Signs from Dad — A year of firsts. Vol. 1

A couple of weeks ago, marked by 39th birthday, my first without my Dad. I hadn’t realized how difficult my birthday was going to be. I should have, but I didn’t. It was the first birthday card, or any card for that matter, from my Mum that only had her name attached to it. I bawled.

My Dad passed on Easter Sunday (April 16th) of this year — after a six-month battle with cancer. A battle he fought with veraciousness and valiance, any way he could. A battle he lost. The irony of it being Easter Sunday, is that my Dad was an atheist…my therapist commented on the meaning this may have had for my Catholic mother (yes, she goes to church). He would have chuckled.

While planning Dad’s funeral and crafting his life story, I discovered he was more of a humanist. He believed in being a good person, helping others, enjoying every moment and basically, leading his best life. He never would have said this, but it is true, at least how I see things. (note: I have paraphrased what it means to be a humanist and took only the points that meant the most to me).

The week after he passed a blur. Planning a funeral is like planning a wedding — only with way shorter of a timeline, no living guest of honour and the vendors actually follow up with you. It was an incredibly difficult week… but also made me realize how well we all know my Dad and how unique each of our relationships were with him. I had been thinking about his life story for a while and what I’d want to say. You see, my Dad was an introvert and quite shy, so most people didn’t know him as well we did. His story, that we shared, was an opportunity to let people in and share in what an incredible: husband, father, uncle, brother, brother in law, cousin, friend, colleague and man, he was.

The aftermath of the funeral has been much more difficult to weather. The year of firsts. I had no idea how differently we would all process his death and how lonely it could feel. Each of our relationships was as unique our loss — my mother lost her partner of nearly 42 years, my sisters as the middle and youngest daughters and me as the eldest. Our current circumstances have also dictated how we move through this.

Joining the Dead Dads Club has been harder than I ever imagined. But how could I have ever imagined it.

The dynamic of my family of origin has been irreparably changed. In a family of all women, we’re really missing Dad. His sense of calm, his amazing listening and the quiet way he showed you what to do. We are all trying to find our place in our new family (without Dad), all while dealing with our deeply personal grief and our daily regular life.

It is has proven to be exhausting. It is an effect of the death of someone close to you, that I never even considered, how hard that new dynamic would be to navigate, how personal grieving is and how the family I would like to leverage for support needs their own leveraging and is looking elsewhere. And so am I. I’m asking for help when I need it. I’m asking for space when I need it. I’m asking to be allowed to cry when I need it. Most people are incredibly supportive, others (as well-intentioned as they may be), seem to want to “Fix” rather than “Feel” the pain. I am sitting in my pain. If I don’t, it bubbles up during the most inconvenient times.

My children have made it so that I have joy and laughter, mixed in with periods of utter sadness and overwhelming loss. They make me want to share more about him so that they know him and remember him. They also make me strong, so that I can show them how to move through the pain. This is not easy. There have been nights when my son (5) or daughter (3) have cried themselves to sleep. This has surprised me and cut me to the core, to watch them process their pain and loss.

They both make the most astute observations. They now, because of our openness, freely talk about Grandpa, “why did Grandpa die”? “Grandpa can’t eat the donuts (his favourite)… because he died. But he is always in our hearts”. They know it is okay to be sad, to feel that emotion and then feel joy. One of the hardest lessons in life… as a parent knowing you need to teach your children that sadness is okay. And letting them cry.

My Dad’s birthday was May 12th, 1949. He died a couple weeks shy of his 68th birthday. That was the first, first, without him. And it was fucking hard. My kids have experienced the loss more deeply than I’d expected — and so finding ways to remember and honour Grandpa has been a priority. A proud and true Canadian, my Dad loved maple-dipped donuts from Tim Hortons, so for Grandpa’s birthday I picked up donuts for breakfast. We also indulge in donuts when we’re missing Grandpa, who as my children will attest, is always in our hearts.

I am spiritual but not religious. We don’t discuss God at home. Christmas is about Santa and Easter, the Easter Bunny. However, when it came to explaining my father’s death to my children, we had to decide what we wanted to tell them. What would be easiest to understand and accept. So I bought a book about Heaven (Maria Shriver’s “What’s Heaven”?). And it was perfect. It answered or acknowledged every question my children had… and is a book that they request to hear when they’re feeling either sad or maybe a little confused. Processing death is such a huge under-taking, the fact that my kids have to do it at 3 and 5 is heartbreaking.

Mother’s Day was surprisingly hard. I hadn’t expected that. I had booked a lunch reservation at a restaurant that I’d been wanting to try for a while. It was a little pricey, but we deserved it. It was a couple of days before Mother’s Day that my sister texted and said that the restaurant was on Bay Street. I had thought it was Avenue. Then she said the number on Bay St. My Dad’s old office building. I cried. We cancelled the reservation and had lunch at my sisters. I met up with a friend a few days later and shared that story with her. She gently asked me, “Do you believe in signs… do you think that was your Dad waving at you?”

I hadn’t thought about it like that. And then I chose to believe that’s what it was. Since then I’ve seen signs everywhere… in my barista’s coffee creations, the re-ignition of my Arbonne biz, a new entrepreneurial endeavour, salad dressing or a sick day… Dad is watching me and always looking out for me. I feel him everywhere. He is lighting my path and helping to lead the way.