The Best Antidote
I receive some pretty confused reactions from people when I tell them that I am currently grieving my father’s death from 13 years ago. They’re quick to offer suggestions though, as if everything I’ve been doing thus far has been a total failure, and I should count myself lucky to have finally met someone who holds the cure to my grief. Some of the antidotes I hear are:
“You don’t have a lot of friends, do you? See, that’s it. You wouldn’t be so sad if you got out more.”
“Why don’t you take antidepressants? After all this time, you should probably consider them. Then you’ll be fine.”
“Just focus on school and achieving your dreams; once you’re accomplishing your goals, you won’t have time to be sad.”
And as I’m sure you know, the list goes on and on.
Throughout all the advice I’ve been given, there was one that was never offered, except by my therapists, and that was to talk about it. It’s really no wonder that I’m dealing with unresolved grief when I’ve never been encouraged to freely express myself to someone other than a licensed professional.
In the summer of 1999, my dad was killed in a shooting spree while my mom and I were in Iran. It wasn’t until we returned when my mom found out what happened. But the family collectively decided to wait a couple of weeks to tell me. Therefore, I wasn’t at his funeral nor was I able to grieve with everyone else.
Even after I found out, I didn’t mourn his death because everyone was trying to make life as normal as possible for me, as if nothing had happened. It felt like a huge cover-up, like they were trying to hide the fact that this person used to exist in my life. In order to erase that part of my life, a new life was created for me. I started 3rd grade at a new school about a week later, and my mom and I moved into my aunt’s house because it was too painful for her to stay in our old house. Then, she signed me up for therapy, which became the only acceptable place to express my sadness.
My family was still determined to keep things looking stable and normal, so they didn’t encourage me to openly grieve with them. My mom told me recently that family members discouraged her from saying my dad’s name around me, so I wouldn’t get sad. In retrospect, I now comprehend that my family was trying their best to create as normal of a childhood as possible; however, it taught me to suppress my emotions and made it exceedingly difficult for me to articulate my grief as I got older. I only ever released my sorrow late at night behind closed doors, where I would light candles and scrutinize every article written about the shooting.
My mom kept me in counseling for a few years, and although once a week I was physically present in Ms. Julie’s office from 3:30-4:30 every Tuesday, I had checked out emotionally after my first year there. Because I got the impression it wasn’t okay to express my emotions with the people closest to me, I withdrew from my counselor and sank into a deep state of denial.
By the time I was in high school, I attempted to fill my father’s void with countless boys who further encouraged me to bottle up my emotions. One of my boyfriends used to tell me all the time that there was no point in crying because there was nothing I could do to bring him back. He also let me know that his parents felt it unsafe for him to date me because I was fatherless, and they didn’t want him to have to deal with my daddy issues.
I became severely ashamed of being fatherless. I would immediately leave the room anytime someone would bring up my dad’s name. I never talked to my friends about his death because I thought they would distance themselves from me.
My depression worsened once I entered college. I was so disconnected from myself and my emotions that it caused me to detach from my outside world. I became a zombie. I wanted so desperately to be like everyone else, to lead that normal life my family worked so hard to build for me. But the more I chased normalcy, the more numb I felt on the inside. The days got darker, I became more withdrawn, and I stopped seeing a tomorrow. My plans for the future were replaced by suicidal thoughts, and it wasn’t until I screamed those thoughts to my friends in a rage that I realized something had to be done.
The next day I went to a treatment facility for a week. Being there was an experience I’ll cherish forever because it really saved my life. I never acknowledged that suppressing my grief had been affecting my mental state so greatly. I didn’t even think that bottling my emotions was unhealthy; I thought it was how everyone grieved.
So I let it out. It certainly was no easy task, and I was taking baby steps, but at least I was moving. Each day I did something new to embrace my grief, and each day I was waking up with more clarity and serenity. I started going to a therapist twice a week, I read books on grief and fatherless daughters, and most importantly, I talked about him. I focused significantly on being open with my mom and sharing my pain with her, and the more I talked, the more connected I felt to not just her or myself, but to my dad as well. My mom and I both had an incredible relationship with him, so whenever we expressed our sorrow to one another, I felt my dad’s presence, and it made me feel alive. He was the light I had been frantically searching for.
So then I branched out and began talking to my relatives. I made a picture album of my dad and shared
it with them. They still believed they knew what was best for me and offered suggestions, but all I was thinking was been there, done that. Their way didn’t work for 12 years, so I think it’s time to try something new. I communicated that the way his death was handled really affected me, and they agreed that they should have dealt with it differently, but they were so lost themselves.
It was also a huge comfort to know that I wasn’t alone; they all still missed him and thought about him all the time. I felt really isolated during my childhood and teenage years. I was so uncomfortable with my emotions, and I thought I was the only experiencing it. But I would have never known had I not expressed my pain. I wouldn’t have known that my aunt still struggles with his passing, but because I befriended my grief, I was able to open up with her, and as a result, we help each other out in our grieving processes.
The relationship I had with my dad didn’t end just because his time here did, and I’ve found in the past two years that the best way to keep the relationship alive is by communicating my grief. Yes, the other cures are great outlets, as well, and I incorporate a combination of them into my life, but I would probably still be chasing normalcy if I never talked about the loss I experienced.