While picking out suits for our wedding, the woman working with us began writing names down of the groomsmen who will be standing up. She then asked the names of the fathers who would be getting a suit fitted for the big day as well.
My (now) husband wrote his dad’s name down.
We then went over the names of our ushers.
The woman looked over the sheet, paused, and looked up at me.
“And who will be walking you down the aisle?”
My dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from heart failure five years ago in May. And not a day goes by where there’s not a ping of grief that shows up. This was one of them. Grief is a journey. And those reminders that my dad no longer here with us will be with me for as long as I live.
The grief might not be as deep now that some time has passed, although in place of it, a new wave of grief takes on. The remembrance of the time that has passed and how it has been that long without him.
I recently read a quote that said, “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
After my dad passed, I attended workshops hosted by a local nonprofit called New Hope at a nearby church with a focus on supporting people in their grief. Over 100 people showed up every week. Some were grieving a loss of a spouse, of a friend, of a child.
After a speaker presentation, everyone would break off into smaller groups based on their loss. I was placed in one for those who lost a parent. On my first day, I sat down and looked around at the people sitting in my room. I began to cry. I was in a group with people who were two, three times my age when what I was seeking was to connect with people my age who would understand how I felt—about how my dad wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle when I got married or be there to play with his grandchildren one day.
I’ve had a difficult time being able to connect with people who “get it” because many young adults my age still have their parents. When it comes to death or grief, people simply don’t know what to say, and talking about it makes them feel uncomfortable. I believe this is something as a society we need to work on—being open to showing up for others during difficult times rather than people feeling they have to go through it alone.
I continued to attend the eight-week workshop every Monday evening. We discussed topics from forgiveness to how to grieve a loved one during the holidays/special occasions. I felt a transformation within myself knowing I was right where I was meant to be. We shared our good days and not-so-good days, we prayed, and we supported one another week after week. Support like the one I found is good for the soul. I’ve learned it to be incredibly freeing when you speak your truth and open yourself to vulnerability.
On the last night, the nonprofit held a special ceremony and we were asked to write down how we could take steps to move forward to honor the person we love.
I wrote down that I want to turn my pain into purpose, and to do so, I would lean into my story, even when it hurt, to connect with others.
A few weeks later, I joined as a team lead at a two-day summer camp for kids who recently lost a sibling, a parent, or a grandparent. Connecting with them filled my heart, and I strive to do more to open up the conversation on grief, as it is something we too often push inside of ourselves, which makes us believe we are alone in our hardship.
I’ve learned that our grief will show up in a variety of ways throughout our life, but it is up to us as to how we respond.
I encourage you today to consider some of the hard times you’ve faced. If you were able to overcome them, how did you do it? Did you learn anything during this trial by fire that might help someone else? If you have hard-earned wisdom to impart based on what you’ve learned, find a way to pass it on. Not only will you improve someone else’s life, but you’ll enrich your own in the process.
For those of you who are grieving someone you love, you are not alone. By turning your pain into purpose and adapting ways to honor your loved one, you’ll find strength in your journey.