My father died in April. My family and I buried him on the 5th of May.
For weeks, I’d told myself that writing about my father’s death is too early.
Today, I was thinking about what I wanted to write about and what came to my mind were the words: “My father died in April.”
Am I ready to write about my father’s death?
Do I have something to say about grief or how to deal with sadness?
I don’t know.
I want to find out.
My father would have turned 80 in May. He lived slightly longer than the life expectancy for men in Finland (79.2 years).
My dad had Alzheimer’s for the past five years. I have been letting go of him already for several years.
Some big steps in letting him go were my dad losing his right to be able to drive his car, him being unable to go to his summer cabin, him losing his short-term memory and him struggling to live alone. Eventually, he was no longer able to get up from his sofa on his own. A major step was him moving into a nursing home.
And then he lost his ability to walk.
A bit over a year ago, my dad was for the last time in the home where he’d lived since I was a child. My son and I took him there to celebrate Christmas. He felt tired and at times confused. When we returned to his nursing home, he was exhausted. I realized then that he would never again visit his home.
I recall feeling sad and trying to put up a brave face for my dad and for my son.
My father had changed from a tough and confident career man into a scared and weak old person.
For most of my adulthood, I had a somewhat distant relationship with my dad. He and my mom had divorced when I was 25 and my dad didn’t keep in touch with me much. If I wanted to see or hear from him, the responsibility seemed to fall on me to make that happen. And when I did visit or call him, I didn’t share much about my emotions or about the things that were important to me.
I was not satisfied to keep in touch and see my father our of obligation and wasn’t sure how to change it. I was also too scared to change it.
About seven and half years ago during my first 8-Day Intensive workshop I decided it was time to talk with him. I learned the concept of completion talks or honest conversations and decided to talk with my father about the things I was sad and angry about and about things I appreciate him for.
I told my dad what I had not said before.
How I felt scared of him many times and worried he only cares for me if I perform well at school and later at work.
My father was buried in the same grave with his parents. That felt like the right decision to me. We used to go to the grave and bring candles the morning of Christmas Eve. I remember being there with him many times while my mom was cooking Christmas dinner.
The funeral was short and very touching. I cried and felt sad and close to my brother—it has been a while since I felt that last time.
Me, my son, Pete and my brother’s family took the flowers to my dad’s coffin.
I was carrying the coffin of my dad. I was surprised by how important that felt to me.
The grief comes and goes. I hear a song on the radio and I think of my dad and tears stream down my cheeks. I look at the scenery at the cabins and I feel moved and teary. I see the photos of him at home and I feel warmth and sadness.
I have a happy day and all of a sudden, I notice a wave of sadness.
Right now, I notice a lump in my throat as I write these lines.
Someone talks about their parents or a death in their family and I feel moved and a little embarrassed by how moved I feel. Pete mentioned someone showing their life story video to their dad and I started crying and told him, “I can never show my life story video to my dad.”
So, what “wise words” about sadness and grief do I want to share with you?
I have been saying this in workshops: “Talk with your parents when you still can, when they are still alive. You never know when it’s too late.”
I did that. I talked to him. And that came so real for me. During the past two years we could not have the same kinds of talks any more and now I can talk to the grave side or a picture.
I have said that talking with my dad was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life.
It was also one of the best things I have done for myself.
I feel that I said everything I wanted to and needed to say to my dad.
I am grateful to myself that I did talk with my father.
I took care of myself even though I was scared as hell.
We were able to transform our relationship by talking about past hurts and secrets. I felt he listened to me and understood me. I learned more about my father and his tough childhood and I could access more compassion towards him.
I wrote earlier about my completion talk with my dad. You can read it here.
I have noticed that people who are incomplete with their parents often have almost overwhelming sadness and grief after their parents pass away.
Who are you incomplete with?
Will you talk with them before it is too late?
And – how does grief feel for you?
Now I feel like writing:
Thank you, Dad. I love you. I miss you.
I am ready to let you go.