Nineteen years ago, on December seventeenth, my father passed away. He succumbed to a five month battle against cancer. He had just turned sixty, while in the hospital, on December fourth.
Immediately, upon his passing, as I fell to pieces, an emotional disaster, people around me started with the cliches, “time heals all wounds”, “this (pain) too shall pass”, “it gets easier as time passes”, etc.
Lies! Perhaps well-meaning lies, but lies nonetheless.
I suppose there are people who feel less sorrow as the years mount in number, as the distance between themselves and a loved one increases and other things come into their lives, distracting them from their loss, but not all people are “hard-wired” the same, not all people are able to dull the pain of loss, not all people can “put it in the past and leave it there” (another cliche’ that is exceptionally simplistic and dishonest, in my opinion).
Throughout the year I’m reminded of the loss of my father in many ways, especially as I look at my son, who never got to meet his Pap, who never got to hear his infectious laugh or feel comforted by his hug, to work on a project with him or enjoy a movie by his side, but at no time do I feel the loss more than the holidays.
My Dad loved the holiday season, he loved to decorate. Christmas has become a bittersweet time of year for me. He sold live Christmas trees the last years of his life, so even just putting up the tree, is a reminder.
My Dad is part of me, I have his laugh, some of his mannerisms, I enjoy some of the activities he enjoyed and we did together.
There is just no way to “put him in the past and move forward”, as some suggest. I catch myself thinking of him and crying, even now, after nearly nineteen years without him. I catch myself doing the same thing when I think about my Grandfather, who passed on my tenth birthday.
Why do we lie about how difficult loss can be? Why don’t we offer ways of coping, strategies for dealing with loss, rather than trying to convince people to stuff or deny their feelings?
Why don’t we prepare people for how long it hurts, how open and raw the loss of a loved one can be? Why aren’t we honest about how much people suffer when they lose a family member, a parent?
I honestly thought that I was defective in some way, because all these people kept offering the same platitudes about “getting over it”, but as time has passed and I’ve been able to talk to others who’ve lost their parents, loved ones, I’ve realized that I’m not the only person still suffering, years after the loss.
It really helps to have an honest conversation about the death of a loved one.
Just like any other traumatic event, emotional experience, we need to face our emotions and the trauma we’ve experienced, acknowledge the pain, talk about it, then develop some strategies for coping with our loss.