10 things I've learned and wish I knew regarding the loss of a loved one.

10. Not everyone you are close too will find it easy to approach you after you have lost a loved one. I am still amazed how people you thought were very close to you seem to go silent in a time when you feel the most alone. Even the most wise and understanding people might find it hard to overlook the absence of acknowledgment from a friend or family member. I can rationalize all day and understand that death and grief is a very emotional, and at times, a foreign subject for many. I can sympathize with not knowing what to say to someone... but I guess I struggle with those who say nothing at all and disappear... I think that can do more damage than help as the person grieving feels as though their loss is doubled and tripled when people suddenly go MIA. At the end of the day I think it is just best to realize that everyone processes grief differently and not everyone feels comfortable bringing up such topics for many reasons. I have had to remind myself this many times.

9. People will place healing expectations on you, tell them to take a hike!

I did not expect people to place time lines on me or my family during our grieving process. Some of the people that have been the closest to us and relied on my family for help, seem irritated our attention could not return to them within a few months. The hard times you go through in life really can weed out the "fair weather' people from those around you. It can be a painful process, but it is a blessing in disguise. Never weep over those that you have to push out of your life or those who walk out of your life. You should feel blessed for those you have left standing by your side. Those are the quality people you need to surround yourself with.

8. Some days you feel like you are on top of the mountain and other days you are at the bottom.

This roller coaster of emotions is completely new to me. It has been 9 months since we lost my father Christmas Night. He died in my mothers arms and I was first on the scene. I feel that if it were not for me having my two precious babies and my husband to look after, I would spend most of my days a blubbering mess. My busy life seems to be a nice break from the emotional processing we go through when we grieve. I think every person does it on their own terms and at their own pace. There are books, and charts, and time lines a therapist will reference, but each of us are wired differently and we all heal differently. Some days I feel perfectly at peace and the next day I can be laying my son down to sleep at night and catch a glance of my fathers picture and break down. To me this feels like our grieving is like a bottle of POP or as the non Northerners say, SODA ;) We are the bottle and the carbonated beverage is our emotions. Little bubbles are always rising to the surface but nothing to really cause the bottle to fizz over unless it were shaken. Most days I can handle the little bubbles or memories that float up to the top. They float nice and slow and I can deal with them easily one by one... Until I encounter a trigger. An article of clothing, my mothers tears, a photo, a holiday, a TV show.... That is when my bottle gets shaken up and my emotions tart to fizz and overflow. You can not schedule it. You can not always control it. We are human and with each tear we shed we may get one step closer to healing...

7. It can be hard for others who are healing from the same loss to understand you are not where they are in the process.

When my father passed away, he left behind my mother, my sister and myself. Although we all were present the night he died, we are all on a different step of the healing stairway as we should be. This is easy for me to understand because I am not a competitive person, but some of us are. They are not so much competitive with the rest of us us but more or less them self. I never thought of this dynamic before in regards to grieving until I had to actually tell my mother that this is not a timed race. There is no finish line she has to run too. This is a one woman process with zero expectations and she does not have to be "fixed" in a certain amount of time. We are learning that we need to do what brings us peace for the day. Each day is a new day with it's highs and lows.

6. Not everyone feels the same as you about the people in your life.

It became very evident when my father passed that not everyone had a great father. Not everyone loves their father like I love mine. My dad was one of my best friends and when he passed so fast and unexpected it hit me like a truck and it still hurts as if I were hit by a truck. I have learned another unexpected part of grieving, and that is not everyone can pull off empathy. I have noticed that those close to me that hated their father or never had a father found it hard to understand the strong emotions attached to losing a father. This included my mom. She did not have the best parents, and to be honest they were awful human beings. I can say this with zero shame as they were very abusive people. This made it hard at first because my mom was so wrapped up in the only feelings she knew and that was the loss of her husband. She looked at giving away his belongings that she had not sentimental value of as a healing and I felt sick to my stomach. We had to learn this the hard way when she told us she wouldn't get rid of anything of our dads without asking us about it first and then went and did the exact opposite. One night I get a call and she was  so happy that she had found a good home for my Dad's Bottle collection. She gave away all of my fathers Jim Beam Bottle Collection. She had ALWAYS hated them. My dad and I always loved them. She saw it as a sign of healing to get rid of something and I felt like she took a knife to my heart and twisted it. I could not breath. I had to get off the phone. She was hurt that I froze up and felt I wasn't being supportive of her. I was hurt because she lied and I felt she was being thoughtless. Once the "me me me" and "I, I, I" left the conversation, we were able to get down to the meat and potatoes of our emotions. She realized she was only dealing with my fathers loss from her point of view because she has never had a really awesome father. When she lost her dad it was not a big deal because he was so awful. She did not know how it felt so she did not have an idea of how we were feeling. Once we got this out in the open, it did a world of good for us moving forward. The important thing to try and do with any situation in life is to try your absolute best at putting yourself in the other persons shoes when you are trying to feel what they feel. It really opens up a new perspective and can answer many questions without you ever having to even open your mouth.

5. Never take your loved ones for granted.

It is a common thought. Yes it is cliche and it is true. When we are young we feel invincible. We feel like we have so much time ahead of us that nothing we are doing in our youth could ever take that away. That is a lie. You can be 15 years old and die tomorrow or you can be 89 years old and die tomorrow. There is not a set amount of promised years on any ones life. I called my parents coming home from my in laws Christmas celebration and told them all about it. They were watching The Sound Of Music because neither of them had seen it. I had suggested they snuggle in on Christmas night and relax and watch it. They were just finishing up the show when we called and we chatted all the way home. My daughter was 2 and singing " Oh Christmas tree Oh Christmas tree!" I was holding the phone over my head so they could hear her. We pulled in the drive way and I said, "OK! Time to get the kids in the house! Love you!" This was 11pm. Less than an hour later, I was sitting on the couch with my daughter after her bath before finally getting her into bed and the phone rang. It was my mom saying that my dad collapsed and the EMT's were trying to get him breathing. Life changes that fast. Kick your grudges to the curb. Call your friends and family even if they never call you. They could be gone right now and you wouldn't even know it. Cherish them. I feel blessed we got to tell him we loved him once last time.

4. You will be haunted by technology.

I have an email inbox full of email jokes my dad loved to send out and I always felt bad when he would ask me if i got his latest joke. I did get to read them 35% of the time but the fact is I rarely checked my email anymore with the introduction to Face book. All of our family minus my parents seem to have migrated over to Face book. My dad and his work buddies were still old school and would include everyone in on their joke email chain. I have them all still waiting for me in my email and now I am terrified to check my email. I had made a new email to avoid touching them. I will get to it some day, I am just not at that point. I am kinda glad I didn't read all of them as I would have deleted them, at least now I still have them....And I also have a full voicemail inbox. I have yet to go through my voice mails. I can't bring myself to do it. I have thought about asking my husband to listen to them, but I haven't yet. I feel like I want to freeze everything in time that I can at this point. I will tend to them when I can. So yes, these are things I never thought I would have to encounter, but I have and you might too.

3. Honor your loved one in your own way.

Everyone has their own way of honoring their loved ones and not everyone is on the same page as there is now even more ways you can honor them. I have seen amazing tattoos to show love to a family member who has departed. The question of spreading ashes or not spreading ashes. Do we have an open casket or a closed casket? Do you invite everyone you know or just a few people. Do you play their favorite music or keep it traditional? You can even have jewelry made out of your loved ones ashes. Some people prefer to wear some ashes in a small decorative vile around their neck. Do we burn a candle for them at dinner? Do you plant a tree? Do you make a flower garden? Do you donate to an important cause in their name? Do we have an oil painting done of them? There are so many ways we can honor our loved ones . I think the most important thing to remember is to do what you feel in your heart. Whenever we do something because "Someone else" is doing it we are not doing it for the right reasons. How I choose to honor my father currently is adding more pictures to my home with him in it so that my babies will never forget their Grandpa. I honor my father by taking good care of my mother. I call her at least once a day so she never has to go a day without talking to someone. She has told me that she really appreciates that. She plans to honor him with a flower box in my yard with a tree in the center filled with tulips. I don't think it matters how you honor your loved one but I do feel it is important to honor them as part of the continued healing process.

2. The year following your loss can be the hardest.

Before the passing of my father, I had no idea how much losing a loved one takes a toll on every aspect of your life, especially the holidays. I always saw people state that this "Holiday" is always rough because it was "so and so's" favorite one. I never understood why someone would already be dreading a holiday in the future. It is in the future, why let it wreck your present? Well that is easy to say when you have nothing to base your thoughts or opinions on. My mother is already dreading Christmas, and for good reason. Her husband died in her arms on Christmas night. I would be dreading it too! She has already began brainstorming ways to make it an entirely new and different experience. I am too busy carrying for my family to think past the day I have in front of me. My children have been my saving grace during this dark time. They make me laugh when I feel like I do not have a giggle left inside of me. I guess you can take a page from either one of our books. You can create new traditions, switch up your environment the best you can. She is thinking about leaving her house entirely and diving into my kiddie wonderland to get a double dose of both of our remedies. I know that the closer we get to Christmas it will be hard, but I like to keep peace knowing my dad wouldn't want us to be sad during such a joyful time. I also know that I am so absolutely busy everyday with my family stuff, that I count on being extra busy this year. so busy that I will not have time to be sad. We can only take life one day at a time, so that is my goal.

1. Tragedy can bring out the best AND the worst in people.

One thing that shocked me the most during this entire grieving process is how tragedy really affects people differently and really shows ones true colors. It can highlight the good in those around you. It can heal relationships when people choose to look past any ill feelings to focus on what really matters, and that is love. It can also take a drastic turn and show just how ugly some people really can be. You have heard of family fighting material and monetary wars. Sadly, that is kind of expected. One thing I did not expect is the amount of people who suddenly felt like they were so omnipotent that they could now speak for my deceased father. I kid you not! People that were just acquaintances would have the audacity to say, "Your father wanted me to watch over your mom." "Your father would have wanted "such and such" that way". My aunt, who had been close to the family for decades, started to act as though my father was her husband. She started to tell us that she was going to dress the way he would like her too and wear earrings she thought he would like." She started harassing my mother and trying to dictate what she did from day to day like she was somehow an authority over my mom now that my father was gone? She would tell us that we should be done grieving his passing after 3 months. She even went as far as sending my mother a bouquet of my parents wedding flowers 3 months after he passed marked down to the exact day. She started to call my house searching for my mother and if she did not answer her home phone. She started to become very controlling over the entire family. This grew into violent episodes and soon after we chose to cut ties with her. We had to shut her down as a team and extract her from our world. It felt as though we were never allowed to heal in peace. We were always screening our calls and looking over our shoulder. All of a sudden one of my parents friends started telling my mom about not having any money and asking about my fathers life insurance policy. Another family member would comment as if dealing with death was a competition. "They had lost their mother 14 years ago... they have been struggling a lot longer." I honestly started to wonder if there was a large Body Snatching ring taking place as you see in the movies. I mean, there is not having a filter and then there is just being a complete asshole. Some of the stuff I have witnessed this past year just blows my mind. It seemed as though the last things I would ever think of saying to someone going thorough the loss of a father and husband, seemed to come so easily to these individuals.

The only advice I can give is to put as much space between them and you. You need to really make some serious boundaries when you are healing.  We bandage our wounds to keep debris out of them so they can heal and I feel the same needs to be done with an emotional healing. We really need to keep the debris of others from getting into our hearts and minds while we are trying to heal. Never feel guilty for taking care of yourself, sometimes you are the only one who will care enough to do it :)

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