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The loss of my dad

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Hi all, 

thanks in advance for taking the time to read my story. Some of the stories on here have helped me.

December 20th 2020 my dad passed away from sudden cardiac death. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for nineteen years, but it wasn't related. He wasn't doing so well taking care of himself, but he was hanging in there and was doing relatively ok. It was hard because he had to give up so much, he couldn't drive anymore, started to fall from his bycicle often. He lived alone and was depending on home care four times a day. Still, he went out and took pictures around the town, as he was always an avid photographer. Nobody thought he would die soon. He always said he wasn't ready for that for a long time. Because of his disease he had a trouble walking and a lot of trouble speaking as well, which made communication difficult. Because his condition was getting worse, my brother, me and my aunt had been talking to him about going to an assisted living facility, which he was adamantly against. But it wouldn't be long before it would be impossible for him to keep going on the way he did.

I live about 1.5 hours away with two small kids and quite a busy job, and unfortunately I didn't visit him as often as I should have, which I now regret. In december of 2020 I had a big promotion at my job, for which I had to take a lot of training. It came with a lot more responsibility and I was still a bit out of my comfort zone. It was the day before my final exam. I'm tearing up again as I write this. That morning I was lying in bed, browsing on my phone, when my brother called. It was odd, because we usually speak a lot on Whatsapp and not so early.

He said, in tears, "it's dad", and I said "well what about him". I thought that maybe he fell, or that he needed help with something, like before when he lost his bank card. When my brother said he died I couldn't believe it. Somebody from home care had found him on the floor, they called the doctor and he confirmed it. I cancelled everything and drove over. I remember on the way home I was so confused what the hell was going on. I genuinely thought that there had been some stupid mistake, that he fell or something, and that we would laugh about it later. I met my brother and my aunt in front of his house and we went inside. And there he was, they put him on his bed. He was lying there, with a strange expression on his face, his mouth and one eye half open, it was awful. My aunt's friend had worked in funeral homes for a while, and offered her help. She came over, together with somebody else, and at that point it was up to us to make decisions about what clothes he had to wear, what kind of casket etc. The whole situation was so strange, there were still dirty dishes and food in his fridge, his camera on the table. After we chose his clothing, my aunt's friend and somebody else made sure he got dressed up nicely and didn't have that awful look on his face anymore.

Luckily my dad had made some whishes clear about what he wanted. He wanted bird sounds during the ceremony, and a simple wood casket. We had to choose if we wanted the ceremony before or after Christmas. We chose to do it before, but then we had to hurry to get everything arranged in time. So I went in to a kind of 'managing'-mode, getting the cards ready, visiting the print shop, thinking about poems we wanted to use. There was a lot to do. Strangely enough, I did it all and even slept like i normally did. During all this, my girlfriend was asking when I would come home, as she was home alone with the kids. Our relationship hadn't been the best allready, but that made me really angry. What was she thinking I was doing here.

The day came to say our goodbyes and it was a beautiful ceremony. Again, i was also busy managing things again. I remember after the ceremony looking at my watch to check how much time there was left as we had made a reservation until a certain time. After that I went home, and there was the Christmas dinner in it's full entirety. I was thinking what the hell is happening here, of course I couldn't get into it at all. 

The next thing was that my girlfriend didn't want our kids to know. They were 2 and 3.5 and had met my dad only a few times. I wanted to tell them, but she really insisted I didn't, the reason being she herself had gotten very afraid as a kid after her grandparent had died. Because it was such a big deal for her I reluctantly agreed.

So after that, life kind of went on. I thought that grieving was having the cremation/ceremony and that it would be done or something. After 8 days, I went back to work, passed my exam and that was it. I didn't really think about it that much.


So, fast forward six months later. I was having some trouble sleeping lately. When I finally had my vacation I got sick. It took me a lot longer than usual to get better, and when I finally did I was still so so tired. Against my better judgement I went back to work, thinking a few cups of coffee would do the trick. I was in a hotel somewhere and again couldn't sleep. The next day I was still tired. I got some lunch and I remember sitting down and suddenly I got really really nervous, I got the butterflies in my stomach like I was going to do something very important, but even worse than that. I remember thinking, is this a panic attack or something? I wasn't sure. My brother said he had a few after my dad died and that it was worse than what I experienced. I still had the feeling I was in control, but I really had to watch my breathing to make the feeling lower a little bit.

That afternoon, I went home, I had the feeling once more and since then I have been feeling anxious and stressed out. I wake up sometimes with butterflies and a pounding heart. Other times I'm fine. It talked to a friend and he said "what about your dad and everything that happened?" Even then I wasn't sure that was it. A few days later I was doing some vacuming to get my mind of things and it suddenly hit me.

He is gone. He isn't coming back, it really happened.

I have been going to counseling, which is helping. It's six weeks later and I still don't feel like my old self. In hindsight, I could have seen this coming. The months before this I just lost my 'lust for life', I was lying on the couch a lot, tired, didn't want to do anything anymore, wasn't even bothered with my old hobbies. But I always had trouble  talking about my feelings. And what's complicating it is that my parents divorced when I was a baby. We visited him on the weekends until I was 7 years old. Those were the fun, good times, going to the pool together, playing in the garden. But after that it went downhill, because my parents started arguing again, and me and my brother were in the middle of it. This has caused me a lot of pain, and the feeling that part of my youth was taken away from me, and this time is never coming back. 

I've always wanted to get a better relationship with my dad, but now it's too late. A lot of things were left unsaid, and I have regrets over not visiting him enough.

My girlfriend never liked him and wants nothing to do with anything about him. I feel quite alone in my grief. I had an old picture from the 'good days' framed and put it in the living room. She wanted me to take it away and has put it facing down several times because she doesn't want to look at it, feeling he doesn't deserve that much attention.

So there it is, my story.

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My friend, I'm so sorry for your loss, and sorry too that you've kept yourself from mourning the death of your father. The thing about grief is that it doesn't go away and leave us alone simply because we've chosen to ignore it. One way or another, grief will have its way with us ~ and grief delayed does not disappear. It simply lies there, waiting for us to take care of it. Sooner or later it will demand our attention, and it can come out every which way but straight. Fortunately, however, it is never too late to do the work of mourning.

It seems to me that the anxiety you're experiencing can be evidence of a delayed grief reaction. While I would encourage you to see your primary care physician to rule out any physical problems that may be causing your symptoms, I think it's safe to say that it is more likely the death of your father that is affecting you now, along with all the secondary losses that go along with that. As you say, after your parents divorced, the best parts of your youth were taken from you, and now you've lost all hope of having a better relationship with your dad. What is more, your girlfriend offers no understanding or support, even going so far as to forbid you from sharing your grief with her or your children! That is a boatload of pain that you are carrying, and it is no wonder to me that you are feeling as you are.

It's good to know that you are seeing a counselor, and I hope the person you're seeing specializes in grief counseling (Seeing A Specialist in Grief Counseling: Does It Matter?)

I also find it sad that you've not shared any of this with your children. Even as young as your kids are, undoubtedly they are aware that something serious has been bothering you. The fact that your girlfriend has her own issues about death and wants nothing to do with your father is only as relevant as you allow it to be. This is YOUR grief and your loss, and you've a right to have your own reactions to it. Besides, there are ways to convey sad news about death to young children that will not traumatize them. What is more, you are missing an opportunity to teach them one of life's most valuable lessons: that loss is a part of life and there are healthy as well as unhealthy ways to cope with it. (See, for example, Explaining Death to A Toddler and Explaining Death to Children).

Finally, I hope you'll discover ways to express what you wish you could have said to your father, because that can be done as well (see Parent Loss: Continuing Their Song).

I also invite you to read the following:

In Grief: When Sorrow Is Delayed

Residual Grief: Father Loss In Early Childhood

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I am sorry for your loss and the complications you're going through with it.  Marty did a great job of answering you so not much to add except this is YOUR loss and your GF shouldn't have a say in how you grieve.  We remember the good times, and personally I would rethink anyone that would try to control my relationships, even if they're deceased.  I'm glad you're seeing a counselor.  It might be good to get couples counseling also.  As for your children, they should be able to know your father died, it's not a subject to be shunned, death and grief are part of life and this could be a teaching experience, to know you have feelings and it's okay to feel sad sometimes.  It also teaches that we find our way through this.

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Dear MartyT and Kayc,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and helpful replies, they mean a lot. Since I've started counseling I have told my children as well.

I had a few pictures with their grandpa, sat them down and explained what happened. My 3-year old daughter didn't really understand, and went on to play after a while. My 4-year old son was a bit sad that we can't visit him anymore, and he had a lot of practical questions, which I've answered all. I told him that I was still sad about it and I might cry, and he hugged me and said I could do whatever I like. Then we lit a candle for my dad. Telling the kids was emotional, but a relief and also felt like acknowledgement. 

My girlfriend and I already wanted to do couples counseling, but corona stopped that. It's not all bad, she's angry with my dad for the things he did in the past, which were hard for me.

Lately we've been talking a bit more, but due to here own issues she sees grieving as some kind of weakness, her way of dealing with stuff is often anger. 

I wrote a letter to my dad adressing stuff about the past and some guilt that I felt, but it didn't give me immediate relief, it seemed to make me feel more tense.

My nervous feelings have become a source of stress on their own as well, since I've never felt this way before.

Hopefully I can settle down a bit, in the meantime I'll do some grief work, but my life is already busy as it is.

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So long as YOU understand that grief is not weakness...in fact it's anything but!  It takes a lot of strength and effort to grieve.  I hope she can realize we are unique in how we handle things, so she cannot judge you for grieving...also it is YOUR relationship to grieve as you need to!

I'm glad you have a counselor and that you talked with your kids.  Writing a letter is a good idea, I have a "Letters to George" file in my computer, it's helped me over the years (my husband that I lost 16 years ago).  

It sounds as if she's judged your dad and not considered him worthy of grieving, but people are multi-faceted, and we can feel differing feelings about them at the same time, all of them valid!  That is often the case as we're human and not perfect.

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