A year ago today we lost our Dad, tragically and unexpectedly. He was only 54 years old. This past year has been difficult to say the least. My little sister Kayla wrote a “What No One Told Us” piece, inspiring me to write my own version. Noelle wrote one too.
Here is the collection of “What No One Told Us” by the Sisters Three.
We knew we would hurt and that it would be the most painful experience of our lives to date. “They” say losing a parent is the hardest loss you will ever face. What “they” don’t tell you is that there is a such thing as a “grief attack”. They hit with twice the force of a panic attack and are infinitely more ruthless.
You know why the pain is there and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
“They” also don’t tell you that triggers will pop up out of nowhere, sending you spiraling. There is a crushing weight that settles into the middle of your chest that no therapy, medication, meditation, or prayer can touch. No one tells you that if you wear contacts you should keep a bottle of saline solution with you to rinse the salt from your lenses. Crying will become a part of your life.
No one speaks about how every birthday or holiday takes you all the way back to square one and you start the grieving process all over. “They” don’t tell you that your family will crumble. Each member dealing with their grief in their own way. That you will watch your grandmother decline rapidly, your little brother carry the burden of becoming the family patriarch too soon, or that you’ll worry endlessly about your Mother who was left without her mate. Adding to the despair you feel because you can’t help them.
No one tells you that you will resent your friends and other loved ones for still having their Dad. You will shut down and shut them all out. Their words of sympathy will sound like the teacher on Charlie Brown. You will seek out other grievers to share your tears with. Questions like, “how are you” or “how’s your family?” will become triggers. Those are questions you don’t have answers to. People don’t ask to hear how you are doing, they want to hear that you’re OK. They would commit you if you answered truthfully. “Fine” becomes a lie that you will tell repeatedly .
The pain never gets better. You learn that the saying, “time heals all wounds” is complete bullshit. You will be forever changed. Your timeline will be before his death and after. The after part will have a grey film around it. The things that once made you happy are now lackluster. You will flounder around searching for anything to make it stop hurting. You will find yourself doing things you would never otherwise do.
You will hold a new life in your hands and instead of making you happy the way babies typically do, it will make you sad. After holding my new nephew I spent one whole day in the bed sobbing. You will spend many days in bed, crying, wanting to die. I thought I was suicidal because I survived 3 attempts this past year. It was more than that, I wanted to go with him. Part of me still does and always will.
When the year anniversary comes around you will relive every aspect of that day. The weight returns to your chest. The tears flow non-stop, and you will want to retreat into isolation. I’m telling you that is okay. If anyone tries to tell you how you should grieve then you should remove that person from your life. Anyone that discounts your feelings because they think you should be over it, stop talking to them. It isn’t about them in any way. You grieve your way and to hell with anyone that expects you to “get over it” for their comfort.
This hellish transformation will leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Take as long as you need and don’t try to stifle the pain.
I worked very hard for a family owned coffee shop this past year. I got a promotion, I now manage our new location. I would give everything I have or will have to hear him say, “Alright Brooke!” I find a small amount of comfort knowing that he would be proud.
I feel him in the wind, in the warm gusts of air that feel like his big arms surrounding me. I feel him when I’m calling my daughter, “sir” the way he did his three daughters. I feel him every time I climb into his truck and sit in the hollowed out part of the seat he left behind. I feel him in the woods, the river, and every time I read the words on my memorial tattoo for him. “The only beasts here are us.”
I miss you as much as the second I learned you were gone.
No one told us about the guilt.
Guilt for not being at home with the family.
Guilt for not pushing him harder to take care of himself. Guilt for not being able to help my brother, mother and grandmother. Guilt for laying all of this on my husband and friends. (Thank you all, by the way.)
Guilt for smiling, dancing or having fun. “Didn’t her father just die? She looks too happy…” So much guilt.
No one told us that not hearing his voice would cause anxiety. No one told us that when he died a piece of each of us died with him.
No one told us we would forget who we are and what we’re supposed to do with ourselves. When you’ve spent your life trying to make someone proud and doing what they wanted you do to, what are you when they’re no longer there? Who am I? Who are we?
No one told us about the psychotic waves of emotion that can take over at any moment on any day. One minute you’re smiling and laughing, and the next you’re a weeping, sobbing mess while telling him you miss him and asking him (and yourself), “How do I do this?” I can hear him telling me, “Come on Noelle, suck it up!” When I’m running and want to quit, I hear him saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I push because he always pushed me. He instilled a drive in all of us to keep pushing even when it hurts.
No one told us that when you have finished something amazing and you go to call him, that you relive the fact that he is gone—no longer here to receive your phone calls.
No one told us about missing his laugh or his bear hugs.
No one told us about the weight of his death, how it feels like something is holding you down.
No one tells you that people aren’t going to understand. If it hasn’t happened to them yet they will not understand. I know people don’t think that we should be over it, they simply don’t get it yet.
Along with my family, I will live the rest of my life missing Dad. He was my best friend and confidant. We would spend hours around the kitchen table at home or on the phone. When you go from talking daily to nothing, no one tells you how to deal with that. For me, Dad was a hero, a legend, an amazing father, brother, husband, grandfather, son and friend. I will never forget you, Dad. You are and always will be a hero in my eyes.
We knew it would hurt. The loss of half of what made us. His name changed its shape on our tongues.
Hard to say. Harder to not say. But we expected that.
We expected to miss his “bear hugs,” and the way he left evidence of his late night snacking. We expected to feel the empty weight in his favorite chair.
But no one told us that we’d feel sick for the weeks surrounding Father’s Day or that we’d slowly learn of the mistakes he left behind like broken glass. No one told us we’d have to pick up those pieces in the dark, cutting open our palms. More pain. Different pain.
No one told us it wouldn’t just be about the loss, that we’d become unhinged, that no one could answer our questions, that there wouldn’t be any answers.
No one told us we’d want his old t-shirts, or that we wouldn’t know what to do with his shoes.
So let me tell you what no one told us.
It does not get better. Your smile will change. Your family will become a hollowed tree, dead but still standing.
You will do things you never thought you’d do, bad things, good things.
Your heart will open and close at the same time and you’ll feel dizzy on random days.
You’ll cry when you see someone with hair like his. You’ll think you see him in a crowded restaurant or crossing the street and it will take a second to realize it’s not him and why.
You see, this is not about loss. It never was. This is about what’s left behind, the residue of an existence, the clocks that continue ticking, the extra things you have to carry until you see him again.
Anthony Wright Sanders 10.12.1960-07.15.2015