It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

The Survivor's Lap

I’ve written some on my blog about how hard it’s been for me since losing my dad to liver and bile duct cancer last August. Last night I was lying in bed, thinking about some of the things I’ve learned about grief and about myself in this last year (ok, I think about it all the time, but I decided last night to write about it).

Grief never goes away. No matter what people tell you, it doesn’t go away. I’ve heard people say this, but I just don’t think it’s true, or healthy. Nonetheless, I am learning that there are levels to grief and that the days do get easier. It gets easier to get up in the morning and do the things I need to do. But I don’t think the hole I have in my heart will ever disappear. In many ways, I don’t want it to. If it did, it would mean that losing my dad didn’t matter to me anymore.

You can never be prepared. My dad had a very difficult cancer to treat and overcome. In one sense, I did think that someday, he would succumb to it. I asked myself many times during the ten months after he found out he had cancer, “Am I okay with our relationship? If he dies, will I have said everything I needed to say to him? Will I have any regrets or things I wished I would have done?” You can’t go back and ask those questions after someone dies, and I knew that. I thought I was as prepared for him to die as I could be. But actually losing him was so much harder than I ever could have imagined.

Loving someone is hard, but regret is worse. The evening I found out my dad had liver cancer, one of the pastors at my church spoke to me gravely. “Have you said everything you needed to say to your dad?” He told me to leave nothing unsaid, to have no regrets, because if he died, I could never get that chance back. I carried this in my heart the next ten months of my dad’s life. I made every effort to say what I needed to say to him and to spend as much time with him as I could, including being there when things got really, really hard. My dad wasn’t an emotional guy; still, I think he appreciated me being there. And it’s the one thing that I have held on to this last year…that I did everything I could to make our relationship the best it could be. And I think in the end, it was pretty good.

You’ll always regret something. “Should I have said more? Should I have said it sooner? Why didn’t I talk to him about that one thing?” My husband knew about a situation from my childhood that had caused difficulty for me in my relationship with my dad over the years. One day he asked me if I wanted to talk to my dad about it. At the time, I gave an emphatic “no.” I wasn’t sure if it might cause a rift between my dad and I to discuss it, and I didn’t want him to die with that between us. So I chose to never bring it up. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice.

Losing a parent is extra-hard. I’ve experienced the loss of other family members and even friends. In spite of this, I found myself aimlessly adrift after my dad died. A friend counseled me that losing a parent is in some ways one of the most difficult of losses. She said something that really stuck with me: “Before you were, he was.” He was always in my existence, even when our relationship was strained or difficult. To lose a parent can make you question your own meaning. I wasn’t at all prepared to ask, “Who am I, really?” I’m still trying to figure that out.

Trying to move on can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. Recently, I felt like if I move on, I will forget my dad. Or that somehow, my continuing to suffer in grief will somehow alleviate the suffering he endured. I know it doesn’t make any logical sense. On top of it, acute grief has become somewhat of a comfort to me. It’s what I’ve been living with for a long time and to move on from it is a little scary.

You can’t use pain from past circumstances to get through the current loss. Losing my dad wasn’t the first of devastating losses I’ve even encountered. For years my husband and I struggled with infertility, which was very painful for me. However, through it, I learned a lot about myself, and my faith in God was strengthened. I guess I thought that what I learned through the painful loss of not being a parent would apply to the loss of my dad. But it doesn’t. A friend recently enlightened me to the fact that I have to go through the grief, not around it. What I learned before doesn’t apply. It kinda sucks, but it’s true.

Even if your faith is strong beforehand, it might be shaken, and that’s OK. When my dad was sick, I really leaned on God, and prayed a great deal. Yet when he died, I found myself asking questions to God about the meaning of it all. My faith in God is the most important thing to me and these questions took me by surprise, and frankly, increased my anguish. Still, even though I have a lot of questions, I am “hanging on.” Sometimes, just barely, it feels. Someone pointed out to me that the most important thing is not that I have questions or that it feels hard to hang on, but that I am hanging on, and not throwing in the towel on my faith. Realizing this is a comfort to me. And most importantly to know that through it all, God is hanging on to me.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. darksculptures
    Aug 25, 2009 @ 15:22:13

    I can’t say that I understand how you feel, until I lose one of my parents I guess I won’t. But I do feel assured that what ever it is that I must face, I will be a little stronger in it because I have read your words.

    I am also so happy to hear that although your faith was shaken, it was not broken.

    Reply

  2. Hope
    Aug 24, 2009 @ 21:09:30

    Thank you for sharing this Lisa. I appreciate your honesty about your grief. Blessings as you continue on your journey.

    Reply

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