As Father’s Day is approaching, I wanted to tackle grief on the blog. As many of you know, I lost my dad very unexpectedly when I was in 8th grade. After this loss, I began a journey of ups and downs and mixed emotions…a journey that will honestly never end.
Before I jump in, let me give you some background information. My dad was the best. And when I say the best, I genuinely mean it. He intentionally set time aside to spend with our family, even though he was a pastor, owned a painting business, and was a personal fitness trainer. I remember going on daddy-daughter dates frequently. Most of the time, we ended up at Home Depot, (a store I despised…) but I endured because I knew a trip to an ice cream shop was probably coming up next. He was and still is my role model, and I was a TOTAL daddy’s girl. I started playing the drums in middle school because he was a phenomenal drummer himself. He made sure we met as a family at the end of the day to do our devotionals. He was everything our family needed and more.
The summer before I started 8th grade, my family moved from Ohio (the place I was born and raised) to Florida, so my dad could help a church plant. We didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any family in the city that we now called “home.” My family was acclimating to the new area, and it seemed like everything was coming together.
Then one day my life drastically changed. The night before, he and my mom came into my room and joked around with me. We had such a good relationship. Then they prayed for me, kissed me, and I went to bed. Little did I know, that would be the last memory I had with my dad. Long story short, my dad passed away in his sleep that night. There was no cause of death. He wasn’t sick. He didn’t have cancer. He wasn’t fighting a disease. He didn’t have a heart attack. He didn’t have a stroke. This was SO unexpected because he was seriously the healthiest person I knew. It seemed like there were more questions than answers at that moment. And honestly, it still feels like that at times.
I say all that to paint a picture for you.
Here I am, this middle school girl, who just left everything I knew in Ohio. And then three short months later, I loose my role model. There are just certain things only a dad can do, and I no longer had that.
Of course, I had tons of family and friends who reached out to be there for me, but to be honest, I wasn’t in a place to allow others to be there for me. I was so confused. I was in shock. I was heartbroken. I was upset. I didn’t think it was fair.
And I started my grieving journey.
I know people say there’s not a wrong way to grieve, but I think I did it totally wrong. I took it upon myself to be the “strong” one for my family. (I put strong in quotations because I had no idea what that word truly meant back then.) I thought “strong” meant not letting others see me struggle. For several years, I suppressed my feelings. Any time they would try and creep back up, I’d wipe my tears and tell myself to “be strong.” I know this was my own doing, but I felt like as a Christian I was held to this other standard.
Which brings me to how people respond to others’ grief. Here are some things I wish people would understand when they are around a grieving person.
1. Leave the advice.
I had several occasions when I would try to open up about my hurt, but instead I was bombarded with advice and Scripture. (Now, before I say this, please know that I fully and 100% believe in the promises found in Scripture. I’M GOING TO SAY IT ONE MORE TIME FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK, without Jesus I would not be where I am today. That’s a fact.) I would hear things like “You’re going to get through this,” “It’ll get better and easier,” “At least you had 13 years with a great father,” “God’s got a plan for you,” “You are so strong,” “Remember God has your best in mind.” While all those things might be true, that’s not what I wanted to hear, and to be quite frank, that’s not what I NEEDED to hear. I needed to hear, “I can imagine you’re feeling really lost right now,” “I feel for you,” “I can imagine you’re dealing with some deep hurt,” “It’s okay to not be okay,” or to be honest, no response would’ve been better than advice. When I was given some of that advice, I had this misconception that as a Christian, I wasn’t fully trusting if I had this array of emotions. I so desperately needed to know that my emotions weren’t right or wrong, they were just my emotions. And that it was okay to feel.
2. Grief hits us in waves that we don’t understand.
Today I had a great day. I was able to hear Mike Rutherford speak about the different themes of effective teaching. I got home, was sitting on the couch, and then out of nowhere this wave of sadness overtook me. I didn’t see, hear, or smell something that reminded me of my dad, it just happened. And I don’t have an explanation. I used to think that I was this heartless person if I wasn’t extremely sad on the anniversary of his passing, his birthday, or Father’s Day, and that I should “be over” this loss if my grief showed up on a random day. But the truth of it all is that grief doesn’t have a specific timeline. It just happens. Sometimes those specific days do trigger a memory, and those days are extremely hard. And other times, I just have a really difficult day on a random Thursday evening. Grief is a lifelong journey I will continue to learn how to navigate.
3. Sometimes we just want to talk about the person we lost.
Don’t get me wrong, there are days when it is unbearable to talk about my loss, but most days, I want to talk about my dad. It keeps him alive in my heart. Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here writing this blog. I just want to remember and honor the amazing man I was lucky enough to call “dad.”
Maybe you’ve experienced a loss of any kind, and you can relate to something I said. Remember, your emotions aren’t right or wrong, they’re just your emotions, and it’s okay to feel them. My good days far outweigh the difficult ones, but when I do encounter a difficult one, I need to know I’m just human. I believe if we can be more vulnerable and raw with what we’re going through, we can be the voice for someone who doesn’t have the courage to have a voice for themselves quite yet.