Reflections on Grief {20 Years}

 

Today marks 20 years since my dad left this earth. He was not yet 40 years old, and I was just shy of 10–so eager to enter the double-digit years, ready to grow older.

I had no idea how quickly I would be thrust into learning some of life’s deepest lessons–on loss, on life and death, on the process of grief. My little 9-year-old brain couldn’t quite take it all in, couldn’t process the complexity of emotion or ponder the abstractness of life and death. My heart wasn’t ready to be vulnerable enough for grief. 

 

Reflections on Grief {20 Years} #grief #loss #death #family

 

So when he died on that day after the accident, on that 1st Sunday of my entire life when we had not gone to church, when my mom came into my room to tell me that he was…

When all of that came crashing into my normal childhood, I cried, for a bit. That’s what you’re supposed to do, I suppose. And then my mom left, out into the sad abyss of our living room, where The Adults were gathered. I could hear their muffled sadness drifting down the hall, and the only certainty I could grasp at that moment was that I did not want to be out there.

So I sat in my room, on top of my pink bedspread with the tiny flowers repeating their pattern countless times. I sat alone on my bed, except for the collection of stuffed animals that was always by my side while I slept, keeping me safe and warm. It felt like a dream, this strange air around me that had not existed 24 hours earlier. But I was 9, and I had probably never heard the word surreal. I didn’t understand it, and I wanted something concrete to hold onto.

So I made a beeline out–down the hall, out the living room door, into the chilly spring air. And I played games outside with my friends.

And this is how I grieved–piece by piece by piece–all the way into junior high, through high school, and into college. A small moment of openness, of emotion, and then back to normal life. Processing whatever I could when I felt the sting of his absence in the celebration of life’s big moments–the holidays, the graduations, the boys, the Sweet Sixteen. I would later learn that this process is called regrieving, and that it’s normal for children who experience loss. It takes children much, much longer than adults to fully grieve and work through these complex emotions. 

 

Reflections on Grief {20 Years} #grief #loss #death #family

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though this, and through later grieving the loss of my grandfather when I was in college, it’s that whatever I’m feeling or not feeling at the moment is okay and valid. I’m allowed to express my emotions freely, but I also don’t have to manufacture them because I think I should be feeling a certain way.

When I was at college and my mom called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away, I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry that day or even all the way home to Maine. When people shared stories of how my grandfather had touched their lives as a pastor and a friend, I experienced deep joy. In fact, the weekend of his funeral was one of the most spiritually refreshing times of my life. And at the funeral, I cried. Not because I felt like I had to, but because I had given myself the freedom to experience and express my emotions as they came.

I wasn’t worried about why I wasn’t crying or feeling overwhelmed with sadness, and I was able to fully experience the joy and precious time spent with my family. I knew the sadness would come on its own–I loved my grandfather deeply and knew I would miss him. And it did come, in its own time.

So as this 20th anniversary of my father’s death approached, I kept waiting for The Moment when I would be overcome with emotion. This is significant. Two decades. I was almost 10, and now I’m almost 30. Who have I become? How have I changed? And perhaps that moment will come. But perhaps it won’t–I don’t need to force it. Maybe it will come quietly instead when I’m at a wedding, or I hear a random song on the radio, or the next time I go hiking.

I miss him. I most certainly miss him every day. But just as love is not always something we feel but rather something that we do, in the small things every single day, perhaps the process of grief is not always felt by the pre-defined emotion of sadness, but it’s something we do. We do it by talking about it–the happy things and the sad things and the real things and the angry things. We do it by continuing on in life, feeling the sting and the ache when they come, and embracing them fully. We give ourselves permission to feel whatever we’re feeling and put away expectations of what we should be feeling.

Your journey will not be the same as mine–your experience, your emotions, your process. And that’s okay. I hope that, wherever you are on this road of life, you’ll know that what you are feeling is valid and you’re allowed to express it, and that you’ll find freedom in this process of grief and healing.

 

Reflections on Grief {20 Years} #grief #loss #death #family

 

 

These reflections certainly aren’t meant to sum up the entire process of my experience of loss, or anyone else’s, though I hope these few things I’ve been pondering this week will be an encouragement to you. Two years ago was an especially emotional anniversary for me, and I shared a few of those thoughts here. Today, it’s something different. Blessings to you, wherever you are on this journey of life.

And Babies Don

I shared this in the SITS community here and Twelvestep linkup here

 

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  • Megan

    Beautiful post. I lost my dad 18 years ago, and it is tough. I just asked my oldest brother to walk me down the aisle, and it is moments like that…those bittersweet ones that make me happy. Happy that I had an awesome dad, and a great brother who stepped up to help out when I was so young.
    Prayers to you and yours!

  • I hear you, Megan. Even all these years later, there have been different pieces for me to grieve as I wonder what it would be like to know him as an adult, as I got married, as my sister had a baby…What a gift that you also had an an awesome dad for the time you did, but I know that sting that comes in wishing he were there to celebrate all of life’s moments.
    Blessings to you and yours as well–I hope you have a beautiful wedding day!

  • Dawn Norcross

    Naomi, I remember you as a little girl, maybe 3. I remember your parents as I grew up in Oakfield. Your words are beautifully written. Your dad would be so proud. Loss is a journey that you will travel throughout your own life. Thank-You for sharing…

  • Thanks so much, Dawn. Indeed, it’s definitely a journey…I hope that in sharing my story, it will encourage others in some way. Thanks for stopping by to read it and sharing your kind words. 🙂 Blessings.

  • Thanks for this peek into the mind and heart of a sweet 9-year-old girl. I’m 36 and have never experienced the loss of anyone even remotely close to me, so I really appreciate reading your thoughts, observations, and experiences of grief as preparation for what will inevitably happen in the future. Stopping by from Kristi’s link up!

  • Hi Becky, thanks so much for stopping by. The stories of so many others have encouraged me, given me insight, and connected me with others throughout my life, so I can only hope to share my own in a way that can help others as well. Blessings!

  • Thanks for stopping by, Kristi. I love the process of writing and telling the story, and I think that’s been a big part of helping me through that process. Thanks for hosting this linkup because I think all kinds of stories help us connect with people and the humanity in others–I love that.

  • Wow, Naomi Liz. This is an incredible story. What you said about feelings being valid is so true. It’s easy to think we are “supposed” to grieve a certain way, but everyone processes differently. Thank you for your bravery in sharing!

  • What a beautifully written story! I’m so sorry for your loss! Your photo is beautiful, too. I’m coming over from And Babies Don’t Keep and I have to say I gasped a little when I got to your picture of Katahdin because I spent quite a bit of my life in northern Maine. Small world… 🙂 We lost a baby at the beginning of the second trimester several years back, and my son, who was older, was a part of that process. Your story made me think of him. It’s obviously he processed that loss differently and is still processing it today. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jacey, thanks so much for your encouragement. I always hope to be able to share my story in a way that will help others, as I know I’ve learned and grown so much through the life stories that others have shared. So glad it resonated with you in some way. 🙂

  • Hey Heidi–Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss as well. I have seen some friends lose their little ones, and my heart always breaks–I can’t imagine that kind of loss. I’m glad my story connected with you in that way.
    And oh, what a small world it is! Where in Maine did you live or spend time? I lived there my whole life until college (Bangor area), and I return frequently since my family still lives there. The way life should be! 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by. So glad to connect with other bloggers through these linkups!

  • I lived in Presque Isle from approximately 1989-2003ish. I think you’re a bit younger than me, but I have cousins in the Bangor area – Petersons – who you could possibly have known. We haven’t been back for many, many years. Northern Maine is so isolated and it wasn’t a super healthy time for me, but there is definitely something special about Maine!

  • Very interesting. Yes–definitely isolated up there! (My grandparents are from “The County” and I’m not sure if I could have lived quite that far north).
    I’m glad to connect with you. Thanks so much for stopping by. Blessings to you and your family.

  • Angela Sackett

    Naomi, this is simply beautiful. It is honest, and it captures truth, without varnishing the broken places, but also illuminating hope. I’m sharing this with a beautiful friend who just lost her precious daughter. The Lord knew the timing, friend.

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