Sometimes the people we love don’t have the words to say what we most need to hear. However, healing can occur if we tell OURSELVES what we need to hear.
It was like I was divinely guided to Church that Sunday morning. I have never been particularly religious by the world’s definition. I would describe myself as more spiritual. That morning, however, I was seeking a deeper connection with God. Sitting in the sanctuary I was feeling very peaceful and serene. Until I went to turn off my mobile phone and saw a private message from my uncle whom I hadn’t seen since my wedding over 20 years ago. It simply said that we should talk and he gave me his phone number.
For a moment, I considered running out of the church to call him immediately, but that moment passed quickly as I turned off my phone and slid it in my purse to stay for service. I sat with tears streaming down my face. I felt a frog in my throat and a hole in my heart. I immediately began scribbling some notes on a scrap piece of paper that reminded me I should without a doubt reach out to my dad if it wasn’t too late. Intuitively I knew my dad has passed even before I called my uncle back after service. While I was consumed with sadness, I couldn’t bring myself to leave that sanctuary. It was as though I was being divinely guided to stay. Sadly, after service I spoke to my uncle and learned my dad passed away the day before unexpectedly.
Deep in my heart what I struggled with all those years is why he didn’t fight to have me in his life. You see, my dad and I were never what I would call “close.” Primarily due to him working so hard to support us. Then when my parents divorced, and he remarried, I was left feeling like an outsider in his new family. I knew he loved me and I loved him. It was just becoming increasingly difficult to be around him and his new family as I was just beginning to start my own.
The last time I saw my dad was Christmas 1999 when my husband and I shared our exciting news we were expecting our first child. That night was painful because all I remember is being asked if the pregnancy was planned (which took me aback because I was 30 and had been married seven years). Meanwhile my dad was playing with his new granddaughter (his new wife’s daughter’s baby) and I was choking back tears. Thankfully my grandparents were there and were very excited, so that helped me get through the night! The second I stepped outside the house, I bawled like a baby. It wasn’t long after that when I was eight months pregnant, I wrote him a letter wishing him well and declared I wouldn’t be calling or visiting anymore. I assume he got the letter as I never heard from him again.
Countless times I wondered how he and his family were doing. Countless times I considered reaching out to him again. Each time I felt in some way he would be happier without me in his life. No more reminders of his old life with my mom and a greater ability to be happy and move on with his new family. Otherwise, he would have tried to contact me in those 16 years. I told myself that sometimes it is best to live your own lives and go your own ways. I do believe this to be true in a lot of cases. I am not sure if this is the case with my dad now. Of course, I will never know for sure.
The truth is that I knew this day could come. And yet, I still chose not to contact him—I think because I felt like I was moving on with my own life and with my own family. We had gone in and out of periods of not speaking to each other during his divorce with my mom but I had always ended up reaching out to him. At this point though, I was tired. I was tired of feeling like it had to be me who put the effort into the relationship. I was tired of walking on eggshells with his new family. I was tired of feeling forced to accept his new family before I was truly ready. I was tired of feeling not good enough.
So I have been living with the feeling of being a “bad daughter” instead. I believe these feelings complicated my grieving process after his passing. I thought because I didn’t have a relationship with my dad, that I wouldn’t have a need to grieve. I was so wrong!
I never know when the grief is going to hit me these days. It could be a song. It could be a picture. It could be a movie. It could be a conversation. The first few months were quite an emotional roller coaster. I wanted to get off the roller coaster already!! I decided to stay on the roller coaster. I rode the ups and downs, mostly downs. But in some ways, it was very healing for me to actually feel all of the feelings.
I looked through old pictures and searched my memory for happy times, which helped a bit. For me, my journal became the real healer. I started writing letters to my dad in my journal. At first, they were apologies for all things I was sorry for. It sounds cliché, but it really helped. I had a lot of things to apologize for, like the fact that I never gave him the chance to meet my two sons. The first week I was journaling, I apologized almost daily. It helped but then I got “stuck” and still felt pretty terrible and I was having a hard time focusing and doing what I needed to do. Then a friend of mine suggested I write a letter from my dad to me.
Wow! It might sound silly, but it was transforming my grief in a tangible way. It was as if I could hear my dad telling me that everything was ok now. I felt like he was giving me permission to move on. I felt like he was sorry for not trying harder to have a relationship with me and that he loved me very much. My depression lifted and I started to feel like I was actually in a peaceful relationship with my dad’s spirit. There had been some pictures from my wedding that actually brought back memories I wanted to forget and I was able to look at them in a new light.
Now I can see my dad in a much more compassionate way. Rather than judge him for refusing to let my Mom walk me down the aisle with him, I have finally forgiven him. I have the picture of him giving me away framed at my altar now. I see it every day and I send us love when I meditate. Sometimes the people we love, I learned, don’t have the words to say what we most need to hear. However, there is a healing that can occur if we tell ourselves what we need to hear most. This was true in my case.
I went back to the church the very next week for spiritual “food.” Coincidentally, there was a guest speaker talking about his new book about to be released about the afterlife. I actually don’t believe it was a coincidence. I believe I was meant to be there and that God guided me there to help me with my grieving process so I would know I wasn’t alone and that my dad was at peace now. I started to feel like I could let go of another layer of the guilt I was carrying around all these years, both before and after his death. I know now that we both did the best we could. I know that we both loved each other. I know that we are more alike than different. The best part was the belief he is in a better place! He was at peace, perhaps more peace than he ever could have found on earth.
My journal is filled with letters now. I have letters to my dad, then letters from my dad and lastly letters to God. I ask God for healing and forgiveness knowing he is my Heavenly Father. One other good thing is that my brother and I have become closer after his passing. I think that would make my dad happy! I am also deepening my own spiritual practices both inside and outside of church.
I am growing in compassion for my dad even more each day. My dad was just a teenager when I was born and I believe he did the very best he could. He provided for our physical and financial needs very well. Unfortunately the lack of emotional connection with my dad led to estranged relationships with all three of his children. I can only imagine how painful that was for him.
I have fewer and fewer days of sadness and grief but I am allowing whatever comes up to bubble up.
Because what I can feel I can heal.
We can’t change the past we can only choose to learn and grow. Forgiveness is allowing me to do both. Love is eternal, and the spirit never dies. I choose to let go of guilt and not to dwell in regrets. Instead I choose to make peace with my past and create a happy and fulfilling life for myself. I believe that is what my dad would want for me too.