Adult Orphan Tales, Week 3
Sharon Ehlers, founder of Grief Reiki, is our Fatherless Friday contributor this week. She’s an author, Reiki master, and Grief Recovery Specialist based in Los Angeles, CA. Sharon began practicing Reiki during her 30 year career in cyber security as a way to manage stress, and later, as a way to cope with her grief over the loss of two close loved ones to suicide. Sharon founded Grief Reiki in 2014 and holds weekly grief support groups in Redondo Beach, CA. She shares her Adult Orphan Tale with us today.
And so the tale goes:
I was 2 days short of turning 58 years old when my Dad died. He died on 1/28 and my Birthday is 1/30. My Dad fell while taking down a Christmas decoration and broke his hip. His fall led to emergency surgery and a series of post-surgical complications. He died from these complications.
I moved back in with my parents in the years preceding my Dad’s death, so I spent a lot of time with him and miss seeing him daily. Even though you know that your parents will die someday, it doesn’t make it any easier (no matter how old you are). I feel more than lost without him.
Even though I was heartbroken to lose my Dad, being a grief specialist since 2014 really helped. This training gave me the educational background to “know” how I was feeling was normal and natural. I was not as hard on myself as I had been with other losses and gave myself room to heal at my own pace. Practicing self-care and allowing my emotions to flow no matter what was critical.
I work from home, so I gave myself two weeks between the events leading up to his death and his Memorial. I was grieving the loss as well as handling things for my Mom so there was no way I could work. It took me many, many months after my Dad’s death to feel like I could even concentrate again.
I coped by allowing myself to feel however I was feeling at a particular moment. I practiced a lot of self-care and made sure I expressed my emotions, rather than hide them. Because I had learned the hard way about grief when my other loved ones died, I had better tools to cope with my Dad’s death. It doesn’t take the sadness away, but I certainly felt less pain.
My sister is only a few years younger than me. I think we pulled together during my Dad’s crisis not only to support him, but my Mom and each other. Since Dad’s death though, my relationship with my sister has been up and down. Since grief is unique, I recognize each of us is grieving differently. I am trying to give each of us space to heal in our own way.
I think I grieved for the fact that I was now responsible for my Mom. Any plans I had for my own life had to be put on hold to support and take care of her. Although I wanted to do this and accepted this role, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t grieve for my life being placed “on hold” for a while.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am at an age where many of my friends are losing their parents. It’s like we are now if this “club” so everyone has been very supportive. We are all here for each other. I just wished my Mom had more friends and relatives close by to be there for her.
I have learned that grieving does not have to be synonymous with pain. I learned as a grief specialist to be “complete” with people before they die so you don’t have regrets. Living with my Dad before his death meant we got to spend time together and talk more than we would have if I had remained living on the east coast. There was little unfinished business. I am so thankful and grateful for that.
Now that it has been over a year since Dad’s death I reflect back on the life lessons such an experience brings to someone’s life. To be honest, this was the first time I had really experienced death. My previous interactions had only been on the periphery: On the receiving end of a phone call, or in the dark of night after I had seen someone for the last time.
But this time, it was up close and personal. From the day my Dad fell, through his surgery, on the roller coaster that was his recovery, to the moment he took his last breath. It knocks the wind out of you. Like they say, you don’t understand unless you have been there. I have such a deeper appreciation for anyone who has been through or is going through such an ordeal. Suffice it to say, your life is forever changed. I know more now about what to do/not to do for my family members and myself when it comes to death.
Unfortunately, the biggest challenge was there was still much to do in regard to legalities after my Dad’s death. I didn’t want my Mom to have to go through any of this alone, so I tried to help as best I could. We made appointments to see the family lawyer. We stopped at the various banks to close accounts. We stood in line at the Social Security Administration. We sent off inquiries to insurance companies and benefit providers. We reached out to the family accountant.
What this left us with was more paperwork than we ever imagined. Our “grief brains” could barely remember what to do even after we had taken copious notes. It was all an out-of-body experience. It felt like living in a parallel universe. Going through the motions but having no real idea of what was happening. I reminded my Mom all this was completely normal. I just had to learn to approach things one moment at a time.
My Dad was a fun loving, extremely hard working, active, and charitable human being. He made immediate friends with strangers and could talk your ear off. He loved to interact with people. We’d be at CVS or Costco and I’d turn around to see him having in depth conversations with someone in one of the aisles. Even in the Hospital Dad shared many of his stories with the Nurses, Physical and Respiratory Therapists.
Dad loved movies especially westerns and musicals. In fact, I think my sister and I were the only little girls who saw every single John Wayne movie when they came out. Yes, every single John Wayne movie. I never understood this wasn’t the norm until I was older. Dad also introduced us to the arts: Plays, music, museums of every genre. My Mom says they probably saw Phantom of the Opera at least 5 times. Records played constantly so music always filled our house. I know all the words to every Neil Diamond song because of my Dad.
Dad loved every type of sporting event from football to golf. He watched both professional and college sports. The weekends were for sports. No if, ands or buts. His favorite teams included the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, University of Oregon Ducks, Ohio State Buckeyes and of course the Los Angeles Lakers, Dodgers and Kings. He had season tickets for the UCLA Bruins and LA Kings for many years.
Dad was very strong-willed, loved to debate and had a fighting spirit. If you ever tried to have a conversation with him about sports or politics, you learned this about him the hard way. As an example of his fighting spirit, Dad lobbied the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners to restore the holes that were seized from the Westchester Golf Course for roadway construction. Dad believed it was so important to remove the “dubious distinction” of Westchester being the only 15-hole golf course in the United States and Canada that he fought for 10 long years. Yes, 10 years. Finally, in 2010, he achieved success and the three holes were added back to the Golf Course for future generations of golfers (including his Grandson) to enjoy.
If you asked my Dad what his greatest achievement was, he would say his family: His wife, two daughters; three grandchildren; two sons-in-law; and his six furry grandchildren. For many years, every family celebration was marked by Dad reciting an ode or poem he had written. On Father’s Day 2012 he wrote, “You start out with a lot of confidence, then they start to grow up and before you realize it, they are on their own. It’s not that I mind them growing up. It is the years in between childhood and maturity. That’s when you hope and pray you have been doing a good job. I guess on a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate myself an 8 (although their Mother would probably rate me as 5).”
We thank and acknowledge Sharon for contributing to Adult Orphan Tales and for the work she’s doing in the world. By better understanding grief we can help ourselves and others through the inevitable losses we face during our lifetimes.
Each week, two new Adult Orphan Tales will be published on Mondays and Fridays. If you have and Adult Orphan Tale you’d like to contribute, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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