It has taken me five years in my journey with grief to acknowledge that I can be grieving and grateful at the same time, a paradox I have never understood until now.
Five years ago, my dad took his own life. A deep void was created that day, and the grief brought with it guilt, deep sadness, and heaviness. As time has gone by, I have grown stronger and more able to carry the weight around with me. But some days, the heaviness still gets too much. Like with any pain or trauma we carry, when life decides to pile on one more thing, you can feel your knees start to buckle. Grief still debilitates me even after all these years. I still cry, shout, and sit in disbelief that he is gone and is never coming back.
However, I am grateful too. It has taken me a long time to be able to say that but I am. My dad and I got the opportunity to spend 23 years together making memories, and not everyone gets that quality time. He was a good and kind man, and I am so proud to have had him as a role model in my life. His death taught me so much, and the grief cracked me wide open. At first, I saw that to be a bad thing. I felt deeper and more intense emotions than I ever had felt before. But as the years have passed, death has taught me far more about living and being grateful than I could have ever imagined.
1. Life is a gift not a given.
My dad was here one day and not the next. I never got the chance to say goodbye along with many other things. I took so much for granted when he was alive, and I never imagined I would lose my dad in my twenties. I would picture him dancing at my wedding or running around being the best grandad to my children. But all of that was what I had ‘expected’ to happen. It was only when he died that I realized how fragile and unpredictable life really is. His death taught me that I need to live more in the moment and not to ruminate in the past or plan too far in the future. Nothing is promised or certain in life, and what I have right now is what is most important.
2. Things will go wrong, but there will always be ‘right’ things too.
After my dad died, I was always looking for the next thing to go wrong. It was like I was drawn to the bad, no matter what good came into my life. But I’ve now recognized that loss has brought some invaluable blessings with it too. I love deeper and appreciate the ordinary things in life. I spend more time cherishing the simple things, like cuddles with my dog, that first sip of coffee in the morning, and feeling the sun on my skin in summer.
3. You never know how strong you are until strong is the only option.
Nobody wants to go through the loss of someone they love. Grief makes you feel pain in places you never thought you would feel it. It also teaches you that you have to keep going. Even when putting one foot in front of the other seems like the biggest of tasks, you keep moving. You grow stronger not because you want to but because you have to (and you become proud of that).
4. You will always belong, even if sometimes you feel like you don’t.
Grief is isolating. Everyone’s experience with it is so unique that it can make it hard to be open about it. But just because that person is gone does not mean you should hide away too. Their death may have changed the path you were on but that path is still yours to leave and carve a legacy out of.
What I’m learning on this journey with grief is that I can be happy but still feel sad that he’s not here to share this world with me anymore. My grief still holds relevance and always will, no matter how many years passed. And most importantly, grief and gratitude can sit at the same table, I just have to give them both a seat.