January marks an anniversary of my father’s death. It is not marked on my calender and has been over 25 years. Sometimes I don’t remember or acknowledge it, but this year it came into my mind. I am writing a Middle School curriculum on The Vikings and a High School study on the book Kon Tiki by Thor Hyerdahl (one of his favorites). It was one of those moments where I thought “OH wow, the movie Kon Tiki is on instant Netflix, I need to call my dad and tell him.” Of course, the next moment realizing I cannot do that brings a wave and sadness and grief to my heart. Thankfully, as I go ahead and say it to him aloud and enjoy the movie and my heritage, the grief passes and I can rejoice in life as it is today. This has not always been the case. The very strong emotions I felt after his death were the most intense I had ever experienced. Granted I was pregnant, had a preschooler to care for and was exhausted from his long illness. At that time it was all completely overwhelming, so I just responded by stuffing those painful emotions down as far as possible. Of course the result was a crazy horrible depression t hat lasted for too long of a time. Digging out of that pit and learning to deal with all these uncomfortable emotions was a difficult journey and also a gift to myself and to everyone around me. I am so thankful for those lessons learned. When my mom passed, I was able to deal with the strong painful emotions and come out on the other side quicker. While I still miss them, I honor the memory by living my life fully charged and with purpose.
This experience has led me to focus on helping grieving people in my coaching. Losing a loved one is hard and painful.
One exercise I have found very helpful is to write a letter to your loved one. Explain to them what you are thankful for, then what you are angry about and finally how you wish things could be. These items take you through most of the emotions of grief and sharing them with your loved one helps to acknowledge them and validate them. After this tell them you will remember and hold on what is good and then say goodbye. This is a hard step. People often say, “But, it has only been one week, …or month …or year….!” consciously saying goodbye is accepting reality. It takes you out of denial and allows the grieving process to work within you. This may need to be done more than once and even years later.
If you find yourself stuck in any of the stages or emotions of grief denial, anger , depression, bargaining-find someone to help you get out of it. These stages are necessary and normal, but getting stuck in any one doesn’t help and the longer you stay , the harder it is to get out. Working through grief is one of my specialties, primarily because I had quite a struggle with it when my Dad passed away and just couldn’t find the help I needed.
The process of grief is painful and challenging, however it can bring new strength and endurance to your life.