What presented as struggle, hardship and a very painful emotional event in my life allowed for achievement and accomplishment that I couldn’t have fathomed when in the pain. I have learned that the most tragic and difficult times in life have silver-linings, messages and gifts on the other side of the pain. Just like “our pain is in our purpose”. And while I appreciate this and live by it, I have also learned that I can’t receive the learnings when I am still grieving and in the pain.
As vulnerable and scary as it may feel at the time, I believe that sharing the vulnerable moments in life strengthens the human connection.
One of my favourite authors defines vulnerability as:
“… Uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” – Brene Brown
In December 2005 I was in my third year of college and “living the dream” of college life. I had a fun job at the campus pub, I had a great group of friends and was in a new romantic relationship with a guy that I totally connected with – I felt like I was on cloud nine!
Little did I know, on December 6, 2005 my entire life would turn upside down and never be the same again.
I will never forget the day. It started out like any other; an early morning class after a late night out at a bar with friends. I received a call before class from my mom. It was nothing to worry about, she was just taking my dad to get a routine check up. He wasn’t feeling well after a fall he had a few weeks prior. My dad often joked with my mom and I about his random ailments that he so skillfully exaggerated to get attention and a good laugh. Like the other times, I brushed it off like it was nothing and told my mom to let me know how it went after she picked him up.
A few hours later, I had another call, this one was much different.
The pain my dad felt was no joke or embellishment this time. It was heart attack pains and she advised that I should come to the hospital as soon as possible. That was the only part of the conversation that I remember. All I recall after we hung up was feeling completely paralyzed with emotion, shock and uncertainty.
I paced back and forth in the hallway outside of my bedroom. I didn’t know if I should make the trek from Barrie to Newmarket solo, if I should call someone else to let them know what was going on, if I should wait to hear more, I had no idea. A million thoughts ran through my mind and I couldn’t make sense of any of them. I tried calling my boyfriend but he was in a meeting and didn’t have his phone on him. My roommate (Michelle) who I was close with was home so I went to her and filled her in.
Michelle drove me to Newmarket and she did her best to make conversation. It felt like the longest drive of my life. When we arrived at the entrance of South Lake Hospital my aunt (another Michele), was there to meet us. My aunt showed me to dad’s room and all I wanted to know was: “He’s ok, right? He’s GOT to be ok”. I will never forget the look on Michele’s face. After a moment of silence, she just shook her head ‘no’.
That morning my dad died of heart complications. He had triple-bipass surgery and his heart wasn’t strong enough to recover.
After officially receiving the news of his passing I felt like I was frozen in time. It felt as though life was going forward and I was watching it unfold as an observer. As if I was watching a TV show of my life unfolding. I was in complete shock and a state of confusion. I didn’t know how to cope with and grieve such an insurmountable loss.
The first few days following there were so many people around. Family and friends visiting, bringing food to the house and trying their best to take our minds off of the circumstances. My dad’s brothers and sister (he was the eldest of 6) arrived a few days later to be with us leading up to the funeral. I could barely be in the same room as them; they were all so similar and reminded me so much of my dad in looks and personality. It torn me apart inside seeing them all together without him being there too.
I had no idea how I would live another day without my number one guy. How would my heart continue beating when a piece of it was gone.
There were ups and downs and all we could do was live moment by moment, day by day in the first 6 months that followed. Through the heartache and pain, the pain lessened and my heart slowly healed with time.
Some moments that stand out for me:
~Three of my closest friends came to visit me the evening my dad died and again a few days later. They brought me treats and items that they knew I liked. I don’t even remember any words spoken. I just remember us being together, a lot of silence. None of us knew what to say or do or how to feel. It was just their presence being felt. Their presence instilled love, comfort and support when I so greatly needed it.
~My dad’s brother and his wife and two other aunts were extremely supportive with my mom and I in the arrangements for my dad’s funeral and helping my mom and I in the weeks, months and years to follow to take care of us.
~There was a professor who impacted my life too. He was the only teacher in the semester that my dad passed that made me complete a final assignment to pass his class. I resisted the request and it was the last thing I wanted to do. However, the process moved me forward and allowed me to ease back into the routine of school, to continue on with my final semester of college in January. It was a pivotal moment. While I needed to grieve and go through the emotions and healing that would be required after such a loss, I also had to experience the lesson that he brought to my life. He pushed me because he saw something in me and it was exactly what I needed.
~The learning to see “the silver-lining in the clouds” was from a very special aunt. When she first referenced this concept I didn’t understand it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I would grasp the lessons from that experience and other “silver-lining in the clouds” that would follow. I am forever grateful for the lessons.
For anyone grieving a heart ache of any kind, big or small, I extend what I know now that helped heal a bit of my heartache:
- Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up; they come up when it is safe to do so
- Be kind and gentle with yourself; you are doing the very best you can with the resources you have and it is a situation you have never experienced before
- Take one day at a time. That’s all. One step at a time and with time the heart will heal and the pain will lessen
- Most especially; reach out for help and support. As uncomfortable and foreign as it may feel (as it did for me), the grieving process does not have to be done alone. Asking for help is ok; we don’t have to have all of the answers and we don’t have to – reach out to whom you feel comfortable
For the supporters; loved ones, friends and family, teachers, bosses; being there is the greatest thing you can do. Whether it is in silence, in laughter, emotionally, physically, by their side. Being there, being present, and holding space for your friend, family, co-worker.
It is who stands by us at our time of need that is remembered. Not in the specifics of what was said or done, simply in their presence by our side.
To the heartbroken souls; I promise you – joy will come again. The love and the happiness. It never leaves, it just gets buried below the surface. It will be there when you are ready emotionally and mentally to open up again. It is through the pain that we receive the lessons, the healing and the big opportunities that are waiting for us on the other side of pain, in time. Time heals all.
Dream BIG my friends <3
Dedicated to AC and family with love