Grieving definitely is a process

Last Wednesday, May 19th, was my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary and the first anniversary of my dad’s heart transplant. We spent part of the afternoon visiting his grave and marveling at the newly installed marble headstone [which looks great]. Dad is located in a nice part of the National Cemetery near the pond and across from one of our decidedly favorite headstone quotes. I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I see it.

Seeing that Monday also marked the 2nd month since his passing, I figured it was a fitting time to offer you an update.

Grieving is an interesting process. There’s no real manual that covers what to expect for everyone. I know there is the generally accepted “5 Stages of Grief” but everyone reacts and copes differently. Overall, my family is doing fairly well. We’ve been leaning on each other a lot for understanding and the occasional vent/crying session. It’s been fun laughing about random memories of Dad as well as talking through our grievances about him as well. We all have had varying differences in dealing with our feelings. Speaking for myself, I definitely didn’t go through all 5 stages [and only nominally went through the abridged 3 stage model]. I never felt anger or the need to bargain. I have always been at peace with what happened, even through his illness while he was alive. I guess for me, I relied heavily on my relationship with God to see me through this time. Losing my Dad wasn’t an option for me but when it became clear that it was in his best interest to let him go, it was slightly easier to let it be.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I had pretty much lost my appetite and had to make a conscious effort to remember to eat since I wasn’t hungry but I knew I had to eat. Trying to sleep was another ordeal; I’d stay up late and eventually fall asleep only to wake up a few hours later where I’d stay up for another hour or so before finally falling back asleep. It was not an easy time.

I decided that I am going to take my time during the healing stage. I still get weepy every once and again but I try to find the right balance that will allow me to feel exactly how I feel without letting those sad feelings consume me. If I’m sad one day, then I’ll be sad. If I’m fine, then I’ll be fine. Because really, it’s a day by day process. Some days will be better than others but there is no reason or need to rush through your feelings just to get to some level of “normality.” All I hope for are a series of good days.

I’ve found that I’m fine when I’m keeping busy with the day-to-day stuff like school. Most of my sad moments typically hit during my quieter moments, like on my drive home from school. Sometimes I think about the moment his doctors requested the family to gather and how I felt or I’ll think about the moment he quietly slipped away surrounded my family and the slight feeling of panic that struck me when the doctor offered his apologies. I don’t know why I was so shocked when he passed but I guess I was expecting more to happen.

Though, surprisingly, I haven’t had that big cathartic cry yet. I don’t know why or if I’ll ever have one since my first instinct is always to get myself to stop crying [I don’t like to cry] but part of me feels like I should have one.

In the end, I try not to look too far ahead. I don’t get down on myself for feeling like I do and I don’t make apologies for myself either. Grief isn’t easy to deal with but it’s made slightly easier by taking it one day at a time. I’ll probably always feel a little sad about losing my dad so I’m not expecting to wake up one day and be totally fine. I don’t plan on erasing his phone number from my phone either. Even though I can’t call him anymore, it’s more comforting to leave it there.

I just want to thank all those who have called, text, or emailed me to check up on my family and I. That is, quite possibly, the best thing anyone can do for someone who lost a loved one. And in case you were wondering, today was a good day.

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Ashes to ashes…

This is quite possibly the hardest post I’ve had to write which is probably why it was hard motivating myself to sit down and write it.

My dad passed away three weeks ago at the end of March.

It wasn’t completely unexpected but it was a bit of a disappointment and definitely not what we had hoped for. We had came close to losing him by a matter of hours last May but God, who is always on time, provided for us, and at the last moment, we heard the amazing news that a matching heart had become available. We are all eternally grateful for the selflessness of the donor and their family.

I had intended to write about his surgery and recovery for a while afterward [attempting to sleep on the chairs and floors of Stanford University Hospital was an experience unto itself] but I wanted to give that topic the grace and dignity it deserved. It is weird knowing that someone else had to die in order for my dad to live but what a wonderful gift this complete stranger gave to not only my family, but to others.

My dad recovered quickly. He had a pep in his step that we hadn’t seen in a few years, he was able to enjoy life and most importantly, he began to renew and repair his relationships with God and his family. As annoying as I found him to be on occasion, it was great having him around. His health had started to decline shortly after Thanksgiving and he had been in and out of the hospital since December dealing with heart rejections and heart failures but we figured he would pull through like all the other times.

However he did not. I will spare you the details but as tough as it was to agree to let him go to be with the Lord, it was tougher to reconcile the idea of keeping him alive only to be hooked up to some machine with no quality of life. My dad was a proud man and not having the ability to live his life the way he wanted was incredibly frustrating to him. I knew I would be sad knowing he was no longer here with us but seeing him on life support was worse.

I am incredibly thankful for the tremendous wave of support my entire family received from the Heart Transplant staff and ICU doctors and nurses but what stood out to us was the outpouring of support and love we received from friends and family. We were simply humbled by everyone’s actions, from the cards and phone calls and the meals that were sent over and the flowers and treats, everyone took such great care of us. We are especially thankful for our church as they had taken the lead in planning the repast and helping with funeral arrangements.

I took the opportunity to speak at my dad’s memorial service on behalf of the family and while I was able to interject some jokes, my favorite part of the speech was this:

Dad’s favorite scripture is Ezekiel 36:26 which says “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.” I know some people might wonder why God would bless dad with a new heart only to call him home so soon. In his infinite wisdom, God knew dad was not ready to leave this world and so by giving him a new heart, he gave dad the time needed to repair his relationships with God and his family. My dad’s eternal testimony will be that God is a God of second chances. That as long as we’re alive it is not too late to commit ourselves to God and develop our own personal relationship with him. If God loved dad enough to bless him with extra time in his life just so he could secure his place in heaven, imagine what God is willing to do for all of us.

I heard my mom telling my aunt that and I thought it was such a comforting thought. Dad did start to fix his relationships with us and I am glad that, even when I was absolutely fed up with him, I could still tell him that I loved him and mean it.

My dad had a military burial and while we were driving to the VA National Cemetery, I could not take my eyes off the hearse. I could see his flag draped casket and in that moment, my heart swelled with pride. My dad was a solider through and through. He loved the military and felt at his best while he was serving [he even brought up the idea of reenlisting so he could serve in Iraq just a few years ago!]. I am proud of the time he served this Country and I am grateful that they, in turn, took care of him at the end. The Military Committal service at the cemetery moved me to tears, watching the Honor Guard honor my dad with their solemn and dignified flag folding ceremony and gun salute. I can’t really explain exactly how I felt but the ceremony was incredibly moving and touching. I look at that flag fondly.

Dealing with his death has been hard. I’m not in a rush to “get over it” though I’m not making it a point to wallow either. It’s not about mourning what we lost but appreciating and remembering the time we had with him. It hurts to know that he won’t be here to see Lindsey walk from UCLA, or me from St. Mary’s and it kills me to know that he won’t be here for my wedding especially knowing how he was so looking forward to that. But I know he’s in heaven praising God and is whole in his body with no pain and I’d rather have him there than suffering with us on earth. My sisters and I have had fun picking out the physical features and personality traits that are distinctly him so while I will always miss him, he won’t ever be forgotten.

I love you Daddy.