My dad passed suddenly and unexpectedly in 2015. I was on the last day of a trip to Australia when it happened, literally on the opposite side of the world from my family.
I went to the common area of my hostel to make breakfast and saw an iMessage from my mom pop up saying she needed to call. I thought maybe my grandmother was in the hospital again or our childhood dog had passed. I never would have guessed the news she had to share: that my dad had suffered a massive, and as far as anyone could tell, nearly instantly fatal heart attack.
My dad and I were close. He drove the minivan and my mom had a two door car. He cooked, picked my sister and me up from school, took us to soccer and ballet. He saved our grades in math class with late night tutoring sessions (he was a math and computer science professor) and always had words of advice for any difficult situation.
The following weeks were some of the most difficult of my life. My mom and younger sister turned to me for support, but I truly felt like I had no one. My husband was on deployment with the Navy in a submarine and was completely unreachable for several days. We were eventually able to have a brief phone conversation, but that was pretty much all I had from him for the next month.
I knew I had to keep going. My father raised me strong and capable – I felt like letting myself completely fall apart (for more than an hour or so!) was disrespectful to his memory. I’m simply not someone who gives up, no matter how much I want to.
Ultimately, developing a gratitude practice and sharing it with others is what enabled me to rebuild my inner life and move forward. I created a gratitude challenge on my blog, invited others to join in, and posted videos with my own responses to the prompts each day. People still find my blog, The Artisan Life, while searching for gratitude resources, which is why I’m currently developing a new gratitude challenge to share with my readers later this year.
In the past three and a half years, I’ve learned a lot about starting and maintaining a gratitude practice. I’ve learned that being grateful doesn’t mean you’re always happy or that you should ignore when bad things happen. On the contrary – ignoring negative events and emotions is a form of bypassing that can undermine your gratitude practice!
Instead, it’s important to sit with your emotions. Love and accept them. Love and accept yourself on those difficult days when finding gratitude is difficult. Recognize that you can hold conflicting emotions and truths.
The biggest thing that gratitude taught me was how to see the silver lining in the cloud. Today, I believe that my ability to see the good in almost any situation is one of my strongest traits.
Through my practice, I learned how to find the “good” that has happened because of my dad’s passing. This doesn’t mean that these things outweigh his death. I still miss my dad virtually every day and wish I could talk to him again. I wish he could meet my daughter and that she could know her amazing grandfather. I wish I could ask him my parenting questions because he always gave the best advice.
In spite of wishing my dad were still alive, positive things have come from the experience. My husband and I have spent a lot of time at “the old family farm” and purchased it from my grandmother before she passed. He loves it there as much as I do and has made great friends with the neighbors. I sincerely doubt we’d have gone there together, at all, if it weren’t for my dad’s passing.
Although I’d aways been interested in photography, I started to truly study portrait photography after my dad’s death because I began doing fine art self-portraits to help process my emotions. My photography knowledge has also enabled me to take images for friends and family that I know they’ll treasure for a lifetime. I am thankful I’ve been able to bring joy to so many others with photography.
This image is particularly meaningful to me. I created it a year after my dad’s passing to symbolize the growth and transformation I experienced over the previous year.
I learned how to be grateful that I was able to stay with my mom for a month after she was widowed. I’m thankful our finances allowed for it and that I was there for her. She still mentions how important my sister and I were, and continue to be, as she deals with my dad’s death.
I’m also grateful that we are currently living with my mom. When my husband was leaving Active Duty, she invited us to move in. The house is too big for one person and our toddler’s laughter helps fill it beautifully. Although we might have stayed here briefly, I doubt we’d be truly living here if my dad were still alive.
I’m grateful that this experience, and the lessons I’ve learned from it, have enabled me to help others develop their own personal gratified practices. Thousands of visitors read my blog each week, and many of them find their way to my site because of coloring pages, gratitude printables, and personal development resources I’ve shared. (These were not part of my blog prior losing my dad, so there’s another silver lining.) It’s truly wonderful to know I’ve helped touch the lives of so many people.
Almost four years after his death, I still miss my dad. I cried several times while writing this post, but I felt a need to share my story and to let others know that it’s okay to have conflicted feelings. It’s okay to grieve and still be grateful. It’s okay to be thankful for what you have while missing what you lost.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my story. I appreciate you and your attention, and I hope that you’ve found something in it that speaks to your soul.