Last night one of my Facebook friends shared this article by David Kushner posted by The New Yorker called, “Can Trauma Help You Grow?” It is a beautiful article about loss, hope, and finding a way to live after losing someone important in your life. [Click on the hyperlink on the article name and read it. It's really good and will help give some more context to the rest of my post.]
In case one day someone stumbles upon this blog who doesn’t know me/my life well, my dad passed away on August 25, 2014 from renal cell carcinoma (cancer) that originated in his kidneys and eventually spread everywhere. A few days ago marked the 2nd year 7th month since his passing. (Although I don’t typically count the months anymore. One sign of healing for me I guess.) My dad was the greatest. He was kind and gentle and calm. He had strong hands and jagged fingernails from hard work and his habit of biting them. You never questioned his love or care for you because it was blatantly obvious in the way to spoke to and treated you. He was selfless and sacrificed constantly for others often resulting in more work and discomfort for himself. Which he never complained about. He was a calming force in my family. It’s hard to describe the hole he left in all our lives. Thus the reason this article caught my attention.
I really liked the entire message, but I’m just going to focus on the parts that stood out the most to me and felt the most applicable to my loss and life after loss.
I found it really interesting where he explained the meaning behind resilience and post-traumatic growth.
Resilience = the ability to bounce back and move on.
Post-traumatic growth = when trauma changes and deepens life’s meaning.
It’s not about just continuing to live, but rather living powerfully and with more meaning than before.
I loved this part, “In his recent book on the phenomenon, ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us,’ Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham, describes victims of trauma experiencing enhanced relationships, greater self-acceptance, and a heightened appreciation of life. ‘To only look at the dark side and negative side is to miss out on something very important,’ Joseph told me recently.”
I do feel like that’s all happened for me since losing my dad. It didn’t happen right away, that’s for sure, or even as simply as Stephen Joseph stated it, but over the past couple of years I do feel like I’ve tried to focus more on positive relationships in my life, I have greater self-appreciation and acceptance, and I have a different outlook on life.
The one thing I deviate from the most is that since losing my dad I’ve actually pulled back from my family a bit. I have a harder time dealing with my grief around them because without his calming presence everything just seems too loud and chaotic. It tends to make it too glaringly obvious he’s gone and how much we could really use him back. So technically I have not seen or felt enhanced relationships with my family. Except for maybe my dad’s sister. I still wouldn’t say we’re super close or anything, but I find myself wanting to be closer to her since she is the last link to my dad’s family. I have however felt greater strength and comfort in my close friendships. Those close friends who feel like family and in a lot of ways know me much better than my actual family does. For those friendships I am extremely grateful.
When my dad first died I remember seeing old men in town and thinking how annoying it was that my dad would never get to be an old-old man since he was only 65 when he died. Time has changed those feelings. Now I see those old men, frail and needing assistance, and am grateful to know that my dad will never have to get old and lose his independence. Barely a month before he died he did a fishing tournament with my brother. Less than 12 hours before he died he ate our traditional Sunday night dinner of spaghetti and chocolate cake. Even though he did have some struggles towards the end, they were brief. And while I’m sad he didn’t get more time I’m happy that he doesn’t have to spend years in pain, lose his ability to do the things he enjoyed for an extended period of time, and other struggles that come with advanced age.
I also really liked when it talked about the fact we can’t choose. Losing our loved one wasn’t our choice. And if given the choice of course we’d want them back. But the question is… what now? What does their life mean? What does losing them mean? How will you carryon? Barely surviving? Or making their life and the impact it had on you mean something.
The author of the article shared a journal entry that his father had written years after their loss,
“There’s something built-in that enables most human beings, not all, to be sure, but most, to get thru this…. It is built-in to enable us to get thru, force us, to survive, to stay alive. After you’ve understood that it WILL be different, less raw, that the death can not be undone, that you will continue to live,” he continued, “the question becomes … ‘What shall I do with the rest of my life?’”
I feel like that is how I want to live going forward. I can’t change what happened. But what will I do because of that experience. Losing my dad gave me the courage to be bold and move to Texas in 2015. It reminded me the importance of having a worthy Priesthood holder in my home/family since we no longer do without him. It’s helped me try new things I’ve thought about doing but never attempted – traveling alone, taking dance classes, discovering new hobbies. His love of reading has been a huge influence in my life since his passing. I keep finding my way to the book aisles at Target and Walmart and picking up more books to add to the massive stack I have to read next. I am constantly trying to find peace and calm in my life and to pull back from the things that cause chaos and frustration.
One thing I’ve noticed since losing my dad is that I have a sense of appreciation for other dads. That sounds weird, but what I mean is that I try to find pieces of my dad in the other dad’s I’m around. Maybe it’s the way they have treats in their pockets that they’re passing around. Or in the way they tell a story just a little extra slowly. Or their rough calloused hands. Little things like that. I enjoy finding pieces of him living on.
The part of the article that spoke to me the most was when his dad was referencing Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s memoir and said,
“Lindbergh said that suffering alone doesn’t make for wisdom. One has to remain vulnerable, open to more suffering and to more love.”
I have a hard time wanting or seeing real love in my future. Still to this day I cannot picture a happy wedding day for me. Every time I even pretend to imagine one I find myself sobbing at the thought of trying to have that day, incorporate my dad somehow into it, and not end up crying uncontrollably. The even worse alternative would be to leave him out of it completely.
Perhaps with time I’ll find a way. But I do think I needed to hear that message from Lindbergh to try and remain open. I know my dad would want that for me too. I had a memory pop up on Facebook awhile back of a status update I made in college after my dad had called and asked me if any boys had swept me off my feet. Not really characteristic of him, but a great memory I’m glad I recorded.
So until someone comes along with that broom, I will be here trying to remain open to love.
At the end here I should probably apologize for this hodge-podge of thoughts pretending to be a coherent post. All I know is that loss is a tricky and personal beast. This article had some great reminders and tips I hope to more fully explore in my own life as I continue to deal with the loss of my dad and the inevitability of future losses.