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Personal story: The aftermath of losing my father

At first, I just felt empty.  I hadn’t cried properly since the day of the funeral.  Breaking down at different moments in the crematorium as the grief bubbled up, I had been unable to contain my tears. 

The next day, I just felt empty. I didn’t want to do anything.   I did what I could to distract my mind, reading books or watching documentaries.  Anything that I could do to focus my concentration away from the very large hole now in my life.

I busied myself with tasks, things that needed to be done.  Clearing out my Dad’s apartment.  Collecting papers from the hospital to register the death.  I was in shock.

My Dad died just three weeks after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer. None of it felt quite real.

Feeling numb

Everyone told me that the first few weeks would be the hardest.  Initially, I just felt numb.  I walked around with the constant sensation of a pressure inside my head, inside my chest.

I longed to release it. I wanted to cry, to find some kind of relief.

I had what I call “teary moments”; when I caught the smell of my Dad off one of his jumpers, when I realised we’d never go on holidays together again, when I came across an article that I would normally discuss with him over coffee and music.  But, I never broke down. I’d wipe away the tears that I could count on one hand and keep going.

Struggle to face the day

Then, it changed. Days seemed to become longer. I struggled to find enthusiasm to pull myself out of bed, to be normal and get dressed and face the day.  The effort to just carry on, to be normal, left me exhausted and spent.

At the oddest moments, I would find the grief engulf me, my heart filled with a sorrow so complete, I was shocked at its existence.  The future felt overwhelming.  All the things that would never happen now.

The simple fact that I will probably now spend more of my life without my Dad then with him in it.  I had him for 25 years. They went in the blink of an eye.

One thing at a time

Given that even trying to make a decision about simple things seemed impossible (for example, figuring out what to have for dinner was a nightmare), I focused my efforts on single days at a time.

Wake up. Get up. Have coffee. Brush teeth.

I now broke down the routine of my daily life into small tasks.  The success of each one helped guide me to the next one.  In this stitched together fashion, the days passed.

A week after the funeral, I tapped into bereavement resources.  I know that in order to try and deal with what has happened, I need help.

Nothing will be the same

I can hide the heartbreak a lot of the time.  But, then it engulfs me and leaves me with the realisation that nothing will ever be the same again.

The fact that I previously had depression made me conscious of how my Dad’s death could affect me.  I monitored my mental health with the same scrutiny that airport security gives to liquids.

The last thing my Dad would’ve wanted was for me to sink into darkness.  But given that the process of grieving and the early symptoms of depression are very similar, it was hard to gauge what was normal.

Was my tiredness from the rollercoaster weeks I had experienced?  Running from hospital to home and back again to be around Dad as much as I could would explain why I felt pretty knackered.

Sleepless nights

What about the insomnia?  Was that normal that there were nights where I lay awake, my mind running in loops over how this had happened?

On the nights I did sleep, I was sometimes tormented with thoughts of seeing him in the coffin (FYI, my loved ones are under strict instructions to not wake me in an open coffin).

Then, the sleep got a little better.  Good thing too because at times I felt like I was on the brink of madness from deprivation.  It was then a bit easier to get up in the mornings.

What I call the new ‘normal’

Being freelance, I’m always searching for work.  The fact that I actually wanted to work was a good sign to me.

I went out with Himself and met up with friends and laughed at funny pictures and devoured books from start to finish.

Then I would feel guilty.  For being alive when he wasn’t.  For experiencing little nuggets of happiness in the midst of my grief.  I felt guilty for finding a way to carry on, when that was exactly what I was meant to be doing.

So, now I’m at this strange point in the road.  The sorrow is always there, lurking.  It creeps up on me until suddenly (like I was last Saturday) I’m sitting on a boat with tears running down my face telling Himself how I’ll never be whole again because my Dad is gone.

How I’m managing my grief

I’m doing what I can to manage it.  I’m finding things to look forward to. I’ve secured work, I’m making plans. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m moving on, but I’m moving.

It’s been four weeks since he died.  I don’t know what the next few months hold.  I’ve never experienced a loss on this level before, of someone who was such a part of my everyday life, who understood me in a way I don’t quite think anyone else ever will.

I know that although I feel a bit of a thaw, I’m still in the winter of grief.

Things have changed

I also know that someday, one day, the winter will turn into spring.  My life, like the seasons, will never quite be the same again. The differences might be subtle, noticeable only to me. They will be there.

It doesn’t mean there isn’t hope, that there isn’t something beautiful that can blossom one day.