Recently, I was working on a photo project and came across numerous pictures of my Dad. Strangely, I didn’t shed a single tear; instead, I smiled when I saw him smiling back at me, chuckled when I came across a silly picture, and even when I felt the sting of loss, my eyes stayed dry. Once I realized I wasn’t crying, a wave of guilt came over me: what does this mean? Why am I not upset? Does this mean I’m forgetting him? Shouldn’t I be missing him every minute of every day? I’m a terrible daughter for moving on and thinking of him less.
This realization made me cry, which was pretty ironic.
I sat with this guilt for a while and reflected. I realized something important: I’m not forgetting. I’m just starting to heal and starting to move on. With that comes some amount of guilt: I am still alive to enjoy family and friends, to love and be loved, and he isn’t. In a sense, it’s survivor’s guilt. I realized I feel like I am forgetting him if I’m not living in the midst of that grief, as if I am dishonoring his memory by moving on and beginning to live my life again.
In reality, of course, it’s just the opposite. By moving forward and embracing life, I am honoring his memory in the best way possible. After all, isn’t that what we all want after we are gone? For our loved ones to remember us fondly, but to move forward with happiness and peace in their lives? I’m sure my Dad wanted exactly the same thing for me and my family; he would never have wanted me to shed a single tear, much less to be stuck in grief forever. He would want me to live life fully, to laugh out loud until my sides hurt, explore new places, meet new people, learn new things, watch the sunset, and appreciate the stars in the sky. He would want me to be happy.
Of course, I won’t ever forget him – I doubt there will ever be a day he doesn’t cross my mind. Nearly five months after his death, I think of him multiple times a day. But I’ve realized that moving on begins when I smile at his memory rather than cry. It’s remembering him fondly, thinking of the life he lived instead of focusing on his absence.
Moving on certainly won’t happen all at once. I’m sure there will still be days when I will be hit hard by the waves of grief, and I will let them carry me under. The hope comes from realizing that I won’t drown: I will come back up, the waves will end, and I will find peace on the other side of them.
For now, I feel like I have finally come out of the fog: the storm has subsided, and in between the crashing waves I can look up, enjoy the stars shining brightly in the sky, and whisper softly to my Dad, “I miss you so much, but I’m okay.”