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I used to take great comfort in the knowledge that everyone will or already has gone through what I have. I don’t really feel that way anymore.

On Grief and Loss and What It Means to Lose Your Dad

My Dad died.

That phrase comes more naturally to me than most others. I’ve said it countless times over the past year. I started to practise saying it before he passed away, so I could present the words without any thought or feeling behind them. “My Dad died.” Those words describe everything and nothing of what has happened. Those words mean nothing to me now.

Diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and devastated by an awareness of the severe, increasing loss of his faculties, my dad tried to kill himself on Thanksgiving. He slit his left wrist with a paring knife and sat in the bath with his housecoat on waiting to die. We spent fourteen hours in the emergency room with a guard standing outside of the door to make sure he didn’t pull a Houdini before they admitted him to the psychiatric ward for ten days. A too-nice nurse asked, while sewing up his wrist, why he tried to end his life. “Because I’m dying. I’m finished.” Would he try it again? “Yes.” He died one month later.

I’ve heard and used the word “grieving” so many times over the last year that I have come to loathe its inability to pinpoint what it is, exactly, that I’ve been doing. I used an online thesaurus to see if I could find a more apt word to describe what it feels like to know that you will never have another conversation with your favourite person, and the list is pretty long. Grief is quite simply all of these words and none of these words.

I used to take great comfort in the knowledge that everyone will or already has gone through what I have. I don’t really feel that way anymore. Now I feel like mortality is a big elephant in the room that we’re all trying to nimbly and quietly ease ourselves around. Dealing with grief in quiet exile from the functioning world, I have often felt disappointed that we don’t view the grieving process as a source of communion in our society. I don’t know that I have ever felt anything but aloneness during my experience.

So many people have a well-intentioned, but nonetheless, flippant way of dismissing serious problems by telling you that “everything will be fine,” when mostly what is needed is for someone, anyone to acknowledge that what is happening is real and difficult. Denying reality because it is easier than having an honest conversation is extremely isolating, for both parties.

My Dad’s diagnosis came with a life expectancy of eighteen months. He lived for five. I had hope the whole time, but I did know that he would die. As his body began to deteriorate and the brain tumor irreversibly altered his personality, the tenacity and perseverance he was once able to conjure in himself and inspire in others was snuffed out and replaced with despair. The clear-sighted man I once knew was outwitted by his own ailments. Statements from friends and peers like, “I had a friend who had cancer, and she beat it!” only served to further separate my reality from theirs. I kept most of my experience private, allotting myself fifteen minute intervals to cry and pull myself together in the bathroom at work.

For me, the loss of my father has been exhausting, physically and emotionally. Grief is a full-time job. I have watched with frustration as my body slowed down against my will. My memory is not very good. I am often alone with my thoughts in a room full of people. I have lost many friends who were close to me because the divide between what I’m constantly replaying in my mind and the mundane topics we discuss feels too overwhelming. I am desperate to bridge that divide and to let it gape wider, grow cavernous. I want everyone to rally around me and to stay as far away from me as possible. I want you to ask me how I am and I want you to pretend like nothing ever happened.

“Is everything okay?”
“I’m just very tired today.”

Grieving means struggling to control feelings that do not seem mine to control. The difference between grieving and regular sadness has been the inability to change my emotions by changing my perspective. There are good days, when I have the kind of energy that I had a year and a half ago and I am in awe of what I am able to achieve with ease, but inevitably, without warning or notice, this energy disappears as quickly as it came and I am laid out flat on my back by a memory or a smell, or worse—a newfound realization of what has happened.

I have always wanted, badly, to believe that there is sense and order in the world, that there is a lesson to learn from suffering. But grief feels like a gaping, aching hole in my solar plexus. Everything good that happens is poured into an entirely clichéd abyss and disappears because I cannot share it with my Dad. I often fear that I will never find joy in the same way that I once did.

I spent a few hours alone with my Dad one afternoon, shortly after he was admitted to the hospital. He was sleeping, and there was no comfortable place to sit, so I lay my head down at the foot of his bed and slept hunched over, using my arms as pillows. When I woke up to leave he was awake. As I was on my way out the door he called, “Keep yourself happy.”

I will.

14 Comments

  1. February 3, 2014

    This is amazing.

  2. ericaruthkelly
    February 3, 2014

    allanacreoch This piece is absolutely stunning. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing it.

  3. Midsummer_Moon22
    February 3, 2014

    Thank you, yesterday was the 6 month anniversary of my mother passing away due to cancer. It isn’t easy is it? Thank you for summing up what I went through and how I felt and still feel.

  4. Tyler_The_Girl
    February 3, 2014

    Beautiful girl. You are so strong. Stay happy!

  5. sallyjaybee
    February 3, 2014

    TessDegenstein Thanks for sharing this…never would have seen this otherwise. #grief

  6. sallyjaybee
    February 3, 2014

    allanacreoch My dad suffered w. Alzheimer’s & died last year. I heart you for articulating what it feels like for a gal to lose her daddy.

  7. simonecastello
    February 3, 2014

    allanacreoch thank you for being so thoughtful, brave & candid in your piece about experiencing #grief. I relate to it on so many levels.

  8. February 3, 2014

    that was powerful. thanks for sharing.

  9. erin_richards
    February 4, 2014

    allanacreoch honest and thought provoking piece – thanks for writing it. I can relate to a lot of it having gone through it 3 years ago.

  10. Mo
    February 4, 2014

    Thank you for the putting into words things we can sometimes not say.  My experience was two years prior and I too had a father that went through the loss of integrity and independence.   A proud man who to the end wanted his family to be happy after his passing.  I live every day of my life to honor him and the full life he lived.

  11. February 4, 2014

    Hi Allana, I just wanted to let you know that your story has really helped me wrap my mind around what is going on in my own life right now.

    My dad passed away last Saturday and though it was very sudden, the discovery of the several health issues that caused his passing was devastating. I am happy however that he did not suffer long and coming from a small community my mother, brothers, and I have been shown the most amazing support, of which we did not expect.

    Again, thank you for the perspective.

    Erica

  12. Sportsgrrrl
    February 10, 2014

    Fantastic article – clearly articulates everything I’ve been feeling in the last few months since my mom passed.  Thank you for sharing your story

  13. hellokaitlin
    February 10, 2014

    laurendorphin shedoesthecity Oof. Heavy and so well written. Favouriting in a flag for second reading later sort of way.

  14. Linda m
    January 7, 2016

    I have searched for a long time for something or someone to put into words the grief I feel! I lost my dad god it will be 5 years this February and I still struggle with it, I still do not really know how to properly deal with it. The elephant in the room idea is an apt analogy, I feel that I clutch to anything that relates to him and as you describe any good that happens is shaded by the fact I can’t tell him. However people should not be fooled by these feelings by believing that you are not coping! I have two children a full time job and an amazing partner and I am a naturally happy and strong person but we all are who struggle with this, it is just we all have a empty part to us that never goes we just learn to hide it!

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