Life Lessons I Learned from Grieving

This time last year, I became what felt like a very lost little girl. At the age of 27 I should have been anything but. I found myself numbly feeling my way through the minutes, hours, days. On the 17th of December 2012, my Dad passed away. While he had been in hospital for a few months, it was completely unexpected as he'd been given a clean bill of health and was due home the very next day. Just two hours before he had a stroke that claimed his life, we spoke on the phone of our excitement over Christmas. I was going to help fatten him up; he'd become really gaunt while under treatment for pnuemonia. Less than three hours later, I was listening to a nurse tell me that she couldn't reach my Mum, she couldn't reach my grandparents, oh, and my Dad had collapsed and died.

The rest of the night was a heady blur. Gathering an overnight bag, asking a friend to cat-sit, driving the two hours down to my home town, catching sight of my Mum, falling into her arms, both wailing. I wanted to see him, I had to. I needed to be sure that the lively and determined hero I grew up with was really gone because it didn't feel like it was real. My husband had to hold me upright for most of the time.

A year can give you a lot of perspective, and while I know there are some things that you really can only learn by travelling the road of grief, there are some things that I wish I had been warned about.

Your social circle will become smaller.
I'm going to assume that this isn't true for everyone, but for me I really did experience the meaning of the saying 'true friends show their strength in hard times'. I'm not a needy person, nor am I a person lacking in common sense. I couldn't expect people around me to constantly 'mind the grief'. I expected people to give me space. What I didn't expect was apathy, just a month into the first year. Being a strong person for your friends will ultimately come back to bite you if they aren't true friends, because when you need them, they'll turn away. I wasn't prepared for the anger from other people; anger that I wasn't available emotionally. Anger that I wasn't putting them first. It took a good six months for me to finally realise that all of the pain was proving one thing only; they weren't my friends to begin with. If I'd learned that from Day 1, I have a feeling this year would have been less torturous.

Grief is like a ninja.
There are days when although your mind is drifting towards your lost one, you're functioning fairly well in terms of living life. You can hold conversations and hell, you can even watch the TV without finding a thousand references that hurt your heart. But then, quite suddenly, you'll feel a jolt. Your brain feels like it just hit a brick wall. Before you know it your shoulders are shaking and you're crying uncontrollably, chokingly. The first time this happened I was terrified; I thought I had backward-stepped into a spell of depression. That stifling sense of terror, of not understanding was a sour feeling and it's one I could have done without. Now I know that when I get ninja-jumped by emotion, I need to stop, sit down and take care of myself.

You will learn things about yourself, and your loved ones.
Because I'm an only child, it was just Mum and I when it came to sorting through my Dad's possessions. I learned a lot about him, his past and who he was before I was born; just from paperwork and long-forgotten photographs. I learned that he had tragedy in his past, and he also had a lot of joy. I wish I had asked him more about his past. I also learned that I can be a tough cookie when I need to be. I wish I'd known this the night he died, because I could barely breathe while trying to figure out how I'd survive this awful experience. Dad always told me that I needed to toughen up, that I was too much of a people-pleaser often at the expense of my own well being. This year, I've finally found the courage to say no. I've finally learned how to get up off the floor and wipe off the footprints from my heart and mind. At the same time as feeling like a revelation, it feels painful because my Dad never got to see it. He never got to see his words finally shape me into the woman he saw under the frightened girl.

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