These three words hold both hope and grief; hope for a life that exists beyond the unimaginable pain that grief brings; and yet a new type of grief for a life that is moving on without a loved one in it.
I remember very little of the first month after Dad died.
Here and there I catch snatches of memories where the whole family sat in silence, other times we were all retelling stories of the man we loved and lost.
I remember eating in the lounge room because no one wanted to stare at the empty chair he used to occupy at the dining table.
I remember staring at the flowers and cards given to us in remembrance of a friend, a brother, and a work colleague. Of most else, I do not remember. Grief, it seems, is sometimes all-consuming.
I was still young at the time, and finishing a degree at University. There was a part of me that wanted nothing more than to quit and give up, but I knew that more than anything he would not want me to quit. So, at around the one-month mark I decided to re-enter society and finish what I had started four years earlier.
What surprised me was that the world had kept on going. I remember thinking, “Don’t you know that my Dad died?”
I could not understand how life had gone on without him, and without us. For me, my world had stopped spinning on the day he died and it was hard to come to terms with the fact that it had not stopped spinning for everyone else. I learned a hard lesson that day;
Life Goes On.
And so, it does. I went back to University; my family went back to work. Life went on. There was a lot of stumbling, and grief would keep hitting us, but we learned to plough through it. It was one of the toughest things I have had to learn. But over time, we transformed and we became people that we never expected to be, but of whom I am extremely proud.
These are some of the keys we learned along the way;
1. Learning to accept new responsibility
Responsibility came in a lot of forms for all of us, from finance management, to making executive decisions on work that the house needed, to chores, to grocery shopping. And my Mum was suddenly single parent to four adult children. And being one of those four kids, I know how hard it is to look after us!! We were (and are) four young (ish) adults, and often looking for parental advice on jobs, houses, bills, cleaning (maybe that one is just me), cooking, relationships, God, whether we should buy a pair of shoes or not (that is also me). Either way, responsibility came knocking on the door for each of us, and we learned that we had to rise and accept it, carrying a mantle that we did not expect to have. In loss, responsibilities will arise that will surprise you too but as you learn to accept these, you begin to take the first step toward healing.
2. Learning to accept that your loved one wants you to continue
This became something that we all had to learn to accept. We all did it in different ways, and at different times. Perhaps the return to work helped some of the family accept that they had to keep on going. Returning to University helped me. But I think over the years I have been the one most likely to forget this beautiful truth, and it was always Mum who would remind me that Dad wanted me to keep fighting, to keep looking for that job, to keep studying, to keep pursuing my faith and God, to keep running life’s race. Once I began to accept that I had to continue fighting, I found myself looking back less and forward more. I know that Dad would not want me to always keep looking back, and I am sure that the same is true of your loved ones.
3. Learning to cherish the memories
We learned as a family not to shy away from memories of Dad. Yes, sometimes it would feel painful as we missed or yearned for him knowing that he no longer walked this earth. But in a lot of other ways, cherishing our memories of Dad became one of the most healing things we did. We remembered his character, his spirit, his quirks, his lame Dad jokes. Memory after memory we shared and loved, we found that it became a balm that enabled our healing.
4. Learning to allow grief time and space
I believe that this is one of the most important keys to embrace in order to accept that life goes on. In as much as we want to move past the grief, and we want the grief to end, sometimes the best thing to do is actually let yourself feel it. Oh, it is uncomfortable, and you will think that the pain will never end, and you might cry, and it might be downright messy. Pain and tears are healing. Our ability to feel this kind of pain and heartache is one of the key characteristics which make us human.
Psychology teaches us that our feelings and emotions motivate behaviour, and that through understanding and expressing them, we can know ourselves more deeply. In other words, we feel for a reason.
Grief is no different, in the event of loss or death, you are pre-programmed and wired to grieve. Allow yourself the time and space to do that, no matter how uncomfortable it feels.
5. Learning to accept change
Perhaps one of the harder keys here is coming to terms with, and accepting, that things will change. For some, it is finding a way to accept that this was not how you expected life to pan out, others may need to accept changes in circumstances particularly if you have lost a spouse who was the sole income earner.
That is the thing with loss, grief, and death; life changes.
Often, our instinct is to rebel against that change, wrestling with it, and trying to keep life the same as it was. But life will never be the same. Life becomes different, and at first it is awkward, and hard, and it is interspersed with more pain than you think you can bare. But day after day of life going on, you find that change blows gently into your life like a subtle breeze on a still day that you do not necessarily feel or notice, except for the fact that the leaves in the trees are moving. Such is change after loss.
6. Learning to ask for help
If you are anything like me, you might have a wicked stubborn streak where you think that you can conquer the world all on your own. It thus becomes a humbling experience when you find out that you cannot. Perhaps things around the house have become hectic, or untidy, or you simply cannot face cooking; you will find, if you ask, that your friends and family would be more than willing to help. Even if you just need a shoulder to cry on, there will be someone in your world who will offer you two. For many, grief albeit painful, will ease on its own given time. For others, grief can remain unresolved and it can become pervasive, and it can turn into a bigger monster – depression. It is important to recognise when it becomes too big, or is unresolved for too long. I cannot emphasise enough how essential it is to learn to ask for help1 in these moments.
7. Learning to dream new dreams
The key I found which helped me the most in the later stages of my own grief was the process of dreaming again; dreaming of a life that I could still have despite loss and pain. It took time to realise that life did exist after Dad. It became a discipline to remember the way Dad used to encourage me in life, and to transfer that same encouragement in his death – I knew, if he were alive, that he would want me to dream up new dreams. So, I did. And it was empowering because I felt like I started taking my life back and the grief, although it still hits me some days, had less power over me. I am sure that there will be days I will grieve him more than others, but I know he wants me to carry on. He wants life to go on for me. He wants me to dream again.
I will leave this piece with a quote my Mum sent to me once, and within it holds so much peace and comfort, and the promise that there is hope even as life goes on.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
- Mitch Albom -
By Danielle Myers
1Lifeline: 13 11 14
Griefline: (03) 9935 7400 or 1300 845 745
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467