The Girl Whose Dad Died: Becoming the Superhero
It’s been eleven months since my Dad passed. Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been this long. Looking back at this time without him, it’s almost a complete blur. Great days, sad days, regular days, so many of them. I’ve sat to write so many times, but when I tried to explain what I was feeling, I realized that I didn’t even understand it myself. It’s almost like the first months of my grief were easiest. It was then that I knew what I was feeling. It’s when the initial tenderness of the loss subsides, that time when we’re supposed to go back to life; this is the most confusing.
In the first months after Dad’s passing, I was extremely sad. Of course I was sad, that was expected. I did my best to take care of myself, not rushing back to life, allowing myself time to heal. I made my grief very public with my writing, so everyone around me knew it. I was The Girl Whose Dad Died. Almost like a new superhero suit — tight, bright red with a big logo on the chest — I wore it so loudly. Everyone saw it and knew exactly who I was and what I’d been through. It would have been strange if someone didn’t mention my loss, or ask me how I was doing in those first couple of months. I was a living embodiment of the loss that I had experienced. It was sad and it was hard, but I needed to be recognized for what I was going through. I felt like my new suit gave me the strength to move through the world again.
Then about 4 or 5 months after my loss, I started to feel like my old self. My new The Girl Whose Dad Died suit started to feel a bit tight, so I ripped it off and got comfy in my old clothes. My life all of a sudden became very full. New inspiring work projects appeared like magic, so much social activity kept me busy and happy, I chopped my hair for a fresh new look, and the greatest newness — my boyfriend and I adopted a puppy! It was so much new, but it was the old happy me again. No longer in my suit, I was able to live in the world without my loss. It was so refreshing to take meetings with people who hadn’t known me before Dad’s passing, they hadn’t read my blog postings and they didn’t know what I had just been through. I was moving along, being a good person out in the world, laughing my usual loud laugh, and was very impressed with myself. Phewf, the hard part’s over right?!
But now without my bright suit on, something was off. I ended up throwing-up all day on Father’s Day. I wasn’t sick, I haven’t thrown up in years, and I don’t have a natural queezy stomach. At a meeting that was initially going wonderfully, I found myself completely frozen when asked what the SS on my ring stands for. (Steve Stein — that’s my Dad. I wear his Bar Mitzvah ring.) So many times I stuttered over using is instead of was when talking about Dad. Sometimes I probably talked way too much about him and couldn’t help but stay quiet when other’s talked about their alive and healthy Dads. Now without my suit on, people would forget to ask how I was doing. I’d bubble with anger at the feeling of not being understood and recognized. My friendships were different —sometimes our regular lunch date conversations just seemed so mundane. I didn’t find the same joy in things I had found before. I could not sit to meditate, even for a couple of minutes. Sometimes I cried so much, other times I couldn’t cry at all. Now without my suit on, my old clothes just didn’t feel right either. I was awkward and uncomfortable, sometimes afraid to look people in the eyes. I could feel so great one day and one small thing would launch me into uncontrollable tears. I found all of this terribly frustrating. Everything was seemingly going great, so why did I feel so different? Why couldn’t I find my old self again?!
It’s with help from my wonderful therapist (I highly recommend the Jung Institute of Los Angeles) that I realized that of course I’m different. Of course now my friendships are different, of course now my passions are different. Whether I’m aware of it or not, I have been profoundly changed. There is never going back to my old self. I am The Girl Whose Dad Died. I will always be. But that doesn’t have to be all that I am. This is a part of me now that I can never ignore or pretend didn’t happen. Now, my real challenge is true acceptance. True acceptance that my Dad is gone. True acceptance that I am changed. And a true commitment to discovering who this new me is.
Like most superhero origin stories, this transition is hard. No superhero ever asked to be one, right? Bruce Wayne became Batman to fight crime only after seeing his parents murdered. Buffy is reluctant to accept her destiny as a vampire slayer because it’s just way too much responsibility. She’s forced to grow up sooner than she wants to. Peter Parker didn’t know what to do with his powers until his beloved uncle was murdered. It was after his loss that he really became Spider-man. These are all examples of how these adverse events in our lives, no matter how much we fight it, will change who we are at the core. Maybe they even happen to help launch us into who we’re supposed to be? I’m sure each of these superheroes was hesitant to accept their fate. I’m sure they were angry. I’m sure each of them probably just wanted to be a normal person. I’m sure they’d trade their powers to have their loved ones and their old lives back in a second if they could. I’m sure they couldn’t understand at first why so much had to change and felt misunderstood and lonely. Maybe even after becoming their best superhero selves, they still feel misunderstood and lonely.
So if I am this new superhero… where are my superpowers?! Before my father’s passing, I had a firm belief in rebirth and our soul’s connections. I believed that as families and loved ones, we travel through our multiple life cycles in soul clusters. That our souls are connected beyond our bodies and that even after death, our souls find a way to return to each other. This is the hardest part to admit, but after Dad’s passing, I just don’t feel that anymore. I was sure that I would feel him still with me. I swore that he’d find a way to show me that he’s still here, that he’d be guiding me the same as he always was and show me that I’m on the right path. I swore that I’d feel him celebrating my bits of work success, that I’d feel him looking on adoringly as I figure out this new role of puppy mom, that I’d feel his pride in me and my boyfriend and the little home that we’re building, that he’d be holding me when I was sad and still telling me it was all ok. But the truth is, I just don’t feel him at all. This part has proven to be the most challenging of my grief. My old dreamy self just doesn’t feel so dreamy anymore. My spiritual practice has suffered tremendously, and to put it in the most dramatic terms, I can say that I feel pretty spiritually dead. This I’m sure is at the base of my anger. I’m sure that a part of me is angry at the universe, or the higher powers, or God, or all of them for taking my Dad away. And at the moment, I’m not sure that I believe in anything other than this one challenging life, and today, and putting one foot in front of the other. I truly hope this isn’t the case forever. I hope this is just a stage of my grief and that one day I’ll find my own spiritual connection to my Dad…If I am this new superhero, my powers must be in there, maybe I just haven’t learned to use them yet.
The first holidays without Dad came and went and I’ll admit that unexpectedly, the start of 2017 feels good and fresh. With so much anxiety going into the holidays and a true fear that family time would be a sorrowful reminder of Dad’s absence, I came out of it with the greatest lesson… my Mom and sister and I are still here, and we still have each other. Lead by my incredibly resilient mother, our family time was as special as always, full of the same holiday spirit Dad instilled in us. I’m truly proud of my mom and sister and even amazed when I look at their last 11 months. 11 months ago I was afraid, but I don’t feel that anymore. …Have we all been turned into superheroes??
In this time of deep grief, this idea of becoming a superhero is hopeful and helpful. It allows me the belief that I’ve for some reason been “chosen.” Like I’ve been chosen to walk this harder path, therefore I can. This idea gives me the hope that when my Dad died, I was given superhero strength to get through this. God only gives the hard stuff to those who can handle it, right?? And so I’m forced to wonder if we all become superheroes when facing loss and other severe life challenges… But the reality is, of course not. Superheroes don’t exist. And I’m just a normal girl, facing normal life challenges. Superhero stories are allegories. They provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose. So becoming a superhero in this real life that we are living… is a choice. We have to keep choosing to do the work. We have to keep choosing to allow the changes and the growth. We have to accept the adversity and the pain and the grief and use it to become something new. Because healing is not a process of shedding our pain, it’s a process of integration. And so we can all choose to be superheroes. I choose The Girl Whose Dad Died. I may never develop those powers that I’m hoping for, but I have found power in sharing my story. I’ll continue to work towards true acceptance and embrace this new me. My suit is tight, bright red, with a big logo on the chest. You may not always see it, but like Clark Kent, I’ll always have it on.