Four months. Seventeen weeks. One hundred twenty three days.
That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad and my world changed forever.
In the beginning, I thought the pain would be infinite. I thought I would never be able to smile again, never be able to laugh again. In the beginning, I was in a fog: unable to think, unable to function, unable to sleep, unable to eat. I woke every morning with his loss on the forefront of my mind. Every moment of the day reminded me of his absence. Every night, I lay awake for hours, sobbing into my pillow.
In the beginning, the grief was so heavy, I was sure it would crush me with its weight. It was by far the worst time in my life.
About three months after I lost my Dad, the fog began to lift. Maybe it was because we finished the Estate Sale, we sold his house, and the stress of that piece of the nightmare was over. Maybe it was the solo hike to my Dad’s favorite lake in Rocky Mountain National Park that brought me peace. Maybe it was just that time passes, and with it our heartache eases just a bit.
It’s been four months today. Yes, I have thought about my Dad dozens of times today, I have cried, I have looked at his picture and held his t-shirt to my face to breathe in his scent. I wear his fingerprint on a necklace every day and when I start to miss him, I reach up and grasp the charm in my hand and close my eyes, fighting back tears.
I still miss him every day, but I am convinced I have hit the darkest point in this journey and have started making my way again to the light. One small step towards Life Without Him: the life I never wanted but somehow knew someday would be. Just one step away from the deafening roar of grief, where I can still hear the noise of loss, but I can also hear the laughter of life somewhere in the distance.
The pain isn’t as punishing as it was in the beginning. At first I felt like anxiety and guilt and heartache were crushing my lungs, making it nearly impossible for me to draw each breath; now I feel like I can finally exhale. The pain is still there, but it’s faded to the background of my heart, allowing joy and laughter to step into the spotlight. I know it’s there – the ache – hiding in the background, rearing its ugly head when joy and laughter end, when I sit in silence, when I feel alone. It’s then I feel the terrible ache, and I imagine it will be that way for a long time.
Perhaps the hardest part now is the loneliness: not just the loneliness of being without a Father, but the loneliness that comes from being stuck in grief. My friends have all moved on with their lives, and who can blame them? I have been in their shoes before: sympathetic for a while, but then life goes back to normal. We assume grief is a short-lived process because we have not been through the grief ourselves. We think there should be a time limit to the grieving. We stop being sympathetic and simply don’t want to talk about it anymore.
I’ve been there when I lived in the “Before.” I’ve shied away from talking about loss with those who were grieving, not wanting to “open wounds.” I’ve avoided people I knew were grieving because I didn’t know what to say. Now here in the “After,” I understand that grieving takes time, and that “not talking about it” feels the same as forgetting. I understand that there really isn’t a right thing to say, but not saying anything at all feels even worse. I’ve learned that what grief really needs is someone to say “hey, let’s talk about it. Cry on my shoulder. Tell me about the good times, the bad times, what you miss and what makes your heart hurt.” Let me tell you: the wounds are already open. They have just barely stopped bleeding. Don’t be afraid of tearing them open; instead, be the one who helps them heal.
In addition to this loss-centered loneliness, my husband has been gone nearly this entire time. He was able to come home on Emergency Leave for two weeks after my Dad passed away, but he returned to his deployed location and has been there ever since. So at night, when the grief feels the heaviest, when everyone else is asleep and I just need a shoulder to cry on, my greatest support system is on the other side of the planet. Grief is a lonely enough journey, but facing it without my greatest partner has been unbearable.
Yes, the pain is easing. Yes, I have started to enjoy life again when once I believed that would never be possible. Yes, the fog has lifted and I can think clearly again. But healing takes time: those who have endured the loss of a loved one may never be whole again, but they certainly won’t be whole within just a few months. A time frame that feels excessive to the outsider is nothing but the blink of an eye to the one traveling through the loss.
How long does is take for a broken heart to heal? Four months, seventeen weeks, one hundred twenty three days: It takes longer than that.