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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Embracing 2018 – 10 Grief Resolutions

Image-1The New Year often symbolizes a new beginning, but for those of us who are grieving the new year can represent yet another long year without our loved one.

New Years Eve was never really a big deal to me.  I would go out with friends but at midnight for as far back as I can remember, regardless of how old I was, I would receive at text from my Dad that said, “Happy New Year honey, we love you.”           

2017 was different, my father died January 17, 2016.  At midnight the following New Year there was no text from Dad.  The text I took for granted for so long was now just a fond memory.  The last day of that year meant entering a year that my father would never see.  A heartbreaking year of watching my mother learn how to live without her soulmate.  A year of being fatherless, wondering if this new gaping hole in my heart would ever stop hurting.  A year of so many tears that I was positive my eyes would dry out.

2017 was a beautiful, messy, chaotic year combined with overwhelming sadness and extreme happiness. 

I married the last love of my life without the first love of my life there.  I survived the trials and tribulations life so often throws into our paths without my father, the man I went to for everything.  I’m learning that if I can survive my wedding day without my father by my side I don’t really care who does or doesn’t like me.  I can’t be everyone’s cup of coffee and that’s okay.

I am not a big fan of new year resolutions.  It’s my opinion that they can be a tremendous disappointment if and when we fail to stick to them.  If you can be a better version of yourself right now why wait until the first of the year to do it?  Who doesn’t want to be a healthier, happier, more efficient version of themselves?

But what if we made a grief resolution?  What if we give a voice to our grief journey so that we may begin to heal?

We all grieve, but we all grieve differently.  It doesn’t matter if you lost your loved one this year or years ago, it is essential to remember that where there is great love, there is great grief.

Below are some grief resolutions I came up with and I hope they will help you as we embark on this new year together.

  • Say their name, scream their name from the rooftops if you must.  But never stop saying their name.
  • Be open to happiness – finding joy in life does not mean you are forgetting your loved one, it means you are honoring the life they lived and the role they played in your life.
  • Be honest about how your feel with yourself and others – if you are upset or something triggers your grief let friends know.
  • Practice self care daily – even if this is just a ten minute walk around the block, self care is the key to healing.
  • Spend more time with family and friends.
  • Create new traditions honoring your loved one.
  • Keep your distance from toxic mean spirited people, they only steal your sunshine and hinder your healing.
  • Stop saying “I’m fine” if it’s not true.
  • Volunteer with an organization or cause that your loved one believed in.
  • Seek grief counseling if needed.

 

We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes, we forget what we have.”  Mitch Albom

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50 Shades of Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

It’s the most wonderful, bittersweet time of year again.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. Everyone is making their lists and checking them twice.  This is the time of year that we surround ourselves with friends and families partaking in joyous celebrations. But for those of us who are grieving, our emotions are magnified.

 

You want to be jolly, but there is another part of you that is drowning in massive waves of grief.  Grief can be debilitating, especially this time of year.  For so many, the holidays become a painful reminder that someone we love is gone forever.

There is nothing holly or jolly about grief.  There are no Christmas grief carols.  My words are meaningless and annoying to countless individuals.  Many readers will probably scroll past this article and roll their eyes at another depressing story clogging their newsfeed during the most wonderful time of the year. This article will be passed for the new invisible box challenge, their Elf on the shelf being silly taking shots of fireball, some new weight loss craze, anything but grief.  Many readers will scroll past it until they face a holiday season alone, and when that happens they will desperately want to know if what they are feeling is normal.

Grief makes non grievers uncomfortable because it forces everyone to think about their own mortality. Holiday grief is downright annoying for non grievers, because death puts a real damper on anything holly and jolly.  It is easier to ignore the grieving this time of year and tell them they should be “over it” by now.

Burying your emotions with the dead is not only wrong, it is unhealthy.  Christmas is the season to rejoice and for someone grieving sharing warm memories of their beloved brings a tremendous sense of comfort.  The greatest gift you can give a grieving person is to let them know that they can cry on your shoulder and not be embarrassed to unveil their many shades of grief.  An even greater gift is to hold their hand, listen and shed tears with them over their loss.  This simple gesture shows your friend that they are not alone in missing their person of significance.

This is my second Christmas without my Dad and I’m here to tell you society has no clue on how to handle grievers and it is even worse during the holidays.

Death will change and rearrange your holiday card list.

You will see people for their true colors after a death.  You will experience fair weathered friends, selfish friends, friends who are extremely uncomfortable by your grief, clueless friends and those who are just not ready to comprehend the gravity of your loss.  But that’s okay because you will make new friends, relationships will strengthen and you will be awed by how loyal and loving some people can be.

Humanity will constantly surprise you as you walk your grief journey.

You are expected to mourn the first few days, maybe weeks then move on.  There is no place for the dead at Christmas dinner so please bury the dead forever.  Do not, I repeat do NOT say their name.  After the first year it makes others uncomfortable if you continue to say their name, so just don’t do it.

WRONG! 

Don’t just say their name; scream their name from the rooftops if you must.  It is not only okay to say their name, it is normal and healthy.

The reality is that each and every one of us will endure some form of loss in our lifetime.  It’s going to hurt, it’s going to bring you to your knees and it’s going to change you in some way, shape or form.  You will lose friends, but you will make friends.

Grief is that ugly sweater Aunt Carol gives you every Christmas.  Grief is messy, complicated and comes in all different shades.  If you are like me, you start out your grief journey walking around in a thick fog, numb and confused.  As time goes on reality sets in that your person of significance is gone forever.  An agonizing anticipation that your person is missing now accompanies the best of times.  Simply put, there are times when Christmas is hard.  There are times when the rush of emotions from the holiday season is exhausting, emotional and painful.

Someone you love died, and the holidays will never be the same.  Sorry to be the Grinch, but it’s a new, painful reality.

So please, if someone is wearing Aunt Carol’s ugly sweater, say their name and handle with care.  Help us create new traditions and find a reason to celebrate this season.

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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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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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Your First Birthday In Heaven

 

Dear Dad,

August 21st was your first birthday in heaven.  Unlike the other special days that have gone by since you passed, this one hurt like hell. I woke up the morning of your birthday positive my heart was shattered in a million pieces.

This was your first birthday not here, your first birthday in my ENTIRE LIFE I didn’t spend watching you blow out candles. Even when you were at your worst, suffering, unable to eat you ALWAYS blew out your candles and made a wish.  This year there were no candles to blow out.  No clapping after they were blown out.  No searching for the perfect cards and gift.  This year there were only the sounds of my heart breaking into a million pieces.

We used to honor and celebrate you on this day and last week I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the cemetery.  The thought of going to the cemetery on your birthday made me physically ill.   I didn’t want to look at your headstone glistening in the sun.  I didn’t want to talk to the dirt and leave you flowers and balloons.

I searched high and low for the appropriate present for you, now that you are you know, dead.  But I was at a loss.  Lord & Taylor was having a sale on Men’s shirts.  Linens & Things had an extra 20% off for back to school.  Even Macy’s was having a sale.  But nothing for the Dad up in heaven.  I never brought you flowers while you were alive and now here we are seven months later and it’s flowers galore and whatever else I can leave at your grave to not to get destroyed from the elements.

I spent the day mourning your absence, really missing you.  Nothing is the same now that you gone.

I hope that you had an awesome birthday up in heaven.  I hope you were finally able to eat that piece of cake and wash it down with that big cup of coffee.  I hope God had a camera  on your birthday and He took a photo of you so we can see you eating again.  My rational mind knows that you are at peace, but my heart aches that you died unable to eat.

Seven months since you have passed and I miss you more now than the day we lost you.  I find myself looking for your magnetic qualities in people.  I look for your warmth, radiance and compassion.  I search for your sense of humor, and your unbelievable strength of character.  I look for your face in the crowd, I listen for your voice in the middle of the night.  So many things will never be the same.  You were a one of a kind father and you are irreplaceable.

I miss you Dad.

Your absence was magnified on your birthday.  I know you can hear me, and I’m trying my best not to be sad.  But some days are tough. Whenever I ask you for a sign that you are okay you always send me a beautiful white feather. On your birthday you made sure to send me a fluffy white feather. That’s so like you to give me a gift on your special day.

I want to thank you for all you have done and continue to do for me.  You taught me to be strong, to have courage and to have faith.  Dad, you taught me to love with all my heart, no matter what and to always be truthful.  You taught me to be passionate and fearless regardless of what others thought. During one of our last conversations you told me to be kind and trust in the Lord.

Although you are no longer here  in physical form, you live forever in my heart.  You are constantly showing me that love never dies.

On your birthday and each day I honor you.  I honor your faith and strength.  I honor your love and commitment.   Together, with Mom, you both taught me the meaning of true love and what it is to be a parent.  On your birthday I lit a candle and thanked you for always being my hero and showing me what true unconditional love is.

Happy Belated Birthday Daddy!  I love and miss you!

Love You Forever,

Lisa Mia XO

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Finding Hope In Nature’s Signs

When someone you love dies you receive all sorts of advice from supportive individuals.  The first couple of days are a complete fog and you’re lucky if you can just get out of bed.  I had a difficult time speaking and just being around others.  I was so tired, I felt like a piece of me died.  I remember sitting in the funeral home helping my Mom with the arrangements and thinking the funeral director sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher at one point.  I began to quietly think to myself,  “Is this real life? Am I REALLY here?” Then I began to think, “I’m fatherless now.”  It was as if I was standing on the edge of a cliff looking into total darkness.  It was absolutely terrifying.

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
—C. S. Lewis

The death of a loved one is painful and confusing.  Mourning someone you love shocks your spirit and shatters your heart.  You feel a new hole or a void inside your heart that the deceased once occupied.  There are moments when you can actually hear your heart breaking into a million pieces. As you allow yourself to grieve and experience the ebb and sorrows of your grief, you will begin to see signs and realize that love never dies.

A few of my friends who have already walked this path immediately told me to “pay attention to nature.”  For the past six months I have been paying attention to nature.  In the beginning I honestly had no clue what I was supposed to be looking at.  My Dad died in January, so there really isn’t much nature running around in New Jersey.  But like most people when a loved one dies you become desperate to know if they are at peace, and for me that means are you eating again and what does heaven look like? 

Two days after we buried my Dad a feather fell from my bedroom ceiling.  Yes you read that right, a fluffy white feather fell from my bedroom ceiling.  I quickly did a perimeter check just in case.  Perhaps a bird was trapped in the ceiling, or we had something with down feathers hanging around.  But I’m allergic to down and there are no birds trapped in my ceiling.  Since then I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit heaven.  I save all my feathers in a mason jar on my nightstand to remind me that my father is at peace and that heaven is for real.  If I stare long enough, it looks like the feathers are dancing in the mason jar, waiving to me.

My first visit to the cemetery shortly after my father passed was terrifying.  The first blizzard of the season left us knee deep in snow, with a blast of frigid arctic temperatures.  But I NEEDED to go, I felt something tugging at me to go.  As I slowly made my way to my father’s snow covered grave I noticed a cat walking out of the wooded area from behind the headstones.  He made his way up to our family headstone and sat with me the entire visit..in the snow.  Tilting his head and meowing as I sobbed, carefully watching my every move.  As we slowly drove away, he stood tall observing, meowing .  Maybe he was a graveyard cat enduring arctic temperatures, maybe he was sent to comfort me during my first visit.  However that cat ended up at the cemetery, he was comforting during a very difficult time, and I will never forget his presence.   I made sure to snap his photo as we drove off.

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“Pay Attention to Nature”

Fast forward to six months after my Dad’s passing.  My signs are becoming stronger and distinct.  My dreams (the ones I can remember) are vivid.  My questions are always the same, “Are you eating again?” and “What is it like up there?” 

I am constantly observing my surroundings for signs from my Dad.  With each sign my Dad sends my way, I check for authenticity. (Sorry Dad, but you always taught me to be alert)  Each time I check for authenticity he sends another sign.  Each sign leaves me scratching my head and saying, “OMG is this real life?”  It’s like we are playing a game now, and anyone who knew my Dad knew he had a zest for life and loved a good game.  To say he was competitive is a massive understatement.

My latest blog post somehow connected me with Lisa Scrivens. I’m humbled and honored that somehow on the great big internet she found my little story.  I’m excited, anxious and nervous for our appointment in September.  I wrote my last post like I always do, to share my journey.  Writing is my feeble attempt to somehow come to grips with losing my Dad.  I never in a million years expected it to result in an appointment with someone as respected as Lisa Scrivens.  I truly believe my Dad had something to do with that. 

Following my email conversation with Lisa, I asked my Dad for guidance as I was sitting in my car. I asked him if I should speak with Lisa.   And of course I ended it with, “Are you eating again.”  Please understand, I’m human and skeptical as I walk this grief journey!  As I was bombarding him with questions I noticed a black bird flying, but kinda lingering in my eye’s view with a cookie in his mouth.  I tried to make eye contact with the bird, but I was driving and he was flying and that’s a recipe for disaster, as well as a little strange.  I simply continued my drive, now with tears rolling down my cheeks.

This could be a coincidence, maybe someone gave the bird a big cookie, or maybe just maybe it’s another sign from my Dad.  I’m going to believe that it’s a sign from my Dad.

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Photo Credit:  Pinterest