I remember the moment I realized that grief lasts a lifetime. It was back in 1995 at my friend, Stacey’s wedding reception. I was there with some of my girlfriends from high school. We all agreed to go stag to the big event so we could simply enjoy each other’s company. It was so nice to catch up as we waited for the newlyweds to be introduced.
As the bridal party introductions were wrapping up, my friend Donna who was sitting next to me, grabbed my arm and said, “Sheila, I need to get outside – please come with me!” Although I didn’t know what was happening, the look on her face told me she was serious. We excused ourselves and high-tailed it out of there. We were barely out the front door before Donna broke down.
Donna lost her dad suddenly back when we were in 7th grade. I didn’t know her that well back then, but I did know that he had a heart attack out of nowhere. Donna and I grew closer over the years and I learned a little more about her loss, but I had no idea at the time that loss really lasted a lifetime.
I will never forget the pain on her face and in her words that day in the parking lot. It will always stay with me. She missed him so very much and couldn’t bear to watch Stacey dance with her dad because she would never have that moment herself. Here we were, crying in the parking lot, almost 10 years removed from when her dad died, that the thought never occurred to me that these moments would be so hard for her. At that point in my life though, I had not experienced a death of that magnitude so I had no perspective – until then.
I’m sure you’ve often heard grief is like the waves in the ocean. Some waves are small, some completely overwhelming. Some predictable and some hit you out of nowhere. I don’t know if Donna saw this wave coming or not, but I do know that I was so glad that I could help her through it.
The loss of a parent or sibling or child forever changes you, but I didn’t know just how much until that night in the parking lot, and I didn’t really feel it until after the death of my husband. The “every” days are hard and the “special” days are even harder.
As Father’s Day approaches, I think of my friend, my own kids and the many others who have lost their dads too soon.
Each Father’s Day, my kids put notes to their dad inside balloons and send their Father’s Day love up to the sky. We sit there amazed at how the two balloons always gently float side by side until they disappear from our view.
This is a tradition we started a few years back. I think it’s one that the kids can continue throughout their lives and one that they can involve their own children in someday. I never look at their notes. I want so badly to see what they write, but I have to let it be their own special message.
As each Father’s Day approaches, I think a lot about what we can do to remember Jeff. Honestly we talk about him and remember him in our everyday moments but I know on Father’s Day we need to do something special. As I was thinking, I was reminded of a very special doctor of Jeff’s who lost his dad at an early age. His name is Steve, but we used to call him “Super Steve” because of his amazing ability to always swoop in at the right moment with great words of advice.
Steve pulled me aside one day as things were getting worse and said, “Sheila, the most important thing my mom would tell me as I grew up without my dad was to always look in the mirror.” He went on to tell me that in the tough moments, when he was really missing his dad, his mom would have him stand in front of the mirror and see that his father was with him because his father helped to make him. She told Steve to keep looking and never forget that in the tough times, his dad was right there to help. Steve still does this to this day – some 20 years later.
I know that these holidays are tough for us, for our kids and for our families. We can’t take the pain away but we can try to grow and make positive experiences from them. I am thankful for the moments with Donna and for the honesty of Steve for taking the time to tell their stories because I can share them with my kids and share it with you. That is what this blog is all about. Sharing stories, learning, growing together and navigating through grief side by side – like 2 beautiful balloons.
Sheila Turner is the author and facilitator of CampErinParents.com, a blog created for parents and guardians of Camp Erin campers talking candidly about real issues faced by grieving families. She is a volunteer spokesperson for Camp Erin Philadelphia’s Penn Wissahickon Hospice and has been published on related topics in Philadelphia area newspapers, WHYY Radio and Hospice Newsletters. Click here to learn more about Sheila and the Camp Erin Parents blog.
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