Monday, January 30, 2012

Dear Dad

Cousin Ida, dad and me

Dear Dad,

You've been gone 7 years now. What happened to you happened to me. I lost half of myself and have to build a new life from the rubble left behind.

I think often of what it would be like to be you. Not only did you have to watch mom deteriorate and suffer and then die, but you had to grieve while trying to raise me.

I'd like to say that you did things to help me grieve and I'm sure you did, I just can't remember a lot of day-to-day evidence. You did not find me counseling. You did not let me keep any of mom's things. You did not let me ask questions or talk about mom without feeling terrible for asking. You weren't present for me because you were working or drinking heavily or both.

That doesn't mean you didn't try. That doesn't mean you didn't do your best to survive while helping me. I know you were trying to make it through each day the best way you could. I know now how the grief can give you tunnel vision. No energy left for anything but making it through the day most of the time.

You did do one wonderful thing for my grieving process. You brought my older cousin to live with us and she was a buffer between you and me. She loved me like a daughter and let me be me, let me feel my pain. But she couldn't stay forever.

And once she left, and it was just you and me again, the darkness and pain took over our household again.

How strangely amazing, though, that I now see things from the perspective of a widowed person AND the perspective of a little girl who lost her mom.

Now that I am a part of the widowed community, I hear from widowed parents who are somehow managing to help their kids grieve while grieving themselves and I'm in awe of the self-sacrifice that must take. I don't believe surviving this undamaged is even a possibility, for the kids or the spouse, but putting energy into getting the family help and living despite the pain, is heroic. It takes strength I doubt any of us think we're capable of.

I know now that the strength it took you to care for mom while she was dying and to care for yourself and me after she died, was super-human. I am grateful that you stuck around as long as you did and I'm pretty sure it's a waste of time to think of the ways I wish you'd done it differently. You did what you could do. You were damaged.

You were in pain AND raising a sad little kid who lost her mom.
I never would have known the depth of your pain if this hadn't happened to me. It's impossible to imagine unless you don't have to imagine.

I'm glad you've been released from your pain and I'm glad I can use your struggle as a gauge for my fight. I will not avoid getting help or isolate myself and I will not let this turn me into someone who will spend the next 30 years killing myself with alcohol.

I will burn my pain as fuel and come out on the other side with more strength, empathy and capacity for joy.

I know you'd say that you didn't expect any less from me.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. What a beautiful love letter to your Dad. I am sobbing as I read it because I am a Mom of two boys and we are all surviving the death of my husband. It's been almost three years and my boys are now 13 and 15. My biggest concern has always been that I didn't want the death of their Dad to destroy them so I have done and continue to do as much as I can to try and prevent that while I continue to grieve the loss of the love of my life. It is difficult, incredibly difficult at times and I know I am not the Mom I was before March 20, 2009. But the boys have been to counseling (more than they wanted to!), we have kept all of their Dad's stuff (which we will have to weed through when they're ready but for now it's all safely stored), we talk about their Dad all the time (both reminiscing and asking what he would think or say when I need his parenting help) and I try to remain as present as I can (though I work full time and I'm a part time student). And though I never feel like I'm doing enough, your post has let me know that maybe we're doing ok. That when the boys become adults they will know that I did the best I could. I hope they never have to experience my grief until they are very old men. Sorry for rambling. Your post has deeply touched my mother's heart. Thank you more than you know.

  2. Cassie,
    I, too, feel empathy for my Dad: his spouse, my Mom, died a year ago. Mine died 2 years ago, they picked the exact same day to move onward, which is coming up soon. I want to be there for Dad, but have put my grief for my husband on hold too much trying to be there for him. We are both learning to accept what we have, rather than hope that what we had will come back. Reality is tough to face, but I believe that one day joy will occupy more space than this sorrow in my life.

  3. Thank you for this amazing post. The forthright honesty is heart-achingly beautiful.

    In my community we are lucky enough to have an offshoot of The Dougy Center to help our children.