I lost my dad when I was fifty. He was 75.
We all understand the cycle of life and as we reach the second half of our own lives many of us will naturally experience not just the loss of parents, but of friends, extended family, beloved pets. And as I grieved I reminded myself I was luckier than many who never had an opportunity to experience the love of a father as a child, let alone long into their adult years. So as many folks “correctly” offered comfort by stating, “He had a good life.” I reminded myself that he’d had not just a good life but a great one. He had my mom’s love and friendship for almost sixty years. He had the love of his five children, his siblings, his extended family and friends. He had community.
But his death was too soon. He was too young. And even though he’d battled cancer for six months and we knew the inevitable outcome, losing dad was a shock. Can we ever be prepared to lose a cherished one? How do we move forward without them? How do we turn grief into a celebration of a life?
I knew we weren’t the only family that had experienced the loss of a loved one to cancer and I knew we weren’t alone in grief.
Thankfully I had fabulous friends, many of whom I considered family. But hearing them say I’d been lucky, or he’d lived a good life so be grateful frustrated me. Didn’t they know how I felt? I missed my dad. I missed his humor, his hugs, and the way we never failed to feel safe in his arms, how he could fix anything.
We aren’t taught how to grieve. We aren’t taught how to help others grieve. And when I was growing up it seemed there was a required period of mourning. A period when people left loved ones alone to mourn their loss. But none of what I knew felt right or comforting. So the days and weeks following the loss of my dad became a period of self-reflection about what I really believed followed death. How could death truly be the end? How could my dad truly “just be gone” when he felt so “alive” in my heart, in my mom’s eyes, in my siblings’ smiles?
Through all of this I was lucky. I had my daughters’ hugs and laughter to remind me that life goes on… that my dad would “go on”… literally. They weren’t worried they would say or do the wrong thing. I had acceptance from them as my loss/grief changed me. They weren’t put off as my tears rose in the craziest and most unexpected moments. They didn’t want “normal” back. They were there as we journeyed from sadness into a celebration of dad’s life.
So what can you do to get through your own grief? What can all of us do to help others get through their grief? First and foremost we need to remember to accept an extended hand. We need to remember that laughing and sharing stories keeps our loved one alive. We need to recognize that others may not be sure how to help so they back off. That doesn’t mean they are a bad friend, or that they won’t be there moving forward; just that they might not know how to support you right now
So then what might we do when we find ourselves part of a community we never wanted to be part of; the grief community? If only we could share with others how we feel, share with others that also have experienced loss (perhaps not the same type but loss none the less) so that we would be able to, even for a moment, feel another understood. Perhaps then we might begin to move forward, less lonely.
A grief community allows us to express ourselves, to publicly meltdown, to mourn, laugh and share stories as much or as little as we need without judgment. Because those of us who’ve been “in the celebration of life community” learn… there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Fast forward almost a decade and I find myself part of the birthing of Cherished Ones, a grief community of sorts. Our mission is focused on creating products and community to aid people in moving from the conventional practice of mourning into a world that supports the grieving process by embracing the celebration of life.
We realize when you are grieving that opening yourself up to new anything sounds scary at best. You may be thinking that you are entitled to a period of isolation and grief, or that there could never be anyone to connect with that could possibly understand how you feel. We aren’t saying you are wrong just asking you to consider an alternative path, another means of support. Allowing oneself to experience and share the celebration of a life during loss can do amazing things. You may not be able to move beyond feeling alone right away, but it may open the door to moving forward, to recognizing that love indeed seeds life. And it could provide the tools to help others in their journey, tools to help us understand how to embrace the spirit of cherished ones who’ve passed. Even though none of us can know exactly what you are experiencing, please remember you are not alone. There is a community of mourners, some of whom may turn up where you least expect them if you can bring yourself to be open to possibilities.
Share your losses with us and others in our community, here and on our social media sites. Let us help each other when we have bad days. Remember that love seeds life and our cherished ones live on. Honor their memories and join our community in celebrating their lives.
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