An Open Letter To Those Missing Dad...
It cannot be avoided. I live in a neighbourhood where I can stroll around the corner and cafes, local shops and restaurants line the street. Good old sandwich boards stand outside almost every establishment. Who knew they could evoke emotion or become something I could loathe this time of year.
You see it goes a little something like this.
“Give Dad the gift of Outdoor Adventue”
“To Beer or not to Beer…that is the question…Happy Fathers Day”
“Give Dad the gift of the grill”
Store after store…every second on TV and even throughout social media ads. It all mashes together as one gigantic billboard screaming in my face what is missing in my life.
So all day it becomes in my head:
“Your Dad is gone”
“Damn all of you with your Dads”
“You miss Dad”
This in addition to the million Father's Day Facebook posts that are looming...ugh
Now I realize that we all have different types of families and different stories. I have friends that haven’t even met their father. I’m just speaking from a perspective as someone who lost their dad at what I consider a fairly young age. And let me be clear. He really was not just a father…he was a proper Dad. We hugged every night and shook our index fingers before bed as it was our secret little handshake. Every single night. I even did this during my early teenage years when I was clearly far to cool to partake in such a ritual...righhht
I’ll give you some back story and then we will get back to getting through this whole Fathers day thing.
I was 17 when I had my final index finger shake. I didn’t know it at the time. He was chronically ill through most of my life. I kind of became immune to the fact that hospital stays happened, but he would always bounce back. So much so that the last time I saw him he was sitting on the couch. I was going out for a Halloween party dressed in what I know now was the most ridiculous “jailbird” costume ever. Lets just say if I knew it was the last time I would see my Dad…I would have opted for a different outfit. I said goodnight as I was going to sleepover at a friends. There was nothing extra special about our goodbye. I do know my last words were I love you. I grew up in essentially “The Fullhouse Family” so I know this for sure.
He ended up with a hefty flu that hospitalized him. I won’t go into his complex medical history, but it was the type that a simple flu could escalate into a hospital visit. He was in there for 4 days. I didn’t visit as I was busy celebrating Halloween. I just assumed he would come home. He didn’t. November 4th in the middle of the night came the dreaded call. He took his last breath seemingly out of nowhere at the age of 49.
This has meant he was not there for my high school graduation. For buying my first car. For all the times that car broke down. For my farewell when I moved to New Zealand. For college graduation. He never got to really know my husband who I share my life with. For my wedding day. For my first show on national television. He has never got to meet my dog Stella. And he wasn't there for my farewell moving across the country to Vancouver.
So many firsts…and that will only continue.
Loss is different for everyone. I do feel that it is very different for people who lose a parent at a young age verses when it happens when they are of what we would consider “grandparent” age. Not to say our love for those individuals is any less. However, it’s just out of the natural order of things. It’s like when someone who has lost a grandparent says oh I know how you feel about your Dad.
It can’t be lumped into the same group. It just can’t.
Maybe you’re like me and you’re going on over a decade of father’s days without him. Maybe it’s your first. One thing I do know…is that you will be okay.
Here is what I do know about grief. We heal in a very similar fashion to a physical wound. When it first happens it is literally bleeding out of control. People try and comfort you by applying pressure and care. However, it takes time for this to stop. Eventually you have a scab. It is fresh. It is raw. This progresses into the healing phase. Sometimes during this time it gets really itchy and you just can’t stop thinking about it. Some of us even get in…scratch it so much it breaks open again and starts to bleed. Eventually for all of us though the healing continues and the scab gets smaller. As time goes on it becomes a scar. A shiny mark that only those close to you may even know you have. It is the reminder of what happened, but the itch has faded.
The scar is something you carry with you always, but you also move forward.
I’ve always been a big believer to take the optimist approach to situations that life deals you. We all are going to encounter our personal challenges. Losing my Dad at 17 just happens to be one of mine. There was once a speaker at my school and what he said always stuck with me. You can either use the bad things that happen in your life as an excuse to fail or a reason to succeed. Much of what I do is fueled by my Dad. It has given me resilience and the belief that I can push myself. I am capable.
So instead of letting Fathers day give you that emotional itch here are some suggestions to get you through.
-Spoil your Mom. Again, I realize that all families are different, but if Mom is in the picture. Spoil her. When my Dad died, my Mom had lost her very best friend. She was grieving as a young widow, but as a Mom she was also grieving for her children. I’m not a Mom myself, but from what I understand…when your kids hurt…you hurt. When I was 17 my Mom was the everything of the house, but was also broken into a million pieces. So, I’ve been known to send my Mom a Father’s Day gift from time to time. She has had to do double duty…so she mineswell have double the holiday right? Disclaimer: remember that a gift doesn’t necessarily mean an item…make a memory together
-Do something you and your Dad loved to do together. What better way to honor a memory than to create a new one that you know would have him smiling. Whether it’s a trip to the golf course or a dinner out to his favourite restaurant…more than likely it will bring you comfort and a smile to partake in something he would have enjoyed.
Note: If your activity involves a drink…don’t forget to give him a cheers
-Honor his memory and maybe even have a chat. For some of us visiting their place of rest brings comfort. For me it’s being out in nature. Maybe you release balloons. Maybe you go to his gravesite. Or if you are like me we scattered his ashes in Muskoka…so I feel connected in the wilderness. Go to “your” place and say what you would want to say on this day.
It may make you feel better.
-Send a note to all the rental Dads in your life telling them what they mean to you. I know that I’ve had several take me under their wing. I’ve called on them for times when I was just in need of fatherly advice. They lovingly obliged. This means more than they will ever know, but you can at least give them an idea.
Turn Father’s Day into a day that doesn’t become all about what you are missing. Instead make it a celebration of what you had. I always say that I am so very thankful for those 17 years we shared. Every laugh.hug.fight.cry.talk….For all of it. I never regret having loved that man with my whole heart. Love is one of life’s greatest risks…because at some point there is going to be loss. However, I would take the pain of that loss a million times for even just one more hour of conversation with that man.
For those that have made it this far and are reading and have Dad in their lives. This is my unsolicited advice.
Make a memory this weekend. Time is our most precious gift. In the era of technology we spend more and more time consuming information, scrolling through Instagram, reading blogs (thank you by the way)…we give less and less of ourselves to the ones we love. Share this time.
I promise you it won’t just be a gift for Dad this Fathers day. It will be a gift for you when that reality of life happens one day and the time has run out. You will take comfort in these moments and the memories shared.
Every laugh. Every I love you. Every smile. When I look at my ‘scar’ that is what I see…
and it is beautiful.