Today it has been four years since my dad passed away. It feels like so much longer and so much shorter all at the same time. I am thankful that I still reach for my phone to call him when I need to ask a question that only he knows the answer to and I’m equally thankful that I can wake up in the mornings and start my day without having to remember that he’s gone. Waking up has always been my worst part of grief. Waking up and remembering and having to exist in spite of the hole that has made its way into your heart and home. Waking up and not remembering at first, and feeling the grief swallow you entirely as the truth seeps into your mind.
I used to be so certain that feeling would never go away. That I would never be able to wake up “normally” again. But grief teaches us a new kind of normal.
And it does get better. I promise, it does.
I’ve learned to find my dad in more ways than I ever could have imagined over the past 4 years.
Throughout my life, he’s seen me through some of the hardest and happiest moments I’ve ever experienced. At first, he sat by my side while my head rested on his shoulder and my tears fell quietly onto the couch cushions between us, but now, he is up around the corner, checking out all of the future trials and smiles that I will encounter next, making sure the path is safe.
March is always a hard month for me. I resist it and I push back and I try so hard to fight the sadness when it shows up on my doorstep. I board up my windows and padlock my doors and I try so damn hard to pretend it isn’t there. Because pretending it isn’t there hurts a lot less than acknowledging what I know I am going to have to acknowledge sooner or later.
But in a moment when I least expect it, the water rises and it’s too much for my safe haven to handle. The floodgates open and the water pours in and I can’t do anything but watch it happen. I can’t do anything but let it swallow me up.
The first 22 days of March remind me that my dad was still here. They remind me that I could pick up the phone to ask him the question that only he knows the answer to and he would be able to answer. It usually starts to get sunny somewhere within the first 22 days of March and it feels so good and so unfair all at the same time.
This is what it feels like to grieve.
Starving for the sun because it feels like we’ve spent so much time in the darkness, while simultaneously feeling guilty for enjoying the sun at all.
Feeling like maybe we should punish ourselves and lock ourselves inside while the rest of the world enjoys the sunshine, because he or she or they can’t be here to enjoy it with us. Knowing in the deepest part of our hearts that he or she or they would want nothing more than for us to go outside and soak up every ray of sun that this sky has to offer. It’s such a weird, twisted, confusing feeling. And it exists all the time. Sometimes it’s a whisper and sometimes it a roar.
March always forces me to take a step back and look at my life, wondering if I’m measuring up to all of the things my dad knew I would someday be. I hold myself to a standard that I think even he would tell me is too high, and he was the guy who asked me if I knew how I ranked when compared to my graduating class when I called to tell him I passed my national occupational therapy board exam. He instilled such a fight within me. A competitive heart that sometimes doesn’t know when to stop. But he always told me that he didn’t hold me accountable or responsible for anything he didn’t know that I could 100% achieve. It was infuriating sometimes, but it molded me into the person I am today and propelled me into new fields of experience and opportunity that I know I never would have been able to navigate otherwise. Now though, I don’t have his voice to gauge my accomplishments. I don’t have his reason to tell me when to stop and take a break. I’m just floating out here, looking behind me at the ground I’ve covered and hoping he would be proud of me.
I called my mom a couple weeks ago in tears.
I miss my dad so much.
I know, honey. I know you miss him. I know it isn’t fair.
I guess I just hope he would be proud of me. It’s so hard to know. I just want to know that he sees me and is proud and would be proud of what I’m doing and trying to do and will do and haven’t done.
He is proud, doll baby. And I’ll tell you this. More than anything in this whole entire world, all your dad wanted was for you to be happy. Not happy because of a job or a man or a circumstance or accomplishment. He wanted you to be happy with or without any of those things. Truly, genuinely happy. And so many of the choices you’ve made this year have allowed you to take big, healing steps toward all of the happiness your heart can hold. He’s happy of what you’ve done and sees what you’ve yet to do,
but he is most proud of you for the things you chose not to do.
The things you’ve been strong enough to say no to.
The doors you’ve been strong enough to close
and the legs that you’ve trained to be strong enough to walk away from
all of the things that no longer serve you.
So you may take even bigger, healing steps, toward all of the things that will.
I learned a lot about letting go by knowing my dad.
Not by his example, but by watching him struggle so hard with his inability to let things go.
My dad remembered everything. Truly, everything.
He remembered if you said you’d do something and didn’t follow through, if you canceled a plan or wronged him or even did something you didn’t realize equated to wronging him but he determined in his mind that it did.
It was exhausting watching him fight so hard to carry every mistake, wrong-doing, disagreement, or miscommunication around with him everywhere he went.
In watching his inability to let go, I have learned there’s really nothing in this life that is worth the weight of carrying around with us.
If it comes, let it come. If it goes, let it go.
If it comes and goes and comes and goes, learn to adjust your sails and find a path with smoother waters.
I know this is a lot easier said than done, but carrying around the weight of the past is a lot harder in the big scheme of things.
Forgive those that have wronged you or crossed you or disagreed with you.
And, most importantly, forgive yourself.
Forgive yourself for the things you did or didn’t do. Forgive yourself for the things you said or didn’t say. Forgive yourself for all of it, so you that you can release the weight around your ankles and be carried to the heights you were always meant to fly.
This year, I’d like to honor my dad by asking anyone who wants to participate to let something go that you’ve been carrying around for far too long.
Maybe it’s small and clean and can be boxed up nicely and set by the curb.
Maybe it’s vast and messy and feels like it’s diseased every ounce of the blood running in your veins. I have learned that choosing to carry and choosing to release takes the same amount of energy. We condition ourselves, day in and day out, to choose one or the other. The feeling rises up and our hearts and minds inhale, “Keep it. Hold it. Grasp it tightly for just one more day. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.” Or the feeling rises up and we finally, finally exhale “Let it go. Unclench your fists. Release your grasp. Breathe it out and let it go and don’t even pause to watch where it may land. It was never yours to keep. It was never yours to carry.”
Today, I challenge you to take a deep, healing breath,
And exhale while you choose
To let it go.