In the circle of life, we expect to outlive our parents. But nothing prepares you for the flood of emotions when you actually watch your parent slip away. Losing a parent is a defining moment in life, regardless of the relationship you had.
Your grief does not lessen because you didn’t have a strong bond with your parent; it becomes more complicated.
Growing up, my dad was not the father I would see on TV. He did not greet me with an enormous bear hug or play with me when I was little. I was not a “daddy’s girl.”
Every year, I wished my dad a Happy Father’s Day, but with the rise of social media, I had pangs of hurt and jealousy when I’d see other women posting about their amazing fathers who golfed with them, refinished their kitchens and had shown them the world. That was not my dad.
My dad was a difficult person to please and compliments didn’t come easy. He was molded by his own (unfair) childhood experiences and I understood that. He kept everyone at arm’s length. Underneath it all, I think he was incredibly proud of me; he just couldn’t say those words. But, he was my dad and I loved him.
My dad’s health declined over a one month period. During that time, I watched him shift from outspoken and demanding to vulnerable and distressed. By the end of the month, he was incoherent and bedridden. We knew his life was ending; we knew he was dying. And when the moment came, I stood next to his bed in the nursing home, crying, counting the seconds between his single breaths; until no more breaths were taken. I had never watched someone die before. I hugged him and told him how much I loved him. It was 8:15 am on the 4th of July, 2018.
In those final moments, it didn’t matter that he had been emotionally distant. It didn’t matter that he would go out of his way to help the local waitress or banker, but would criticize his family when we needed help. It didn’t matter that he was difficult to please. He was my dad and I was filled with sadness and shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t believe he was gone.
There is a misconception that if you didn’t have a great relationship with your parent, that your grief is less severe. But, this simply isn’t true. Grief is not easier because you didn’t have a strong, healthy relationship with your parent; it is messy and complicated.
I’m not only grieving the physical loss of his life.
I’m grieving for all the memories with his grandkids he didn’t make.
I’m grieving for the childhood he was robbed of.
I’m grieving for the happiness he missed out on.
I’m grieving for the friendships he pushed away.
I’m grieving for the loneliness I think he felt.
I’m grieving for the life we could have had.
I’m grieving for the father I never had.
And, yes, I’m grieving for my dad.
In the aftermath of death, we are left with only our memories.
And, no, I don’t have memories of giant bear hugs from my dad. But, I do have memories of our summers spent boating at our cottage; summers we had because of my hard-working dad. I have come to understand that my dad loved me the best he could and, for that, I thank him. I hope he knew, before he passed, just how much we all loved him too.
Kim Trathen is a business + marketing coach that helps female entrepreneurs grow their online businesses. She learned first-hand the power in overcoming her fears, and loves helping women achieve their goals. You can connect with Kim on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or through her website kimtrathen.com.
Image courtesy of Eric Ward.