Five years ago, my kid’s dad died. Their father died from pancreas cancer. I did not know what it was like to lose a parent. Both my parents were still living. They were still married to each other and seemed pretty content. I know what it is like to lose a spouse, but not a parent. Both my parents have been healthy…with a few minor health details and a few minor, well major at least once, accidents…they have been able to do and live as they wish into their mid 70’s.
All that changed a few weeks ago. My dad died. Around last Thanksgiving, he was diagnosed with lung cancer…with bone mets…so it was pretty serious. He decided to take on treatment and fight this cancer. He definitely had ups and downs and we could all tell he was slowing down. Slowing down…not stopping. He did his best to fight a disease that is pretty horrible. I watched my husband die from another pretty horrible cancer and it is not pretty. It can bring out the best and the worst in people all at once. For my children and me, this was not our first major tragic event. For my mom (since her own parents) and my siblings, it was theirs. It was the first time they would look at disease robbing them of someone they love dearly. It would change their daily being. I know of this a bit…my life was first changed by disease and then shaken and turned upside down by the death of my husband.
So my story is different than theirs…as all our stories of loss are different. When my husband died, my story was different than my kids. Even now as I reflect on the past months and my father’s death, my experience is very different. I had my father with me until near middle age…he saw and knew my kids well…he had done many things he wanted to do…and he had really enjoyed his last decade of life in retirement taking care of the daily duties while mom continued to work. I had plenty of time to love him and to hate him! He was there when I was toddler, a child, a snotty teenager, a young adult and grown woman. I had a dad my entire life up until a few weeks ago, my kids…no such luck. My youngest didn’t even have one birthday party with his dad. My older son won’t have his dad to teach him to drive or to watch him graduate…all these things my boys won’t have that I did have. Now, they don’t have their grandpa any more either. Does this make my grief in losing my dad easier? Yes, I think so. I have a lifetime of gratitude for a man who was present to me in the best way he knew how to be. Does this make it easier for my siblings, my mom? No, I don’t think so. Grief is so individual yet has so many common elements too. My grief when I lost my husband was like being swept to sea. I really thought I would drown. As time has passed and as I have worked toward my own healing and chosen life over drowning, other things that come along are easier for me to handle. I am more calm in the face of tragedy because I know I will survive. It’s almost like some warped sense of peace…and any sense of peace I will have gratefully!
I think my dad had this too. His dad died when he was young. He was a young adolescent and his dad was killed in a tragic accident. He too was raised by a single mom like my boys. He had this peacefulness about him though. Maybe it is the peacefulness of knowing that we will survive even when our hearts are shattered? Maybe it isn’t? I don’t know. What I do know is that my dad had a happy adult life. He was friendly, hardworking and in general a good guy. He loved his family even though his family of origin lived through a heartbreaking experience…death of the father. He risked loving and loss again after being hurt so badly. It gives me hope. It gives me that warped sense of peace again…and it gives me an example of how to move through heartbreak and tragedy. So I will mourn my dad. I will be sad. Mostly I will be grateful for his example that with even a little hope and faith life goes on…and it can be happy too!