Forty Years Later…

This week it will be 40 years since my daddy went to heaven.  I can remember that week like it was yesterday.  Of course, I remember it in the perspective of an 11 year old girl.  It is hard to believe 40 years later, that I was only 11 years old.  That 11 year old would never be able to sit close to her daddy and feel his big bear hug again, she would never have the experience of seeing her daddy look at her for the first time in her wedding dress or meet her amazing husband and incredible three children.  It brings tears to my eyes as I write because of the loss.

My daddy had battled cancer for years before he died.  He had been in and out of hospitals for most of my 11 years of life.  In the early 1970’s, cancer was most often fatal.  The treatments for cancer were fairly new and barbaric to say the least.  The treatment to kill the cancer is what eventually killed my daddy’s body.  The cancer had gone but his body was left with many issues, like congestive heart failure.

My family and I lived outside of Chicago the year my daddy died.  It was a very cold January, in fact there was a blizzard the same day he died.  After having had been in the hospital often, my daddy never liked to go to the hospital, but he told the doctor he needed to go to the hospital to have some tests run.  My parents decided that it was time for Daddy to go on total disability because he was having to come home and be on oxygen every night after work, and some testing would be necessary.  After an examination, the doctor agreed to have him stay at the hospital for the testing.  We were very familiar with the hospital, so my brothers and I went to visit him for dinner on that Monday.  He ate with us in the cafeteria and took us to the gift shop.  We got to pick out our favorite candy and he bought my mom a purse.  We walked the halls of the hospital with our daddy, believing this was just another of many stays at the hospital.  However, by Wednesday, my brothers and I were being picked up by a friend from church, which seemed very strange.  My mom was supposed to be home when we got home so we could go see Daddy.  Our friend from church instead drove us to the hospital.  When we arrived at the hospital my mom met us in the waiting room.  She had us sit in the corner of the waiting away from others.  She told us that daddy was very sick and he may not live through the night.  I really don’t remember much of what was said after that.  My little 11 year mind was so sad and determined that it was not going to happen.  Daddy had been sick before, right?  He always came home.  I remember going home with a family friend and that she stayed with us.  I prayed and bargained with God for a long time that night.  After all, I could do my part to help and do everything I was supposed to so he could still come home to me.  Sometime in the morning my mom came home and called us downstairs.  One of our pastors was there, which signaled a problem right away.  We all sat down and mom told us that Daddy had gone to heaven.  I cried.  I still cry when I think about it, 40 years later.  I grieve for that little girl that lost her daddy way too early in her life.  I grieve the things that I never had the privilege in sharing with my daddy.  I have done some great things, things I know he would be proud of.

Grief is hard to describe unless you have experienced it for yourself, you just can’t put words to the feeling.  It is a big tangled ball of emotions.  The pain goes to the pit of your stomach and seems like it will never subside.  Even after 40 years, I can feel that pain.  It isn’t as deep and it is fleeting, but it is there.  Loss does not go away.  Think about that.  It is still a loss today.  Losing my daddy meant that I would forever miss him and what could have been.  Yes, I have had a great life and had an incredible stepfather that loved me as his own, but that doesn’t replace the loss.

If you have experienced loss you know exactly what I am talking about.  You, like myself, have those moments and can’t believe you are stilling having them after so many years. or maybe your loss is fresh and you can’t even imagine life without that person and the pain is still gut wrenching.  Wherever you are in your journey, I want to encourage you to lean in.  I know, that sounds crazy, to tell someone to hurt more.  The truth is that leaning into your loss and experiencing the pain and all those emotions will help you heal.  Will you always have a loss?  Yes!  Will you always have the gut wrenching pain if you lean in when you do? No!

What does it mean to lean in?  It means to allow yourself time to hurt and feel the pain.  We often times think we need to busy ourselves so we don’t hurt.  That really just hurts more in the end.  Leaning in also means to be intentional.  Setting aside time to write or talk about your loss.  By setting aside time to focus on the loss it is like inviting the feelings in.  This is hard because who wants to invite sad feelings when we could do something to avoid the feelings?  Leaning in is mourning the loss of someone that was very dear to you.  Mourning is something our culture does a horrible job of encouraging.  It used to be that relatives would wear black for a year after losing a loved one.  It was a reminder to others to be mindful of the loss and it gave permission to the mourner to take it easy.  Mourning makes others feel uncomfortable so it is discouraged.  I know I am in a field where crying is encouraged but shouldn’t that just be a given to everyone?  Crying makes others want to stop the crying.  Seriously, what is with that?  Crying is a natural release of our emotions.  In Biblical times, mourners were expected and invited to show respect to the loss.  Individuals would sit outside the home and cry for the loss.  It was public!  Okay, I am getting off track here and clearly need to get off my soap box about crying.

My hope is whether you are grieving or you know someone that is grieving, that you will encourage all of the emotions that are tied up in grief.  That you will allow yourself or someone you care about to talk about the loss and not feel uncomfortable when the tears begin to flow.  Tears flowing is healthy and perfectly acceptable in grief.  As for the 11 year old girl that lost her daddy 40 years ago, she feels so much better sharing her story with you today, tears and all.

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