“The After Club”

I’m not the first person who has ever gone through grief. Billions of people before me have loved and lost—and billions after me will as well. It’s the inevitable cycle of life.

I’m not the first to write about grief, either: libraries and online forums are filled to the brim with stories of fatherless children, childless mothers, grandfather-less grandchildren, and so on. Rivers could flow with all of the tears that have been shed over the ages by daughters who have lost their fathers.

But I am the only one of me, and my Dad was the only one of him. For me, this loss is one-of-a-kind, a uniquely terrible experience.

That uniqueness of my grief ironically makes me just like everyone else who has ever lost a parent: we are all members in a club to which we never wanted to belong, each one of us travelling down a dark and unforgiving path alone, yet parallel to all those who have traveled before us. It is somehow the loneliest and simultaneously most crowded club in the universe: the club of children who have lost a parent.

Some join the club much later in life, their parents having lived long and full lives. Some join the club tragically young: babies who lose a parent before they are even old enough to remember their voice, the color of their eyes, or their scent. I fall somewhere in between.

My Dad passed away at the age of 63: older than other fathers who unwittingly induct their children into this atrocious club, but still far too young. I should have had 20 more years with my Dad, but life doesn’t always give us what we deserve and definitely doesn’t give us what we most desire. My Dad will never be 64, he will never celebrate his 70th birthday, he will never reach 100. He will be frozen forever in time as he was the day he died.

So here I am, a member of this terrible, tragic, lonely-yet-overcrowded club of grieving children at the age of 34. I had enough time to make lots of great memories, but I yearn for the memories that are left unmade.

I have known others who have joined this club before me. My own mother has now lost both her parents and has had to travel down this dark and lonely road before me. I have known friends who have lost parents long before their time, and while I have always sympathized with them, it is only now that I truly feel the weight of the pain and grief that comes from losing a parent.

It’s been 33 days since I held my Dad’s hand while he took his final breath and left this world. Thirty-three days since a piece of my heart was broken. I keep waiting for the pain to ease, for the grief to lessen, for my heart to begin to mend, but grief is a brutal and unmerciful master. Some days are better than others, but there are still moments where I am reminded of something he said or did, or I remember his laugh or hear his voice inside my memory, or see his picture, his smile and his face frozen in time and I feel that dagger pierce my heart once more. The tears flow, my breath escapes me, and the pain feels as fresh as the moment he died.

Before I joined this terrible club, I didn’t really know how to help someone who was grieving. I would make a casserole, send a card, make a phone call, but then a week or two would go by and I would move on with my life. I assumed they had, too.

What no one tells you about grief is that it really becomes painfully real after. After the funeral takes place. After the memorial service. After the family returns home, the cards have all been sent, the flowers have all wilted and been thrown away. That’s when grief, with its thousands of razor-sharp teeth, takes hold inside your chest and threatens to destroy the happy life you had before.

That’s what life is now: it’s divided into before and after. Maybe that’s what this club truly is: The After Club, where all the members are trying desperately to pretend to outsiders that we still live in a before world when in reality, our hearts are drowning in the after inside.

Here I am, broken and brooding, missing my Dad’s smile and his laugh and, yes, even his three phone calls a day just to ask me about the weather. Here I am asking you—the friends who live in the before—to give us grace, to be our shoulder to cry on, and to invite us to tell you how we are really doing. We need to be given permission to say we are not okay because in reality, it feels like we may never truly be okay again.

One day at a time, one hour at a time, and even sometimes one minute at a time, the Afters walk towards healing. Maybe our broken hearts never truly heal, but I have hope that one day, the tears will fade.

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