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Living life at the intersection of despair and joy

Navigating the first year of grief with a newborn and toddler

Doting dad

One week before my expected due date while my husband was off at his college reunion, I received a call from my mother that my father was taken to the emergency room and that had he would have emergency surgery. The next evening, I got the phone call that he died in the operating room. It was the worst 24 hours of my life. I was stuck in a state all alone with my two year old daughter and my unborn child while my husband was driving through the night to get back to me so that he could drive me to my family. The long 10 hour drive home was unbearable but I didn’t care if I had to give birth on the side of the road because I had to make certain that it was not a nightmare that it was my Dad that they were talking about…that he was really Dead. How could this be? I just saw him for Easter. We made plans for the summer and the following year. How could the man who has always been there for me since Day 1 just go and leave me behind when I needed him most?

I was fortunate enough to have a strong bond with my father. He was not only there for me as a parent but as a confidant. Our relationship involved a deep friendship and respect for each other. He was always the first one I called with good or bad news; he taught me how to ride a bike, how to drive a car and how to evolve as a person so that I could become a better version of myself. It was such a blessing to watch him as a grandfather and to see how much he loved every minute he spent with my daughter.

Two weeks after he died, I gave birth to a baby boy. It was truly the most bittersweet moment of my life. On one hand, I was holding this beautiful newborn and on the other my heart and spirit were so broken, I was smiling through the tears and overwhelmed by sadness and joy at the same time. Holding my son close to me, I felt my father’s warmth like I was hugging both my son and father at the same time. The days, weeks and months after bringing my son home were spent at the intersection of pure joy and despair. .” I worried all the time that I wouldn’t be able to give my son the love and attention he so needed because I was distracted or consumed with grief. Would he resent me? Did he feel neglected? So, not only did I have grief but guilt to handle. My two year old daughter served as my therapist and constantly reminded me that my dad was not gone because he was in my heart. She would wipe away my tears and tell me “don’t be sad mama, it will be okay.

One day I decided that I purely could not continue to be consumed by sadness and guilt over lost time, conversations that we would never have or the milestones that would be missed. I told myself that I had to accept the fact that my father was gone and to come out of the darkness and accept the new reality even though I would have preferred to be in denial. I had to be strong not only for myself and my kids but for my mother whose brokenness I could not bear. She went from being independent and courageous to bewildered and shattered. I did not know how to begin to help her when I could not help myself.

Almost a year later, I still struggle with my feelings over the death of my father who taught me so many things but did not teach me this most important life lesson… How to deal with life after the loss of a cherished loved one!

I learned that I have to make my own peace with his death and to not feel like a bad parent. The darkness that looms over you for months is unbearable and needs to be addressed head on or you will never find peace. It is okay to feel vulnerable and sad in front of small kids. That you don’t have to “be strong” and that it is okay for you to take some time for yourself during the day to process the grief. Grief is a very isolating process and there is no wrong way to deal with it. The heart will remain broken but my father continues to live on not only in me and my memories but my kids.

“Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty” –Elie Wiesel 

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