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Today I am sharing my story about the loss of my Dad and my grief over the past few months. It is something I haven’t talked about much, so I wanted to share what I have learned about grief. It was a hard podcast to record and hopefully will be helpful if you are dealing with grief or know someone who is.
NOTE: The sound is a little goofy at times, I apologize for the mic issues.
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Megan Devine: http://www.refugeingrief.com/
Her new book: Its Ok Not to Be OK
Hi and welcome. You are listening to the Happiness Hacks podcast, and I’m your host, Nancy Jane Smith. I’m a licensed professional counselor, and in this podcast, I share my stories, lessons, and hacks I’ve learned, and I keep learning on my quest to live happier. This is episode 68, My dad and grief and living happier.
Today as I sat down to record my podcast I realized I’d been putting it off and hadn’t been 100% in my diligence around the podcast. Part of that is just that I’ve been writing a book as I’ve mentioned to you guys before, and so that’s taking a lot of my energy, and hopefully going to be coming out the first part of 2018. I will keep you posted as I start unveiling that and showcasing that more and more, because it’s going to start happening, building up to it in the next couple of months.
As I was sitting down, trying to think about what I was going to talk about today, one of the things that popped up was grief. It is a big part of my life right now that I have not been sharing about in my blog or newsletters or anywhere on my social media, talk about here and there, but for the most part, I avoid bringing the grief around my father and into my professional life.
Today I just kind of wanted to touch base on that. I think part of the reason I’ve been kind of stuck and what I want to talk about and share about is that this kind of huge thing is left there, and I’m not talking about it. I tend to be very authentic and open in my life when it comes to what’s happening, and transparency is a big part of what I think is live happier is all about.
Unfortunately or fortunately I haven’t been showing this part of my world, mostly because I just want to keep it kind of private and because it’s a very personal event, but I thought it might be helpful just to kind of share my experience and just give my personal take on stuff. I’m taking off the counselor hat for a little bit. I mean everything I do kind of has a counselor hat, but I’m not coming at this as an expert because I am by far not an expert when it comes to grief. There a lot of fabulous experts out there that know so much more, but this is just my personal story, and I’m hoping in sharing it that it will help others out there who are dealing with grief and all that that encompasses.
Okay, so my dad died January 29th of this year. I had shared openly about his disease with Parkinson’s, with Dementia, that he had for many years, and he fought very diligently, and did regular exercises, and was a warrior when it came to this disease, and he was a warrior his whole life. So not surprising that he was a warrior when it came to this disease. We were, he wasn’t in the greatest of health, but it was a definite surprise when my brother pounded on our door at 3:00 a.m. to tell me that he had died and just really wasn’t expecting it at all and actually he had gotten up to go to the bathroom and fell and didn’t live much longer after that.
Fortunately he died very quickly and in his home, which is where he wanted to go, and all those things were really fabulous that he got to die where he wanted to and pretty much how he wanted to. I don’t know that he wanted to die quite then, but he was ready to go, and watching him suffer from the Parkinson’s and Dementia it was very much a blessing to us and also very hard to lose him. He was very important to me. He still is very important to me. My dad was just kind of like my person.
This process. That was in January. Here we are almost October and the whole thing has just been really surreal. I think that’s the hardest part, is sharing that with people and helping people understand that the person dies and the funeral happens and everyone rallies, and it’s, family and friends came into town and everyone rallied. And then as everyone says when you read grief, everyone just disappears and goes back to their life, as they should. I’m not saying that something is wrong with them, but everyone goes back to their life, and here the person that’s grieving, here I am, and I still have this giant hole where this larger than life person was, and he’s gone, and I’m supposed to figure out how to function in the world without him. Meanwhile, the rest of the world keeps moving on. That is such a surreal experience. Here I am months later, still trying to reconcile that.
This death of my dad wasn’t traumatic; it wasn’t unexpected. I just keep thinking about all the people in the world who have traumatic deaths of 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds or babies, and that person is just ripped out of their life. One day they’re perfectly fine, and the next day they’re gone. I can’t imagine kind of trying to make that fit into your schema when I’m struggling so hard to fit into my schema that my 78-year-old dad died. It was his time. He was sick. It was a shock the day he died, but that he died was not a shock.
But the level that it has taken me and still I struggle with accepting it, and still I struggle with facing it every day and being like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s never coming back,” and having that thought on a daily, multiple times a day basis is jarring. So my empathy for those who are listening, or those that you know who have traumatic deaths that are just out of the blue is just even more so.
My biggest takeaway from this experience, there’s been a ton of takeaways to be honest, but my biggest takeaway is now when I know someone who has lost someone, I regularly, I know to check in with them, regularly months later to call and just say, “How you’re doing? What’s happening,” checking in, because the tendency is you don’t want to check in with them because you don’t want to remind them that someone died, which is just so ironic. And I catch myself doing it too. I don’t want to email this friend because she might be having a great day and then if I email her how you’re doing, she might be like, “Oh yeah, my dad died,” and it may jar her.
Here’s the thing. It isn’t ever going to jar the person. They are always thinking about the fact that someone died. Maybe not always but in the day they are thinking about it, especially if they’re in the first year or two of dealing with the grief. So you calling them or checking in with them isn’t going to suddenly remind them and make them feel like, “Oh my gosh, you’re right, I forgot, my dad died.” No, it is going to be like, “Oh, wow, you re really thinking of me. Thank you. I appreciate that.”
What is fascinating to me is how even though I know right now how important that is and how powerful that is when someone reaches out to me, I’m still hesitant to do it. I think we convince ourselves that we don’t want to be too out there, we don’t want to be pushing them, we don’t want to remind them. And that’s crap. We just need to be reaching out to people and touching base with them and seeing how everyone is doing in the world, but more so when someone is dealing with grief, because there’s nothing more lonely in the world than grief, and feeling like you’re the only one in the world who is suffering or you’re the only one in the world who is dealing with this. To recognize, know there are a lot of other people out there who are going through their day to day lives with a giant hole in their heart, and trying to figure out how to keep going, even though this huge piece of their lives has gone.
There has been a quote that has been really helpful to me, thinking about the idea that what grief is is taking something that you had on the outside and could touch and feel and talk to, and moving that person so that they only exist on the inside. That’s the process of grief, is transforming them from an outside person to an inside person, and I think that is just so powerful. That process takes a long time, because here, 44 years, I had my dad. I could call him. I could hug him. I could chat with him. I could tell him my day. And then suddenly he’s gone. To figure out how am I going to move him to the inside is hard.
I wanted to talk about this today a) because I feel like it’s a big part of my life that I’m not sharing, but also because I think as a society we need to get better about talking about grief. We need to get better about talking about our losses and our pain, and that grief is a big part of living happier. It doesn’t have to be losing a parent, or a child, or a friend, or sibling. It could be divorce, or a loss of a relationship, or a loss of a job. We go through little griefs all the time, but we also go through these bigger griefs which losing a parent or losing both of your parents or the traumatic deaths I mentioned. All of those are impactful in our day to day lives, and we want to move on, push it down, keep moving, keep checking, keep soldiering on, suck it up buttercup, and that isn’t how this works.
This grief has strongly influenced my work in the sense of realizing we have to be acknowledging what we’re going through; we have to be feeling what we’re feeling, we have to because this one my friends was so huge. I can’t not.
The other thing I would say is here I am, almost nine months since dad died, and in so many ways it feels like it was just yesterday. I can remember three months in being like, “Okay, so in six months I’ll feel better,” or, “In five months I’ll feel better.” And now the thing that I feel better I guess if I could say I feel better about something, is that it’s just the acceptance that this is just going to be here. This giant hole and daily shedding tears, and that may cease, but that hole is always going to be there.
I think I thought, “Oh, once I hit the three month mark or once I hit the six month mark, I’ll go back to life as it was,” and the recognition sets in that life will never be what it was. Figuring out that new normal and all that stuff, that all the grief people talk about, which as you can tell I find annoying because I don’t want there to be a new normal, I want it to go back to the way it was, and I think that resistance is hard in grief of fighting the new normal and fighting the reality.
I guess I want to say if you are going through grief right now and have lost someone close to you, whether traumatic or a natural death, I’m sorry, and I feel you, and I hope that you can find some solace somewhere. And if you are not, and you know someone, I encourage you to reach out to them and just say, “I’m here. How you’re doing,” just to check in.
For months I had a friend who would just text me and say, “How you’re doing,” and I would unload how I was doing and she would just respond with, “I love you.” It was just absolutely perfect because I just needed to be able to dump how I was feeling and she was just and know that I didn’t have to then justify it to her or explain it to her. I just was going to throw it up at her, and she was going to respond with, “I love you,” and we’d move on. It was just awesome.
I never knew when she was going to send the text. I think she set an alarm to remind her to send the text, which was even more amazing because she just, she planned ahead. I didn’t find that offensive. I actually found that heartwarming because she knew she wouldn’t remember and so she reminded herself, which is even cooler. Really show up for people.
Then the last thing I really want to say is if you are grieving or know someone is, Megan Devine, and I will put her link to her website in the show notes, is an amazing resource around grief. She actually lost her finance in a drowning accident, super traumatic. She is a therapist who has done amazing work and just actually came with a book on It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, and her work has really given me the permission to just be wherever I am and feel whatever I’m feeling and just kind of do this messy, messy, messy, messy, messy process of grief in my way and it has really been freeing. So I highly recommend her, and back when I talked about an expert on grief, I believe her to be one. That’s my recommendation if you want some additional resources on this subject.
Thank you for listening to this unusual podcast I realize, and I appreciate it. I’m hoping to, as I move through this, it’s still really raw for me and hard for me to talk about my dad and the reality of what happened. As this moves on, I think I will come back and revisit this in a different way. I’m still really in the middle of this process, and so sharing about it is hard to be that vulnerable.
I think that is wisdom, is knowing when to share and when not to share. I wanted to share today to kind of showcase like, hey, this is what I’m going through, but I’m not all the way through it. So sharing super honestly and openly and showing all the raw details isn’t where I’m at, but I am at a place to be able to share this is what helped, and this is what didn’t help, and this is what is helping and this is what is not as helping. Hopefully, you can gain some wisdom from that and some comfort from that if you’re going through this as well. With that, I’m going to move on to the weekly ritual challenge.
Weekly Ritual Segment:
One thing that has helped me Live Happier is adding regular ritual practices to my daily life so each week I am going to be sharing a ritual with you and challenge you to complete it.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This week’s weekly ritual challenge is a yoga technique that was recommended by a reader after she saw it on the Today show. Take your thumb and cover your right nostril and exhale and inhale through the left nostril. Then cover your left nostril and repeat the inhale and exhale through your right nostril.
Try this weekly ritual when you first get in the car in the morning, in the morning before you have your coffee, or before a stressful meeting.
The point of these challenges is to get you out of your everyday thoughts (the thoughts of your Monger) and into your body so you can more easily tune into yourself. (the wisdom of your Biggest Fan.)
Check out my Instagram where I share my daily check in with the weekly ritual practice. It is a helpful way for both of us to stay accountable to the practice.
I’ll be back next week for another Happiness Hacks podcast, and I hope to see you then If you have questions or thoughts or anything, please email me at email@example.com, or you can follow me on Instagram, @nancyjane_livehappier. Until next time here’s to living happier.
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