I remember when I received the call that my father had passed away, I felt physical pain like my heart was breaking. A crushing feeling in my chest. Six weeks earlier we found out that he had pancreatic cancer. The doctor said that we had 3 – 6 months to live. My Dad lived in another state and because I had a newborn and a 1 ½-year-old, I wasn’t able to see him regularly. I was with him for a weekend the week before he passed. So many emotions ran through my mind. Anger because he was never there and then he left too early. Guilt because I wasn’t there for him. Regret for not spending more time together. Love for the man I called Dad.
My Dad left my Mom when I was 5 years old and our relationship consisted of twice-yearly visits. Needless to say, I ended up with trust issues later in life. The relationship between a daughter and her father is foundational for her relationships with men in the future. Unfortunately, I held onto anger and blame toward my father for nearly a year after he left us.
How complicated grief can be for someone who stirs so much conflictual emotion. What I realized after he passed was that there were stages of idealism. Initially, after he passed, I elevated him to a place where he could do no wrong, then anger for all that he didn’t do right, and eventually, after therapy, I saw the truth.
My father was just a man whom I loved, that had his own reasons and perceptions for all the ways that he lived. We all do. We live our lives continually learning until we are faced with death.
My father and I had a lot of healing during that weekend that we spent together. He shared all his excuses for not being there. He cried as he realized the time he had lost, the love he pushed away, and the acceptance that it was too late to change the past. Then he asked for forgiveness.
As I looked into his mournful eyes, I saw his regret and suffering for the first time. My heart filled with love, sadness, and gut-wrenching pain. Although I said the words “I forgive you” to the man that was a stranger in my life, I held onto complex emotions for many years and that affected my life in many ways, but I didn’t realize this at the time.
I encountered many different reactions to my grief from others. It was like I was supposed to just forget it and move on after a week, or a month. When I would tell the family how much it still hurt after many months, I was told that I should put it out of my mind and move on. I felt shame for still feeling sad, and angry that nobody understood how I felt. I believe this extended my grief and I wish now that I had sought out grief support at the time. I realize now that they were uncomfortable with death and ill-equipped to offer support. All they could see was the pain I was suffering, and the effects it was having on those around me. They wanted it to stop.
A year after my dad died, I had a dream that I was driving a car and he was sitting in the back seat in a hospital johnny. He was telling me that it was time now and that he couldn’t rest until I let him go. I started to cry, and I told him that I could not let him go, but he asked me again. So, I kept driving him around, grateful for this time we were having together. I had allowed my grief to not only affect my life but the lives of those around me too. I chose to stay in the pain as a form of self-punishment but unknowingly passed that pain on to others. So, I finally agreed with my Dad. I should let him go but never forget him.
The next morning when I woke up, I felt a sense of freedom. Like it was ok for me to live again. He had come into my dream to give me permission. Not only had I forgiven him, but I forgave myself too.
My experience with the loss of my father inspired me to help others. I decided to become a nurse and now I work with those who are suffering from the loss of a loved one. What a beautiful gift I received after I learned those painful lessons because now I can understand someone else who isn’t quite ready to let go.
~ Karen Rolls
If you are experiencing the symptoms of grief and would like to explore ways to get past the pain and reclaim your life, I invite you to book a free discovery session with me: Book with Karen
Karen Rolls, Registered Nurse, Certified Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist