Growing Up With Grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim” – Vicki Harrison.

I have spent the last twenty years navigating the waters of my own grief. It has continued to find me in ways that I have never expected. I try to encourage my clients to find a way to share their stories of pain and how they overcome their adversities and today I am here to share with you my story of grief.

Most people, when they think of grief and loss they only see the pain, but grief is so much more complex than that. Like the quote above says, it comes in waves and we often never know when the next wave of grief will hit. My grief has taught me many things about myself, life, and death. While grief impacts individuals and families, I am choosing to tell this story from my perspective of grief. This may not be the same experience everyone has, but this is how I remember my story of my grief.

On April 17, 1998, at the age of seven, my world was changed forever. My dad had passed away suddenly following a brain aneurysm. You can imagine as a seven year old I did not really know what that meant. I did not understand how the picture I was drawing him would not make him feel better or why he would not be able to talk to me. He was on life support until our family could all be there to say our goodbyes. I had encountered death before, my maternal grandma passed away when I was only three weeks old and I had attended several other funerals as a young child. This day however is when my grief journey began.

It has been almost twenty years and there is not a day that goes by that I am not influenced by my grief in some way. A common cliché of grief is that the person should just be able to move on after a certain period of time. I like to remind my grief group members, grief is not something you move on from, grief is something that you move forward with and is now a part of who you are. Grief can change us physically and mentally. One of the ways I’ve noticed a change in myself is from my fear of change. No matter how big or small the change is or even if it is a good change, I am terrified. In some of my more recent self-reflection, I have realized that my fear of change comes from this unexpected loss.

Grief really does comes in waves. Some years are easier than others, but it is always in the back of my mind. One of the things I hate telling new grief clients is that the second year is the hardest. I remember being nine years old and my mom having to basically pull me into the car because I did not want to leave his grave. The reality of it had finally hit me and I had to come to terms with the fact that I would have to go the rest of my life without my dad. Like I said some years are easier; last year seemed to be a pretty easy year on the anniversary of his passing. The year 2013 was a difficult one as my dad had to miss me graduating college and walking me down the aisle when I got married. Everyone grieves in a different way. I lost a parent as a child and most of my grief comes from missing him at all of those major events in my life and holding on to the few memories of him that I can. I love looking back at old photos or home videos because they help me feel close to him. Sometimes it is when a random song on the radio when I am having a hard day. You just never know when that wave will hit you.

Grief also compounds. I really struggled when my grams passed away. She was his mother and I loved listening to her talk about stories of him growing up. She passed away twelve years and two days after my dad did and it felt like I had lost him all over again. When we come across loss in our life, it also in another influence on our grief. When I was in high school one of my middle school teacher was killed by a drunk driver. When I attended the funeral I saw his wife and his two young children and his daughter could not have been much older than I was when I lost my dad. My heart ached for her because I knew the tough journey she had ahead of her and I still think of her often.

I’ve been in counseling for my grief. I was in counseling following the loss of my dad and again after my grams passed away. I struggled with depression and anxiety and still continue to battle these parts of my mental health. I have never been more thankful for the counselors who have helped me navigate my grief. If it was not for those experiences in counseling I do not know if I would have become a counselor myself and have a job that I am so passionate about. I never expected to work so directly with grief when I was thinking about becoming a counselor, but somehow it kept finding me so I knew it was meant to be. When I was in graduate school and had worked with my first few clients most of them had experienced a recent loss of a parent, family member, or friend. I remember having a conversation with my practicum supervisor that I thought it was strange and I questioned if I was really able to do the work, but she reassured me that I was meant to use my grief to help others. I could not imagine doing anything else for a job. This is just one of the positives that has come from my grief.

I feel my grief has given me a deeper sense of empathy. It has taught me how to connect with people on a deeper level and I have made many amazing connections with friends and clients because of it. While I would give the entire world to have my dad back, if this is the journey I have been chosen to live I am thankful for it. I am thankful for the opportunities that grief has given me to see life in a way that I am not sure I would have experienced if I had not had a loss so young. I’ve asked so many questions, I wished that heaven had a phone number so I could tell my dad about my day, but I know he is here with me. I felt his presence with me as I walked down the aisle, he watched over me when I was in a few dangerous car accidents and he will get to meet my babies before they become mine. He is where he is supposed to be, even though I miss him so much and he has missed out on so much of mine and my sister’s lives. As I stated before, you do not move on from grief, you move forward. It stays with you and becomes a part of who you are and truly shapes your world in a beautiful way if you let it. I will leave with one final thought. There is no wrong way to grieve unless you are not grieving at all, even if it is twenty or even fifty years later.