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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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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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.

K?

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

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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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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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A Letter To My Father One Year After His Death

dadlisaDear Dad,

It’s been one year and one month since you are gone.  According to Google that’s 9490.01 hours but to me it feels like an eternity.  I still wake up in the morning thinking this is a nightmare and you’re not really gone.  At night I look at the sky and make a wish on the brightest star I see and I believe it is you.

When I was young you told me we grieve for ourselves because the deceased are in a better place.  As a woman, I know that is true, but I still miss you terribly.  For seven years I watched you endure horrific pain.  I prayed and pleaded with God to heal you.  Towards the end of your life I was so angry that my prayers were not answered.  You were not supposed to die unable to eat; it seemed like such a cruel death sentence for such a good man.

When you died my grief became so overwhelming and suffocating that on numerous occasions I was convinced that I too was dying.  My heart was so heavy and the pain was unbearable.  You played a major role in my life and now you were gone.  For my entire existence we spoke every single day, even when I was away in college.  That’s 40 years of saying “I love you”, 40 years of being a Daddy’s girl, 40 years of feeling safe, 40 years pure, unconditional love.  And now just like that you were gone.

Would I ever smile again?

Watching Mom mourn you is unbearable, there are times I’m certain I can hear the sounds of her heart breaking.  I watched Mom selflessly care for you throughout your marriage, but with extra care the past 7 years.  So much that it was not uncommon for you to shout to the doctors that you were alive because of Mom.  As your health began to fail, Mom was the one breathing life into you each day.  I will never forget how your eyes would light up with joy when Mom entered the room.  You and Mom showed me what true, unconditional love looks like.  Hearing the gut wrenching sounds of Mom mourn you is a heartbreaking, agonizing experience.

How do I comfort someone mourning their soulmate when I don’t even know how to comfort myself?

The people who I thought were going to be my anchors quickly became the holes in my lifeboat.  Complete, utter disappointments.  Our family desperately needed kindness, love and support, anything else seemed cruel and unwelcome.  Taking a page out of your book I chose to break ties and ignore.  One of the greatest lessons you taught me is to quiet a fool with silence.  Unfortunately death brings out quite a few fools.

But you prepared me for this.

From teaching me how to walk, to throw a ball, even to dance while standing on top of your feet, you showed me ways to stand on my own two feet.  A dad’s job is not only to protect his little girl, but also to show her how to defend herself when, one day, he is not around.

You were the biggest influence in my life.  

A father is the one who guides his daughter through life, and now even in death you are guiding me. You are constantly showing me that love never dies. You speak to me through feathers, music and if I listen closely I can still hear your sweet voice.

Your death has been a mysterious doorway with so much painful grieving for me.  Heartache that I never knew was possible and mysterious because I never know how or when that door is going to open and pull me in.

It’s been a full year and one month since your death you are still opening that door comforting me.  Sometimes it is gut wrenching pain, like the other day when Josh Groban’s “Your Raise Me Up” came on in the store and I felt a faint brush on my cheek.  I KNEW it was you and started sobbing in the middle of Stop and Shop.  Or when I’m driving to work in the morning and I can smell you, and for a moment I can feel you sitting next to me in the car.  Or when a beautiful fluffy white feather crosses my path, and I smile because I know it’s you sending me love from above.  Since you have passed I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit you in heaven.

I miss you. 

I miss you even more today than one year and one month ago because it’s been 13 months since I heard your voice, heard your laugh, told you I love you and held your hand.

There is so much of you in me that I think I frighten Mom sometimes.  I have your sense of humor and share your love for life.  Mom is always telling me I have your eyes and heart. You loved people and a good party.  Since you have gone I have received endless photos, emails and texts telling me what a great man you were. I established a fund in your name where all monies go to the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders.  I desperately want to help the countless individuals living with a swallowing disorder, people like you and families like us who felt so isolated.  Last weekend I hosted my first fundraiser.  Dad, 52 people, some whom you never met came out to celebrate YOU and to help raise awareness.  Your passing has created another level of a new beautiful community.

Dad, you taught me what heroes are made of.   

You taught me how to love life even when it’s terrifying and difficult and you know it’s going to be painful.  As I sat and held your hand throughout my life and the past seven years of your pain and suffering, I saw an incredible person, my hero.

I learned how precious life is.

As I remember you one year and one month after your passing, the painful image of my very sick frail father is fading.  I will always carry your pain and suffering in my heart, but I can also see my father, my superhero, the strongest man in the world.  The man who raised me, the man who was my first love and my best friend.  The man who gave me butterfly kisses, taught me how to drive, how to dance while standing on top of his feet and how to appreciate Doo-Wop music.

These days I count how long you have been gone in milestones, and most recently I am engaged.  I now wonder how I can possibly survive my wedding day without you by my side, smiling and laughing.  Even though I can no longer hear your voice, I still see your face and I can feel your love.  You’re still with me, in my laughter, my smile, my tears and in my writing.

Love never dies, it simply evolves.

Love Always,

Lisa

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Finding The True Meaning of Christmas Among Heartache

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5 more days until Christmas!!!!!!  5 more days until Jolly St. Nick pays us a visit.  The holidays are upon us and we have just 5 more days until the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of giving, goodwill and hope for the future.

There was a time in my life when I would get so excited this time of year I could barely concentrate or sleep.  I would fight to stay awake just to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer.

But this year is different.  This year is my first Christmas without my best friend, my Dad. For countless families suffering the death of a friend or loved one, a major illness or a family breakup, it is difficult to celebrate.

Christmas is an enchanted day when the world stands still. Nothing bad happens on Christmas.  This must be true, because it was repeated on my new favorite show, “This is Us.”  Christmas is bundled with countless hopes and dreams—all tied in exquisite red and gold bows neatly tucked under our Christmas trees.

But this Christmas started as a season of profound heartache and sorrow.  My family is surrounded not just by missing presents but a missing presence.  Our family is overwhelmed by the empty chairs and sadness throughout our home.  The toys on my tree that once were the map of my childhood are now a reminder of the horrific loss our family is enduring.  Just looking at certain ornaments brings back memories too painful to remember.  This Christmas I decided to leave the toys in a box neatly stowed for when I am ready…next year perhaps.

This Christmas I did not send out Christmas cards.  I spent 2016 learning how to live without a person of significance, I saw no need to send friends and family a photo of me wearing my grief mask.  Smiling was tough this year, finding happiness was at times exhausting.  This Christmas I decided against holiday cards…next year perhaps.

This entire holiday season I have been walking around wearing my very own invisible armor.  My armor protects me from captivating memories that throw me into the ebb and flow of grief leaving me helpless, drowning in tears.  My armor preserves my sanity and allows me to function during the holiday season when I see a father daughter duo in public.  They could just be standing there minding their own business, but throw some Christmas carols in the mix, a Santa and some holiday cheer and I’m a mess.  This invisible armor protects me from sobbing in public and causing a scene.  I was doing so well, my armor was shielding me and my half assed decorated tree was proudly standing in our living room.

And then with the blink of an eye my already broken heart was smashed.

My better half, my life preserver when I am drowning in my waves of grief was injured.  He was injured so severe that our entire quality of life changed in an instant.  What we thought was a simple pulled back became a nightmare.  I watched in horror as yet another man I love suffered in pain.  I was ready to give Christmas a rain check.  See ya in 2017 St. Nick!

Wait, nothing bad happens on Christmas right?

My armor was ripped off without my permission, and I was thrown into survival mode. Together we researched doctors, surgeons, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.  I was watching my better half endure similar horrific nerve pain my father endured for years. Once again I was given front row seats to watch someone I love suffer.  At that moment I decided that Christmas was cancelled.  I stopped decorating and started avoiding anything that was jolly or holly.  I was slowly turning into the Grinch and I knew it.

And then it went from bad to worse.  With heavy, shattered hearts we rushed to New York city Friday morning for emergency surgery.  We drove the same route my father took when he went to Sloan Kettering, only this time we stopped at The Hospital for Special Surgery. Only this time we had a real solution and hope.  After a long, emotional day we were told the surgery was a success. The recovery would be long and exhausting, but it was a success. Suddenly the holiday lights were shining a little brighter, and my heart wasn’t as heavy.

We returned home the next day and my Christmas spirit started peeking out again. I ran upstairs to the attic and began placing all the toys on the tree, everything…even the ones that didn’t match my “theme”.   My half assed decorated Christmas tree was now a cluttered map to my heart.  The silly Boston Terrier ornament we purchased in NYC years ago was proudly hanging right over the glass angel my father gave me years ago.  All of it proudly on display for our guests to hold my hand and  walk down memory lane, and if I cry it’s okay because I am chosing to love and honor my father on my first Christmas without him.

Instead of focusing on my pain, I’m focusing on the fact that I had a magnificent childhood and a friendship that created a strong lifetime bond with my father.  Instead of focusing on what it is missing, I’m concentrating on what’s here.  Instead of being sad that my Dad isn’t with our family, laughing and enjoying his favorite meals, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that my family can enjoy his favorite meals and they are laughing as we remember my Dad.

I’m reminding myself that there is joy in the unexpected and life is a beautiful ride.

Holidays after the loss of a loved one is difficult.  Life is constantly throwing curve balls. But life does not stop because a tragedy occurred.  Life keeps going and it’s up to us if we choose to enjoy the ride.

The true meaning of Christmas is not the gifts with red and gold bows tucked under our Christmas trees.  It is the everlasting hope because of our Savior—hope for today and for an eternity of tomorrows.

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A Letter To The Fatherless On Christmas

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This Christmas is my first fatherless Christmas.

Chances are if you’re reading this you too are experiencing a fatherless holiday.  I don’t know what gave you the title of “fatherless.”  Perhaps it was some sort of tragedy.  Perhaps it was an accident, a disease or maybe some horrific senseless tragedy.  Maybe it was months ago, maybe it was years ago but there are moments when the pain is so intense that you cling onto the nearest form of life support and it feels as if you are being gutted.  I now have a gaping hole in my heart that aches for not being able to shop for the perfect Christmas gift and the sound of my Dad’s infectious laugh.

Maybe you spent the last several holidays watching your real life superhero endure unspeakable pain and suffering, unable to eat, housebound with endless tubes and machines stuck all over his frail body.  Maybe instead of singing “Silent Night” you silently sobbed as you helped your real life super hero use the bathroom last Christmas. Or maybe you counted the beeps on machines instead of singing “Silent Night” as you silently prayed for a Christmas miracle.

Maybe your brain knew last Christmas was your father’s last Christmas but your heart refused to accept reality.  Maybe you begged God to “not be so mean” and take him because you needed him and your story wasn’t done.

That’s my story, and if you were to come to my house I would pour you a cup of tea or maybe eggnog for the holidays and we could cry together and comfort each other as we spoke of the unbearable loss of our real life superheroes.

This entire holiday season is just another agonizing reminder that my dad is no longer here and I am now a fatherless daughter.  But as much as I would like to fast forward through the ho ho ho’s and holiday cheer, this holiday season is also an opportunity to honor my Dad’s legacy.

The month of December was a big deal in our home.  December 1st, my birthday, kicked off the holiday season in our household. Immediately following Thanksgiving my parents raced to put up the tree and lights in time for my birthday.  For as far back as I can remember my parents made a point of throwing a grand celebration because of little ole’ me.  When I was younger my father would rush home with mini roses for me and long stem roses for my mom.  I remember one particular birthday my father waking me up, kissing me on the forehead holding a beautiful bouquet of mercedes roses.  I was only 5 years old but will never forget the magnificent bouquet of roses and the ear to ear smile on my father’s face as he said, “You will always be my baby, even when you meet your prince.  Happy Birthday honey.”

I am choosing to spend this holiday season reminiscing when I was younger and believed my Dad was a real life, living breathing superman.  As a child there was nothing my father could not do, in my eyes he was the strongest man in the world.

As I grew up, he continued to prove to me that he was in fact a real life superman. Throughout my divorce he was my anchor, my cheerleader and my best friend.  When I fell down, he was right beside me to pick me up and wipe away my tears.  As an adult I watched him bravely battle cancer proving time and time again he was the strongest man in the word.

Remember when you thought there was no better man in this world than your Dad?

Well, there still isn’t.  Even in death, your father will never leave your side as long as you keep him in your heart, where he will forever stay because love never dies it only evolves.

If your Dad was anything like mine, he did not want to leave you; he never wanted to leave you because he needed you just as much as you needed him.

If your Dad was anything like mine, this Christmas, he does not want to see you heartbroken and lost.  He would want nothing more than to see you smiling, happy, living your life.  He would want to see you prosper…because you are his living, breathing legacy.

So to you, my friend I hope you find peace and joy as your honor your father’s legacy this season and throughout your grief journey.

 

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It’s Your Choice – For Better or Worse Grief Changes Us

 

Death is devastating.  It leaves behind a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams.  All losses are significant.  I consider myself blessed to have had such a strong bond with my father.  The months following my father’s death have left me feeling as if I’m walking around with my heart torn open.  My grief has slowly changed me, sending me on my own pursuit of happiness.

 

I was handed front row seats to watch my father bravely battle cancer for seven long years. The last four years of his life were horrific.  When hospice began coming around I was in full blown denial.  I told everyone hospice was to get him “back on his feet.”  My heart could not accept what my brain already knew.  My father was dying.  I tried to imagine my life without my Dad but I couldn’t.  It was just too painful, too difficult. The days leading up to my father’s death were emotional, agonizing and mentally exhausting.

My father tried his best to prepare our family for life without him.  I spoke to my Dad daily, often multiple times, each conversation ended with, “I love you more.”  I visited weekly, and at each visit we held hands, cried and laughed as he made me promise to stay strong and enjoy life to the fullest.  During one of our final father daughter conversations, my Dad looked me in the eyes and told me, “You will always be my baby, live your life and be kind.  I will always be with you.”

Life without my Dad has been difficult.  It has been emotional.  It has been devastating.  It has also been a series of valuable lessons, all of which have changed me.

Below are 3 valuable lessons from my grief journey:

You Get Your Priorities Straight:
My entire perspective on life has changed, it has matured. All the little annoyances of everyday life, those little things that would have once qualified as “the worst day ever” immediately become irrelevant.  People who are unkind, selfish, lack empathy, none of it matters to me. They are all just minor distractions, detours in my grief journey . My chaotic life has slowed down. I discovered the frivolousness of being in a hurry all the time. I have made an effort to “stop and smell the roses.”   I call my Grandma more often, I spend more time with my Mom on the phone,  I end each conversation with ,“I love you.”

You Love Deeper:
After my Dad died, saying goodbye to someone, to anyone I cared about was painful.  I would carefully watch them fade away into the horizon.  For the first few months I was terrified of losing my mother.  I am learning instead of letting my fear send me into a downward spiral of darkness and overwhelming sadness, to let go of my fear and focus my love on my loved ones.  I send my Mom flowers just because, I send my boyfriend a random “I love you” text, I reach out to friends more frequently, because I know how sacred life is. I have chosen to live each day like it’s my last and to treat each day for the blessing that it is.

You Learn How To Appreciate Life:
I watched my father fight to live.  He was thankful for every moment he was given with his family.  Regardless of how much pain and suffering he endured, he was always kind and grateful.  When my father became gravely ill I deliberately chose to stop anything that would quiet my mind.  Yoga, pilates, meditation were all bad for me, or so I thought.  I didn’t want to think about what was happening to my world.  I wanted noise in my life, I kept myself busy.  Now that my father is gone my favorite thing to do is to stop and enjoy the silence.  Each morning I breathe in the love. I have consciously let go of anything that is toxic and causes anxiety.  I take time each morning to breathe in the love of my Dad and remember the kind, loving soul that he was.

Stop, be still, take all it in.   Life is a precious gift.  

Perhaps our grief can have a positive impact on us.  Together, as we grieve, we are evolving into extraordinary empathetic creatures with true altruistic motivations.  As we travel our grief journey we are supporting each other while we strive to preserve our loved ones legacy.

Grief lasts a lifetime,  but our precious memories will live forever.

 

Heaven IS For Real…My Dad Told Me So

On a cold January afternoon I made two promises to my dying father.  The first was that I would be kind.  The second was that I would stay strong and keep God in my heart.  My dying father in turn promised to love me forever and let me know he made it to heaven.

Two days later on January 17, 2016 after seven long years battling Stage IV base of the tongue cancer, my father died. He spent the last four years of his life unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid.  I watched cancer ravage his body, and slowly take away all those little things we take for granted.  He spent the last five months of his life on hospice, unable to leave the home.  He spent the last week of his life bed ridden, even changing the channel on the TV remote was an impossible task.  My father and I were limited to holding hands and praying.  Anything beyond that was an impossible task.

My father’s illness shattered our hearts and sent a wave of shock through our family and friends.  My Dad never smoked, yet died a gruesome death. Sure, he spend much of his life surrounded by heavy smokers, but they were healthy and he died unable to eat or drink.  I quietly observed the smokers vanish to take quick smoke breaks as my father was dying. It seemed very unfair.  It made me very angry.  My father was reduced to a mask just to breathe and somehow enjoy his final moments on earth and visitors were quietly slipping away for a much needed cigarette break.

In the end the doctors could not cure my Dad, the nurses could not comfort my Dad, and we were forced to say good-bye.  I remember leaving my father’s lifeless body in the hospital room that fateful evening.  Could he see us standing over him?  Could he hear us? Was he comfortable?  Were other family members who crossed over with him?

I knew he was dead, but his physical body was there.  The man who held my hand my entire life was in that hospital room.  I felt guilty leaving him there, alone.  My mother was speaking to the nurse but I was unable to comprehend what they were saying. My only thought was my father’s body, alone in that hospital room.  Would the nurse remember to remove his feeding tube?  How long would his lifeless body remain in that room unattended?  I remember thinking maybe I should stay there with his body until the nurse finished his paperwork. You know just in case the nurse forgot to do something.  I was panicking at the thought of leaving my father alone.

And then very quietly while everyone was busy talking, I snuck back into the room. I quietly fixed the covers on my Dad and suddenly felt a strong urge to fix his hair.  Something was telling me to fix his hair..now.  So very gently with my fingers I fixed what hair my Dad had left and said goodbye one last time.  My father no longer felt like my father, I knew his spirit had left this world.  With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes I said good-bye to my father’s lifeless body.

I had seven years of cancer treatments and sickness to prepare me for this moment and NOTHING could have prepared me for the overwhelming sense of sadness and the paralyzing heartache that seized my body.

The days following my father’s death were dark and filled with exhausting sorrow.  I could not think, I could not eat, I had only one thought, “my father is dead.”  A piece of my heart was gone forever.

Almost immediately I began to notice unusual things happening.  Two days after my father passed I started waking up every night at exactly 1:30 AM, the exact time he died.  There were times I was certain he was standing right next to me.  Sometimes I would even see the most beautiful glowing light in the corner of my bedroom.  A week after my father’s passing I started to find the most beautifully fluffy white feathers.  Almost eight months later, each time I find a feather it’s always in a spot that I know it’s him.  Perhaps the greatest sign was a phone call from my Dad in July.  I was having a tough time and wanted a sign from my Dad.  I challenged him and told him to make the lightbulbs in the bathroom blow out (grieving people do strange things).  I was staring into the lights waiting and then my IPAD began to ring.  I looked at the incoming call and to my surprise saw “D-A-D.”  Instantly, I was overwhelmed with love, the kind of love that you just cannot describe but I knew, somehow, my Dad was moving heaven and earth to once again tell me he loved me.

That phone call prompted me to write Heaven Now Has Cellular Service, which connected me with Lisa Scrivens, Canadian medium.  On September 6, 2016 we had our telephone session.  I opened my mind and let go of assumptions.  I believe my Dad aligned the stars with that story and connected me to Lisa.

Nothing about this reading was what I thought it would be.  Although I had an open mind I was skeptical and extremely nervous.  I spent the entire half hour leading up to the reading running up and down my steps with nervous energy.  I set up the kitchen table with my mason jar of feathers next to me, proudly wore my Dad’s wedding band around my neck (I wear it daily), and I even had my favorite childhood photo with my Dad displayed.  We had plans to Facetime, but unfortunately my internet connection had other plans.

Over the telephone Lisa attempted to connect me with my Dad.  It started with my great-grandmother and the mention of an old photograph with her, me and a polka dot dress.  It was no surprise to me that she was by my Dad’s side in the afterlife.  Our entire family knew she adored my Dad.  It was a surprise to me that she’s been by MY side much of my life.  I felt honored that this great woman, who lived such a long life with such a rich history was by my side.

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Great grandma, me and the polka dot dress

Moments later my father entered the reading.  Lisa didn’t even have to tell me because immediately I could feel his love.  Words cannot do justice to how I felt at that moment, only that it felt as if I was a little girl again and everything was going to be okay.  I knew my Dad was there with me at that moment.

She started by telling me that my Dad was here and told me that a”Ginny” was with him. Immediately tears began to fall because just a few days prior my mother was crying, asking if Ginny was with him (Ginny was our beloved Pom who passed a few years ago).  Lisa then told me my father wanted me to start wearing the ruby ring he handed down to me.  We spent time talking about my father’s unconditional love for my mother, the beautiful larger than life love they shared with each other.  They were true soul mates, and my father wanted my mother to know that she will always be “his Marie” and he will always protect her.  Halfway through my reading I became overwhelmed with the smell of cigarette smoke and at that time Lisa asked me if my Dad was a smoker or if anyone in my family was.  My Dad was not, but my grandparents and other family members were.  We spent an hour discussing things only my Dad knew, things I have not written about.  Somehow Lisa knew of my anxiety about my Dad being alone after he passed, and through my father she assured me that my Dad was surrounded by family and friends. Perhaps one of the greatest things Lisa told me was that my father was at peace and even now, in death, he would move heaven and earth to keep me happy.

Death forces us to question our beliefs.  Is heaven for real?  Is my Dad okay?  And then I morph into Stewie from Family Guy…  “Dad, Dad, Dad, Daddy…Hellooo….can you hear me?  

Learning about the afterlife gives comfort, hope and peace for the grieving…for ME.

My reading and spiritual insight about life after death has not eliminated my grief, but it has transformed my grieving experience.  I went from hopelessness and anxiety to hope and peace.  I have gone from wondering where my Dad has gone, and worrying if he is still suffering—TO—knowing he is surrounded by the love of God. I now know for sure that he is watching over me and can really hear my mom and I speaking to him.  I believe that he is no longer suffering, he is finally at peace, celebrating his homecoming with those who had crossed over before them.