GGH Blog

Heartbreak Anniversary (April 2,2021)

As I had planned to write this blog post to commemorate my father’s 10-year death anniversary (April 13th) and all that has happened in those years, I received a call on Monday morning at work. It was my mom who let me know that my uncle had unexpectedly passed away to COVID.

Life continues to remind me that despite what I plan for I always need to be ready for things to change. In these last few months, I had really let my guard down and had been exhaling after all of the trauma work I had done. A dreaded tragic call, the type that I was always on alert for in my early 20s after experiencing my traumatic teen years of having an ill parent in ICU and one who was always on the run to support him whenever she got the call that something had gone wrong which sadly was a weekly occurrence for nearly 4 years. During those years, my uncle was around daily visiting my dad and driving my mom home from long days with my dad who was in a vegetative state. My uncle supported my family without question and was a pilar of certainty and hope for my aunt who had battled cancer twice.

We had just FaceTimed a week and a half prior on my dad’s birthday to check in. He was happy and laughing as him and my aunt were taking turns talking with us. He left this earth isolating himself to protect her and his family that he loved so much. I’ve resorted to my initial grief coping style that I find most helpful for me to process my feelings and allow myself to feel all of the emotions coming up – disconnecting from the world, sleeping, writing and reading self-help books. When I was 18 going through my first loss I read ‘When It All Falls Apart’ by Pema Chodron over and over and even wrote personal notes in it. This week I’ve been reading ‘Your Brain Is Always Listening’ by Daniel Amen which is helping me understand how and why I’m being triggered. It’s always been a coping style for me to lean into ways to understanding what was going on in my mind and body. Some things never change.

My dad would always take us on long drives when things in our house got busy. It gave me such a sense of peace and safety – he knew what he was doing for sure and maybe he needed that too. My brother and I went for a car ride to get out of the house for an hour that day we had heard of my uncles passing. We were silent for the first while but gradually spoke about how we had felt completely shocked and saddened by this major loss in our family. My brother is one out of three people on this earth who experienced the same pain I did years ago and although we continue to heal very differently there’s still this unspoken comfort of being around each other during these continued difficult times. I had realized that we had lost another significant male figure in our life. Our grandfather, dad, two uncles, great uncles and now another close uncle. I felt for my brother. In this moment it really came together for me that although he had been blessed to live with 3 amazing women who raised him (his words not mine!) he had been losing male figures consistently since the 8th grade. It took me long enough to see it- I was so stuck in my own pain. But that’s what grief is, a frozen period of time in your mind and heart that you have to process while life continues. It clouds your vision, keeps you stuck and unless you allow for acceptance and reprocessing to enter and provide healing in your life it can keep you surviving just on tunnel vision. I had tunnel vision for a while, I was angry, stuck, sad, helpless and hopeless and there was nothing I wanted to be done about it- I was scared to move and experience more change. No one was going to bring my dad back or restore the life I once had. It was hard to empathize and connect with others beyond feeling their pain and then understanding their lens. It was hard enough living in my head I couldn’t see another’s lens not my brothers, my mothers or sisters.

10 years without you dad and I’ve done things I never thought I’d do. I was paralyzed at the thought of life moving on without you and I truly don’t know if one thing in particular helped kicked off my healing or if it was a combination of them.

  • Had surgery to remove a benign tumor on my chest at 18
  • Finished high school (it was a blur I have no idea how I pushed myself to get the grades I did)
  • Applied for post secondary and got into all of the schools and programs I applied to
  • Accepted an offer at Ryerson for Psychology and felt like for the first time in my life I was doing something for me that I loved
  • I wrote in for every possible grant and bursary essay that the province and school offered for students in attempt to alleviate some tuition costs (almost half of my tuition ended up being paid for through grants and bursaries – get your writing on sis!)
  • I wrote my first year exams 2 weeks after my dads passing (in retrospect this was a bad idea and most definitely a result of my stubbornness in avoiding asking for help and experiencing grief stigma – I didn’t want that)
  • I worked at a dry cleaners for years in high school to help out with groceries and eventually interviewed for a bigger retail company (super scary- I can still feel the sweat all over while I sat in my car and talked myself up in the mirror before walking in to interview)
  • I got my drivers license (my dad would’ve been the one to teach me – my mom doesn’t drive and my sister was a new driver who inherited my dads minivan and was maneuvering life with that – literally)
  • I made a lot of bad choices with dating but turned out okay (re: my dating blog posts you can find further back)
  • I applied for another program a year after I graduated and was able to save up some money
  • Received a lot of rejection when applying to jobs in my field (my anxiety was next level but I’m proud of myself for always pushing through uncomfortable growing pains)
  • Purchased my own car at 26 – RIP to my first love my 2004 black Saturn Ion
  • Paid off my school loans
  • Painfully heard that I had PTSD and received EMDR therapy to help with the flashbacks that took over me
  • Had emergency surgery after a month in of being hired in my first career position to remove a borderline tumor which resulted in them having to remove my entire ovary and fallopian tube at age 25 – I was an emotional rollercoaster for months
  • Learned the basics of taking care of my car and installing pieces and furniture in my house (my dad was a handyman and always brought me, my sister and brother along to his work or if he was working on something for our other family members- although he would’ve been our go to man for that he showed us early on that we could do it all)
  • Started to put my mental health first – therapy regular here now! (it’s still hard sometimes to bring myself to go but I’ve gotten a lot better)
  • Had been told I needed to do emergency fertility preservation and I froze my eggs for future MEExperienced additional significant losses and grief –we started to and continue to talk about grief more in our house than the silent coping we had done in the first 5 years
  • We started celebrating Christmas again recently – it was just too painful before ( I still hate Christmas songs and occasionally get called the Grinch by my mom)
  • I started Girls Gotta Heal – the ultimate way I choose to honour you, dad
  • Got through 3650 days of missing and loving you – and to 3650 more of honouring you everyday

As I drove to my dad’s cemetery plot, I imagined what our relationship would be like now. I pictured us going for long drives like we usually would, to disconnect from everyone and everything and talking over coffee about life with long beautiful fields around us. One of the last memories I have was us going on a long drive and me telling him how upset I felt with my friend. He never brushed me off and always validated my feelings no matter how young I was. He encouraged me to continue putting in the work and fighting if this was a friendship that was worth it. The last time I saw him in our home I was 15. I was such an incredibly shy and awkward kid. He very much brought out the loving, prankster and corky side of me. He pushed and poked me until I grew to feel more comfortable in my skin. I always say he was the first person who ever truly understood me and made me feel loved for all of the things I was. I sat with my coffee by my dad’s cemetery plot, had a conversation with him about everything weighing on my heart this week and felt comforted by the cool breeze and the green fields that stretched for miles in every direction.

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