Loving Myself: the Last and Best Lesson from My Dad

father and daughter silhouetteHere I am, three-and-a-half years after suddenly losing my dad when he was only 52 years old. Here I am. Here is this person, this woman, this wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, auntie, and friend. She stands tall, unbroken, stronger, healthier, and happy. Where I am now is a journey—sometimes a struggle—that continues on a daily basis.

I don’t think you can understand fully the feelings of losing a parent unless you’ve lost one. The same goes for any loss; I don’t think you can fully grasp the feeling until you’ve been through the exact same loss. For me; losing my dad immediately threw me into a whirlwind of taking care of everyone, on top of my own grieving. I took it all on, and after a year and a half, that took its toll on me, mentally and physically—so much so that I was hospitalized for a virus, extremely high blood pressure, palpitations, and stress. I was done. I was in a downward spiral, and my body was screaming and waving the white flag. It had surrendered.

After that, I made the conscious decision to end the madness. My dad was gone; he wasn’t coming back. I was killing myself, and it all needed to stop. I am one person. I had to start putting myself first. I couldn’t spend my life living in my mother’s never-ending grief. I am a wife and mother, which are the most important roles in the world to me. What was I doing?

So, I ended it, just like that. I went to see my physician. I started exercising, walking, and doing yoga, and I did my first 5k. I started eating correctly. My mother and I attended a support group together for about a month. It really wasn’t my “thing,” so I started to write as my therapy. I started a blog and wrote my bleeding heart out. I started thinking differently. Writing helped me cope and move forward. My life took on new meaning. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t easy, but my way of thinking and living changed. My views changed. I changed.

It feels like a long three years most of the time. It has been a long and hard journey that wasn’t without sweat and tears. It came with highs and lows—it still does. It was a journey of physical successes and, most importantly, mental health wellness.

Grief can do many things to a person. You have to fight for your own life. You have to accept it. You have deal with it in whatever way works best for you, because it will destroy you if you let it.

The things I have discovered about myself are amazing. The things that I have addressed, admitted, and apologized to myself for are accepted. I am 39 years old, and I finally feel like the person I want to be—the person I was meant to be. And I am free.

It’s inconceivable to find positives in such a loss. It’s not what is acceptable. I do wish my dad was here every single day of my life, but I have accepted that he isn’t. His death has changed me and, in an indescribable way, has changed me as a person for the better.

It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t easy, but my way of thinking and living changed. My views changed. I changed.

I live life in the moment. I plan things, yet I am so spontaneous. I do things with my husband and children all the time. I’ve learned to let the house go, because sometimes there are more important things to do than clean the floor. I always spew my feelings, and I don’t hold anything back. I don’t let things eat at me; I can’t. I NEVER leave things unsaid. I don’t care what people think of me. I am not jealous. I will not beg someone to be my friend. I let things go. I will not tolerate liars or petty nonsense in my life. I say what I mean, and mean what I say. I am open. I take pictures of my children all the time. I capture almost all moments. I smile a lot. I forgive. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I notice things now that I never thought much of, like sunsets or pretty skies. I am optimistic. I find the positive in most things. I don’t want to wait to do things, like take trips or try new things. It’s now; why wait? I am kind. I am not a fake; what you see is what you get. I am honest. I will not leave this earth with regrets. If I love you, you know it. I may disagree, but will respect the differences in opinion. I still write now, it’s like continuous therapy. I am thankful and appreciative.

There are so many things that have come to surface in my mind and in my life. Losing my dad so suddenly, and at his young age, has done nothing more than make me live in the moment. I know I am not guaranteed another day, but instead am lucky if I get one. I don’t think there is anything he would rather see from the heavens above than for his family living life in the best possible way: healthy and happy.

I don’t think there is necessarily a positive, per se, in losing my dad. But I sure have found meaning through it, which gives me such peace. I have been able to sort through my loss and become this stronger, different person. A person who felt cheated and lost, but who now has the ability to choose love over hate, understanding over anger, and belief over fear. That is what his death has come to mean to me, and I think he is/was beside me, showing me the way. The last and best gift he has given me is myself. I will always be grateful to him for that.

jennifer martin SYS griefJennifer Martin is a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 6. She writes from the heart and her experiences raising her boys. She loves to laugh, be happy, and spend time adventuring with her family. She keeps a blog at http://beingjmarts.blogspot.com/.

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  • Mari

    Mari

    March 22nd, 2015 at 5:54 PM

    You are such a great writer! I really enjoyed reading this. I’m glad you’ve found peace after all you’ve been through. I know this doesn’t help or change anything, but I know how you feel and I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my dad when I was two, he was in a car accident and was 27. I am now 20 years old so its been about 18 years. I’m constantly grieving and struggling with this loss. I feel as if I’ve been robbed. I’m 23 weeks pregnant with my first child and knowing that he will never meet my son kills me. It kills me that I won’t have him there to walk me down the isle or dance with me at my wedding. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to move on from this hurt, I’ve struggled with it my entire life and feel as if its only getting worse.

  • junie

    junie

    March 23rd, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    Your story is so inspiring.
    I have not lost either of my parents yet and know that I will feel so lost when I do, but this gives me hope that there can also come peace even amidst that loss.
    Thanks for telling your brave story.

  • Diane W.

    Diane W.

    March 23rd, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    Jennifer you are amazing and a wonderful talented writer.
    I’m sure you are helping many people on your journey.
    I’m so honored you’ve been in our lives for almost 30 years.
    Keep this up its your calling.

  • Ronda

    Ronda

    March 23rd, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Knowing that you have been able to gain such inspiration via the memory of your dad is so important for all of us to grasp and understand. Yes you are sad and of course there will always be this hole in your heart where this man lived in you, but at the same time, look at what you have been able to take away from this senselessness. You have been able to come to terms with the fact that every day we are given something glorious and new, and it is up to us to appreciate and live for that.

  • Brian G

    Brian G

    March 23rd, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    I lost my dad a few years ago and am just about your age. I have found that the pain of grief never diminishes, but I visit it less frequently as the years go on. Life is too short, and the loss of a parent is a wake up call to enjoy every moment. Well written piece, Jennifer!

  • Vanessa

    Vanessa

    March 23rd, 2015 at 6:02 PM

    Thank you for sharing, Jennifer! I lost my stepdad (who was like a dad to me since he & my mom got married when I was in kindergarten) 21 years ago. It still feels like yesterday sometimes.

  • asa

    asa

    March 24th, 2015 at 3:40 AM

    I know that there are many men who are close with their dads, but I think that for women that loss is even deeper. This is the first man who has ever loved them, and shown them what a real man is and should look like.

    I think that most of the time when there is this kind of relationship between a father and daughter they tend to get put on this pedestal so that when they are gone it feels like nothing could ever touch them and take their place.

    I don’t know, it just seems so different somehow than what I experienced with my own dad.

  • Breeanne

    Breeanne

    March 24th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    I never really knew my dad but I have heard so many great stories about him over the years that as soon as I was able to understand I have loved him just like all of the others who knew him.

    I have this space in me that always feels like I missed out on something really great by not having him in my life. I know that this is not something that I can ever change but I do hold onto those memories that others have of him just a little more tightly so that I can still feel that there is this connection with the two of us.
    I always like to think that the two of us would have been really close if he had been around.

  • jt

    jt

    March 26th, 2015 at 11:37 AM

    Never had a dad, never knew him at all, not really even sure my mom knew that much about him but the loss is still there and I only wish that I had some of special memories that the rest of you are fortunate to have of your fathers.

  • Charlotte

    Charlotte

    March 27th, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    You very much sound like someone who is a care giver, someone who knows how to make others feel their best but in this situation without even realizing it, you had forgotten to take care of yourself in the process.
    ‘The tendency is very strong for people like you who have those strengths to want to care for others and take care of their pain, but you don’t see how much of a toll this can take on your own health until you get like you did. Worn down and feeling like you had to surrender.
    I don’t know that there is ever any easier way to handle this, because you are a giver and that is what you will want to do. It is best though to also remember that you are important and vital and to remain that way you have to care for your own needs too and not ignore those.

  • tia

    tia

    March 28th, 2015 at 1:31 PM

    It can be a difficult place to get out of when you have let another’s grief become your own.

  • bla bla bla

    bla bla bla

    April 6th, 2015 at 12:35 AM

    18 went through brick wall driving to my own apartmet. Ooo office manager tomorrow for 4 Dr office. Wow GREAT “seizures” stronger stronger for Over 15 years. Couldn’t see tv. Walk to bathroom. Cancerous brain tumor removed finally. Not dead!! Awesome. Memory. Ha ha since. always living with mom. I’m almost 50. Oooh why have I tried to kill myself years ago. I’m fine. No more of.that. but because one of my daughter with strong bipolar put holes in wall with her head. She’s 21. Mom one year ago minor stroke. I don’t Want another counselor. I want to text on phone for help. Oooh never even knew how to use one and dah Computer. Dah. Can anyone help. I’d luv it..
    oo I finally got drivers license but have NO car. Great life. Sound silly…all TRUE. Don’t want to cry with counselor…

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