.

  1. Offer help, but be specific

Start out by asking exactly what they need.  When and if they tell you nothing do not let that deter you from helping.  When we are grieving we have no idea what we need.  Take a peek around their home and make helpful suggestions.  “I can babysit any afternoon this week”, “I can drop the kids off at school this week”, “I can mow the lawn this week” or “I can go grocery shopping for you this weekend.”

2.  Let them vent without judgment

Grief makes you crazy.  Grief makes you feel like that drunk person who showed up at the party late and begins misjudging everyone’s actions.  Your friend needs to vent.  Let them vent and just listen. Let them cry and get it out.  Let them know you’re their judgment free zone and what is said to you stays with you.

3.  Continue to invite your friend out even if they decline

Grief is exhausting; grief makes you want to stay hidden in your bereavement bunker isolated from the world.  Continue to invite your friend out to the places you went before they began grieving.  The movies, lunch, dinner, the mall.  Your friend may be trying to make sense of a world that was just turned upside down.  Even if they keep declining, let them know you will be there when they are ready.

Friends and family return to life, but the immediate family of the deceased is now living a new, horrific normal.  After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have been packed away what grieving people need most are friends and family.  You can’t stop the rain for your grieving friend, but you can grab an umbrella and share it with them if they are willing to let you in.

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5 Alternatives to Walking Down the Aisle With Dad

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Planning a wedding is not for the weak or timid. You have to deal with crazy relatives, friends who are not invited yet think they are, and figure out how to plan for a couple hours of your life without spending your entire savings account.

 

For the blushing bride who is about to walk down the aisle, there are endless exciting details for the big day. Flowers, venue, dress, music, the list goes on and on. It’s all rainbows and unicorns with endless tears of joy. But for the bride without a father, there is another kind of tears. Many times there are no words, just a tremendous hole in her heart that aches. It is such a massive void that tears often accompany the happiest moments of wedding planning.

Fathers are such a significant part of a bride’s wedding day. Perhaps the biggest role is that the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle, giving her away to her new husband. But what about the fatherless brides?

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Grief Changes Your Address Book

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There are countless resources on how to mourn the loss of a loved one, how to cope with that gut wrenching emptiness, how to endure the horrific pain.  But what about lost friendships and family members?  How do we handle the disappointment brought on by others that follows a significant loss?

Grief changes and rearranges friendships. You never know who will be your rock and who will fade away.  As I continue navigate my grief journey I find myself constantly rearranging my address book adding and deleting contacts.  Death needs to stop being identified as taboo and the entire western world needs to do better when they encounter someone grieving a great love.

Let me be totally straight with anyone reading this article.  It is ineffective to comfort someone drowning in grief with a Facebook post nor can you express your deepest condolences with a text message, or a mass text.  This is even more accurate for someone you consider a friend or family.   Sure it’s the thought that counts but death is very painful and confusing.  Simply put when someone loses a person of significance they need human contact not a text message that took you less than 10 seconds to write.

The friends who express their deepest condolences via social media and text remind me of the people who respond to text messages with a “K.”  What do you mean K???  Are you too busy to type out the entire word OKAY or even OK?  Somebody just died, they took their last breath and will no longer walk the face of this earth and you are expressing deep condolences with a text message?  In a world where technology is destroying the art of social interaction death is one of those occasions where it’s imperative that we go old school, pick up the phone and then send a condolence card to people we consider friends and family.

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But at least you thought of your friend whose entire universe has just shattered.  It is the thought that counts, and until you have experienced your own loss of a great love it is impossible to understand the tremendous pain and the endless tears that occur in an instant.

What about the friends who were too busy to reach out at all? No call, no text, no card and the funeral services were at a very inconvenient time.  Or the ones whose significant other expressed condolences so they got off the hook and never put thought into reaching out to you as well.  Or my personal favorites the ones who meant to express condolences, but life got in the way so they never did and when they saw you they avoided they the topic because death is really uncomfortable and such a downer.

What about THOSE people?

When you lose a person of significance, those of us that are left behind are learning to surf massive waves of grief.  Grief is a gut wrenching painful experience.   Grief is permanent.  Grief is a prison sentence for the loved ones left behind.  But grief is also a universal experience that sadly we will all participate in no matter how much we try to avoid it.

When a “friend” fails to acknowledge our loss it tells us that you don’t care enough about the friendship to acknowledge the pain.  In my case it told me that some people simply did not respect the relationship enough to acknowledge that my father died.  And when you fail to acknowledge that I lost a person of significance you become null and void in my life.   With dollar stores all over the world you can buy a sympathy card for 99 cents, drop it in the mail and boom you’re a hero.  But when you fail to acknowledge my pain then see me months later acting like nothing happened you’re inviting a giant pink elephant in the room wearing a tutu.  And grief brings enough uncomfortable moments for me so please leave your big pink elephant at home.

When I lost my father I lost a tremendous piece of me.  I lost a big piece of my childhood, and an even bigger piece of me.  Not a day goes by that I do not think of him.  Losing a parent is one of the most painful experiences in life, you carry that loss in a permanent hole in your heart.  I will never forget the friends and family that stood and continue to stand by my side as I mourn the loss of my father.  The friends that kept calling during my early days of grief and didn’t give up despite me being unable to speak because my grief left me speechless.  The friends that sent me flowers just because way after the funeral.  The friends who texted me while they were on vacation on the other side of the world. These people will always hold a special place in my heart.

But as I sit down and plan my wedding, one of the happiest days of my life, I also cannot forget the friends that were too busy, or the friends that were uncomfortable by my loss.  If a friend cannot acknowledge a great loss, then there is no place for them for at a happy occasion.

You move on, but you never forget and the pain never goes away.  You learn how to surf those massive waves of grief with the help of the friends and family who become your life vest.

I’ll admit prior to losing my father I probably could have done more for my friends when they lost loved ones.  But I have always tried to be empathetic to others and acknowledge their milestones in life along with their pain.  Before losing my Dad I too thought sending a deep condolence text was acceptable.  I was wrong and I should have known better.

Grief is like a foreign country where you can only truly grasp the customs and language once you have lived there.  Living in this foreign country allows you to get accustomed to living life in an extremely different and painful way, isolated without the one you love. Good friends are a Godsend in this new land, they are your beacon of light and hope from the lighthouse on the shore.

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GRIEF – My Uninvited Wedding Guest

Rain Drops Girl Window Raining People Sad Crying

Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

Grief is a sneaky little bastard,  Pardon my French, but it really is.

Just when you think you’re doing okay, it sneaks up on you to remind you it’s still there. Grief doesn’t care about when it shows up, and it certainly doesn’t care about being inconvenient.  When grief reappears, the pain and sadness is as fresh as if the death happened yesterday.  For example earlier this week I was minding my own business meeting with our florist and he said, “What type of flowers would you like for the Dads.” That’s right; he said it, Dads plural.  For that split second my world stopped spinning and I felt sick. Funny how one little four letter word can really change the mood.   My mood shifted from a happy, carefree blushing bride to heartbroken fatherless bride.  I politely explained to Mr. Florist that my father is dead.  Instantly changing the mood from cloud 9 to downright depressing.  There is no good way to tell your wedding vendor that your Dad died a year ago.  I simply smiled and said, “My Dad passed away last year.”  Cue awkward silence. Then me filling that awkward silence with, “He had cancer; he was sick, really sick.” Then me thinking to myself WHY are you rambling, just say he passed away and shut up! Then me smiling and saying, “It’s okay, I’m FINE, really I’m fine, I’ll probably bring all my flowers to his grave.”  Again with me babbling and saying too much.  Luckily my fiancée saved that uncomfortable moment by changing the subject from dead dads and graves to something more appropriate for wedding planning, I’m really not sure what because at that point my mind had drifted as I pretended to play with my phone and browse Pinterest for creative flowers in a desperate attempt to not start crying at the florist. 

That’s when I felt the hammer of grief come crashing down with its harsh reality—I won’t need to select a flower for my father’s tux because he won’t be attending my wedding, he’s gone, dead, passed away pick your preferred phrase he’s just not here!!!  I will be a fatherless bride.

Later that evening it hit me hard like a hammer, delivering a swift blow of sadness and a steady stream of tears.  I did what any grieving daughter who is a bride to be would do; I spent my evening surfing the internet looking at flowers for my father’s tux. Quietly, I stared at hundreds of pretty internet brides with their fathers.  And then it happened, one tear led into the flood gates opening and then ugly sobs.

Grief touches lives beyond death.  Grieving takes time. Loss and pain have no set format, no prerequisites.  There is no list or magic pill to be “OK.”  Grief ebbs and flows like an unpredictable tide. Grief is that unexpected, uninvited, annoying house guest that can’t take a hint.  

You are minding your own business doing your thing, and then suddenly there’s a moment, a memory, or a milestone—and just like that—you realize how much you miss your loved one.

People die every day, and every day heartbroken people mourn them. Grief stricken people cry in the car, grocery store, or while planning a wedding.  The sense of loss when a loved one dies is universal; it transcends language and culture and everything that separates us.

This August I will be a fatherless bride.  When I walk down the aisle, I will shed tears, but I will also laugh and celebrate my father, the incredible man who taught me to be strong and courageous. My wedding day will represent a legacy full of love, laughter, and a rare strength forged through my pain.

My tears bring comfort, and a simple reminder of something I feel every day—I was raised by a great man who I love and will miss forever.  As my father taught me so well—I’m strong and I’m going to okay…even if I cry on my wedding day.

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The Things They Don’t Tell Us About Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I am a fatherless daughter.  For seven long years I watched my heroic father suffer and scream in pain.  Cancer stole bits and pieces of my father nonstop for seven tortuous years. Despite the fact that my father was surviving on a peg tube unable to eat or drink orally, enduring endless pain, I begged God not to take him because I simply could not imagine life without my father.  

I watched my parent’s fairy tale marriage evolve into never-ending hospital visits. The flowers that my father would bring home just because became a faded memory.  The love notes my father used to leave around the home for my mother were replaced by his shaky penmanship reminding him to take his never-ending list of medications.  

Our family spent 7 years searching for a cure for my father, begging God for mercy.  And then, just like that my father was gone.  When I lost my father I lost a big part of myself, my identity.  

The days following my father’s death, were spent in my “bereavement bunker”, my safe zone.  When my father took his last breath, I lost my voice.  I could not speak to anyone and just leaving the house was exhausting.   I have a confession, I didn’t wash my hair for the first 5 days following my father’s death, I was just too tired.  I was certain I thrown into my own personal hell the moment my father died.  My pain was gut wrenching and never-ending.

There were moments; there still are moments that I am positive the sounds of my breaking heart are deafening to anyone around me.  

My father just wasn’t my father, he was my friend, my best friend.  I will miss that bond for the rest of my life. See, I didn’t just speak to my father once in a blue moon, we spoke daily, sometimes multiple times a day right up until he took his last breath.  Each day without my father is an adjustment, and as more time passes it is a cruel reminder of the massive void in my life.  I still have moments when I retreat into my bereavement bunker because it feels as if the world cannot handle my grief.

Friendships, even some family relations are not immune to grief.  Despite what you may think, what television leads you to believe, some people will vanish when you need them the most.  Some people will say hurtful things at the most inappropriate times, even going as far as telling a new widow to “get over it”.  Many have no clue what to say or how to act.  Others are extremely uncomfortable around someone drowning in grief.  Some are petrified of how your grief makes them feel.   Some people are harboring their own guilt and resentment and simply cannot handle the depth of your grief.  Grief has a unique way of forcing you to do a friend and family purge, and forcing you to retreat to your bereavement bunker.  

Death is uncomfortable for many.  Death is a reminder of our own mortality and mortality is an uncomfortable thing to think about.

We get uncomfortable being in the presence of a woman who has lost her child, especially if you have your own little ones that you can’t imagine being without for even two seconds.  Or the new widow.  It’s terrifying to think of life without your partner.  Simply put, it’s difficult to know what to say to a person who has experienced a traumatic loss.  

Unfortunately we all experience loss at some point in our lives, it’s inevitable.  

Your grieving friends and family need you now more than ever.  Time will lessen the sting, but for the griever the moment their loved one died they were handed a life sentence without parole.  Grievers wake up each morning and pray that something, someone will give us a glimmer of hope to get through the day.

Reach out and touch your grieving friends in any way you can.  Now is the time to shower them with unconditional love, their hearts are shattered.   I promise you, your grieving friends will never forget the ones that were their light, their glimmer of hope as they sat isolated in their bereavement bunker.  

 

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