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One year later……

You remember that Alan Jackson song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning”? I remember hearing it when it first was released and thinking how true it was for so many people who were directly impacted by the events of 9/11….people whose lives changed in the blink of the eye. People who woke up that morning thinking it was going to be just like any other day only to go to bed a completely changed human being. I remember being so sad for our country and all of these families even though I had no idea who any of them were, but deep down I didn’t really connect to that song because my life….my world….did not stop turning that day. I didn’t understand that in one small blink of an eye everything you know could be no more.

And then one day MY WORLD stopped turning. The truth is….at some point in our lives something WILL happen to completely change the trajectory of your life. You know when my world stopped turning?

525,600 minutes ago.

One year ago today.

One year that feels like a trillion billion years ago while also feeling like it was just yesterday. Isn’t time weird?

I can tell you every.single.detail about November 20, 2015…..what I ate for breakfast, what workout I did that day, what I was wearing, where I was sitting when I found out that my dad had passed away, every single word Kyle said when he told me what had happened……everything.  I relive a part of it every single day, and I really wish I didn’t. To be honest, I probably can’t tell you every single detail of any other day in my life other than that one.

In my heart it is still so difficult to accept that I haven’t seen my dad or talked to him in a year. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook know that I’ve been very open about my struggles with grief over this past year, and I have talked a little about it here, too. It is hard to be vulnerable and share this kind of thing, but I truly believe it is important because so many people struggle with the same thing, and I hope (if nothing else) that I can connect with others struggling and we can help each other through difficult times. Ive had people send me nasty grams about it and tell me it is inappropriate to talk about, and Ive had people throw some serious shade at me. It’s strange how uncomfortable grief makes some people.

This past year has included some pretty incredible things that have brought about so many mixed emotions. It was hard buying our first home together and realizing my dad would never be able to chase Bubba around in the yard…..it was hard taking family photos at my brother’s wedding and knowing someone really important wasn’t in them….it was hard watching the Cubbies win the World Series….and it was really, really hard celebrating the holidays and birthdays that usually were so much fun. Everyone said the first year would be difficult because of all of the “firsts” without my dad, and they weren’t exaggerating one bit. I cannot even put into words how much my dad is missed, and today, on the first anniversary of losing him, I’m missing him more than ever.

An unfortunate thing that has happened over the last year is that many of my friends have had to go through the same thing, losing either their father or mother. Recently a girl I had connected with through Facebook messaged me. She had just lost her dad in a terrible accident, was still in the very early stages of grief, and asked what she should expect. I wanted to share my thoughts on this with the hope that if you are going through something similar you realize you aren’t alone.

1. Everything will remind you of that person. When I say everything, I mean everything. In the very beginning of this process I had a very difficult time getting rid of things that reminded me of my dad….and with moving, this proved to be a challenge. Things he gave me, things he wrote to me, momentos of places we had been, etc. I struggled with songs on the radio because I would connect them to my dad. I didn’t want to eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream because it was his favorite. This process has truly shown me that moments matter, not things, and I don’t need to keep junk around to keep the memory of someone alive. Don’t hoard items just because.  They are just things.

2. There are days you can talk about the person normally. There are days you will start to cry at the most inopportune time. With me, I am a loose cannon. I never know when I will be able to talk about my dad or the loss in a calm matter or if I am going to start crying and getting weird. I do my best to try to talk about it as much as possible to get more comfortable with it, but sometimes I wonder if I ever will be 100% able to communicate about it normally. It’s ok to be emotional…..and if you are worried about it, just change the subject. I do it all the time, and no one has gotten angry about it yet.

3. Things you loved before may not be the same after a loss. This has been so difficult for me. My dad and I loved running….talking about it, running together, talking smack on the other’s running pace. It ALWAYS was a part of a conversation. After we lost him I really hoped that running would be therapeutic for me and help me still feel a sense of connection to my dad. It did just the opposite. I started to hate it because every time I would run I would get upset and cry. In April I ran the HOF Half Marathon and cried the entire 13.1 miles, so besides being tiring on a physical level, it was beyond exhausting emotionally. Since that race I have run only a handful of times and dropped out of the Columbus full marathon, a race my dad and I had previously discussed running together. I hope someday I will love it again, but I have accepted that it may not be the way it once was. Find something positive to substitute into the place of whatever the activity is that you are struggling with.

4. You can’t hide from holidays and birthdays. They aren’t going to be the same….nothing will….but they are still going to happen. It is important to find new ways to celebrate and incorporate the memory of your loved one. Last year we had Chinese for Thanksgiving and we didn’t decorate one bit for Christmas. I refused to buy Christmas wrapping paper for gifts (I still am this year, too). For my dad’s birthday we made one of his favorite meals and favorite kind of cake. We are trying. Sometimes that is all you can do. You can’t avoid these things so find a way to incorporate your loved one in a new way

5. It is important to talk about your loved one. Every day I talk about my dad. I will think of a funny memory or think of how my dad would react to sometimes ridiculous (I had lots of comments of things he would say during the election), and it helps. It helps to keep his memory and sense of humor and ridiculousness alive. Just because a person has left you in the physical sense does not mean they have left your memory. Keep them alive in your daily life.

6. React to the loss in a way that helps you, not harms you. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to do things that would inevitably hurt me. There have been days that I wanted to go get blackout drunk, which would’ve been my solution years ago, but I didnt. There were days I wanted to eat my feelings……ok, more like weeks I wanted to eat my feelings, but I didnt. There were days I wanted to be extremely negative and lash out, but I didnt. I always think of the quote about how life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how I react to it…..what good would any of that do? Nothing. I’ve been very proactive in seeking help and doing things that will help me move forward in the grief process, not back. In the beginning I saw a grief counselor; recently I connected with a local group through GriefShare. I’ve read lots of articles and books on grief. Those kinds of resources have helped me a lot, especially with realizing that many of the feelings I have had are normal. I think all too often with grief you think that feelings and thoughts you have are abnormal…trust me when I say they aren’t. Speaking to people and groups have taught me this. Don’t run away from grief because sooner or later you will have to work past what has happened.

7. You learn that support can come from people who you least expect it.I will forever feel like I have the most amazing group from family and friends….my friends have all been there by my side from the beginning of this and have continued to support me. I knew they would be there for me in the beginning weeks and months….that is when it is the hardest, but the fact that they are still helping me through this a year later means the world to me. Friends from high school who I had lost touch with did not hesitate to reach out…random connections on Facebook, too. Since losing my dad I realized that I want to make sure that I can help those who go through rough times, too….even if they are people I have lost touch with over the years. You never know who you can help, and if anything positive is going to come from this, I want it to be that I can help others find strength and hope for the future.

8. The one thing that irritates me more than ANYTHING and the one phrase I have removed from my vocabulary is: “You’re doing really well!” I know that sometimes you might not know what to say to someone who is grieving…I’ve been guilty of saying some really dumb things in my day….but please, don’t ever say this comment to anyone. Most days I do really well, especially in public, but every day at some point I do break down. You arent sitting by me when I’m at home crying or laying next to me when I’m crying as I try to fall asleep. I may be doing “really well” in your eyes, but I’m not doing “really well”. I’ll never do “really well” because I’m always going to be without this person who was so important to me. There was a quote I once read from Richard Gere of all people. He said that loss is very much like dealing with a broken ankle. On the surface things seem to heal in time, but they will never be the way they once were.  The pain is still there, some days more than others. In time you learn to adapt to living differently. It is so true.

9. Don’t feel guilty if you are having fun or enjoying something. I struggled with this a lot the first few months after losing my dad. I felt bad if I laughed or did something normal. I didnt feel like it was right to engage in fun things when something was missing. After talking to people, I’ve learned that is very normal to feel that way, so if you are feeling that way, too, you aren’t alone.

10. You will be a changed person. I can’t tell you how much I changed over this past year because of this happening to our family. Losing a loved one changes how you see and do so many things. My family has always been so important to me, and I think that has strengthened the most over this time frame. I’ve learned more about my limits…that it is ok to take a step back if I feel myself getting weird or sad. I’ve learned a lot about my strength…and that it is ok to reach out for help, something I haven’t always been the best at doing. I’ve learned I’m a lot tougher than I ever thought I could be. Most importantly, I’ve learned how important it is to always leave your loved ones with loving words. I’m thankful the last words my dad and I exchanged were “I love you.”

Life is just too too short to focus on negativity. My heart has broken over the past few weeks after seeing so much garbage in my newsfeed after the election….so many families divided or not speaking to each other…..kids publicly saying they don’t want anything to do with a parent because of how they voted. I wish so badly my dad was still here with us and can assure you that you someday you will be in the same place I am in now….that’s just the order of life. Please don’t waste any moment by being stubborn or nasty…..someday you will be willing to do anything to get those moments back. Trust me.

Thank you again to everyone who continues to be a beacon of strength for not only me, but my mom and brother. We all appreciate it so much more than we could ever say and are forever grateful.

Missing you so much, Papa ❤

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My dad and my little Simon

 

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Rant of the Week: Not my problem.

There are some things in my life that I will always, always do.

I will always shower and wear deodorant.
I will always talk in a baby voice when I see a puppy.
I will always turn the radio off in the car when I get lost.

And I will always, always, ALWAYS talk about my dad.

A few weeks ago I had an acquaintance on Facebook private message me about the loss of my father. Initially I thought she was coming from a kind place , but I quickly realized that the message she sent was more about HER than about me or any pain I was going through. In her words, me talking about the loss of my father and my grief made her uncomfortable, and she felt that discussing things like that on a social platform was not appropriate. She encouraged me to keep my feelings to myself.

I can honestly say that when I feel attacked I am an extremely defensive person, and those who know me in real life know that I welcome any confrontation, so upon reading this message my instinct was to verbally annihilate this individual. I mean…..who does this person think she is to tell me how to handle MY grief. Thankfully, some part of me said to hold off on a response until I felt I could respond rationally and not based off of emotion. Way to go, Katie. You are growing up.

I’ve thought a lot about that message since, and I’ve come to a few realizations that I felt I needed to share.

Grief is a personal thing. I know that prior to the loss of my dad I didn’t really understand grief. Yes, I had lost people in my life, but never had I suffered a loss like I did in November. I don’t think I ever truly realized how sensitive a death in the family was or how different it is to each person. How I handle grief may be different than how you handle it. That doesn’t make it wrong or weird….it means I am handling it in a personal way that is best for ME. There isn’t a manual on how to handle these kinds of things, even though sometimes I wish one existed, and it is extremely unfair to think grief should be approached in one cookie cutter way.

Since losing my dad I have unfortunately learned a lot of hard lessons. I’ve learned that some people who I thought I could count on to help me through the dark times weren’t really the friends I thought they were. I’ve learned that people who I never thought would be there for me would show up and be more present in my life than individuals who I thought I could always count on.  I’ve learned that strength comes from the strangest places. I’ve learned that it is okay to ask for support….for hugs…for a shoulder to cry on. And I’ve learned that we all have to find our own way to becoming right in the head after a tremendous loss.

You know how I handle my grief? By talking about my dad. I talk about him every single day because I miss him EVERY SINGLE DAY. Is my intention to make you uncomfortable? Absolutely not. My intention is to make myself feel better and to never let the memory of the greatest man I have ever known die. He may not physically be here with me, but that doesn’t mean that 34 years of memories died with him November 20th. He will always be a part of my life, and I love sharing that with other people, especially those of you who know me and love me and never had the opportunity to meet him. So much of who I am is a reflection of my dad….how could you not want to know about someone who helped shaped me into the person I am today?

If that makes someone uncomfortable, I don’t really think I am the problem….I think the problem is something a little deeper within yourself. Maybe read some personal development? Maybe do a little soul searching? Or go talk to someone about WHY a person who is grieving is making you feel the way you do? But I hardly think that me talking about how I emotionally can’t handle running a race that my father and I did for years is the catalyst for your feelings of discomfort. Something else is going on there, and since I’m not a shrink, I’m not even going to pretend to know what that may be. But I do know one thing….it’s not my problem.

A huge part of my life falls in the public realm, which I believe many think should mean editing what I share and what I keep private. I don’t care if me talking about my sadness or struggles with this chapter in my life make me seem like a weaker human being. I’m a real person going through a really difficult time, and that is my reality. I’m not going to sit around projecting some image of perfection. I’m going to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly. You never know….the ugly times I am going through could help someone else with their struggles….or give them a person/resource to come to when the time comes that their life isn’t as sunny.

So……I’m going to keep doing my thing….which means finding ways to accept that my life is different and finding ways to keep my dad’s memory alive in my soul. If that makes you uncomfortable, then I definitely encourage you to take a step back and think about what really is the driving force of that emotion.

Remember….everyone is fighting their own battle. You may not be right now, but someday you will be. And trust me, you won’t want anyone telling you how you should be handling your grief then either.

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