Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking more about grief. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
“Even when death is expected, it’s always unexpected.” I remember our priest saying this as I drove him to our house to give my dad his last rites. Dad was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in April of 2005. It shocked us all. We had never lived in the world of cancer, much less terminal cancer. The doctor gave my Dad a six month lifespan after his diagnosis. God gave us a whole year and six months.
Facing the Hard Realities
I was 19 years old and in my third year of college when Dad was diagnosed. I remember thinking this was the last of everything. He won’t get to see me graduate, he won’t walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, or be a grandfather to my children if I ever have kids.
I remember sobbing in the car while driving to school as each one of those realities hit me. I could hardly see through the flood of tears as I tried to calm myself before my next class began, but the pain of not having Dad present for major milestones in my life was something I couldn’t fathom. It penetrated the deepest parts of my heart and caused me a physical heartache I had never experienced before.
A Fatherless Daughter
My dad was a working man. For him, the death sentence wasn’t that he had terminal cancer, but that he couldn’t provide for our family anymore. Being Latino and culturally the head of the household, this was a greater cross for my Dad than the suffering he endured during his illness.
Dad gave his last breath on October 22, 2006. Suddenly, I found myself defenseless, disarmed, and completely exposed to the world because I had no Dad. We were anticipating this day would come, but nothing could have prepared my family or me for it. I felt so utterly broken. At that moment, everything stood still. I stepped outside the hospice as I mourned for my Dad and just wanted to see something other than the enclosed walls where my father took his last breath.
There wasn’t really anything awaiting me outside other than cars driving by—a reminder that other people were still living their lives even though mine felt like it had just come crumbling down.
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Birthdays, Family Traditions, and Holidays
None of the holidays cut deep into my aching heart like Father’s Day.
Thanksgiving reminded us to be grateful for everything Dad had done for us, and we would remember how he would plate his meal (everything touching everything and even better if the cranberry sauce was touching the mashed potatoes and gravy because he was just going to use a roll to eat it in one big bite).
Christmas brought me closer to the Holy Family and the Infant Jesus.
Easter filled me with the hope of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Fast-forward to summer, and June became a gloomy month for me. It was Dad’s birthday followed by Father’s Day. We would gather as a family and celebrate my Dad’s earthly birthday. There was always a feeling of longing when we were gathered around the table together, but in our togetherness we could feel his presence. It was not quite the same with Father’s Day.
Father’s Day just became another reminder that my Dad wasn’t physically here. The greeting card section at the front of the store was another reminder that I didn’t have a Dad to whom to give a card. Dad didn’t do any of the greeting cards things like fish or golf, and I wasn’t of age to enjoy a beer with him yet, so all of those cards were out the window! Over time, I learned that my issue with Father’s Day wasn’t about a card; it was that I was left to figure out how to describe my Dad without Hallmark’s help.
Let Others Console You
During that first year of my Dad’s passing, I felt consolation in simple ways. For example, a friend baking banana bread and dropping it off, or another friend sending a song to me to remind me that she was thinking about me. Sometimes it was just a friend calling to see how I was doing and just letting me cry because I couldn’t get any words out. Sometimes you just need someone to hold you in your grief, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
As I have learned, I didn’t need to lighten the load for someone else’s benefit or pretend that I was okay. Friends and family members really want to be present to your grief out of love for you and the person who has passed away, not out of superficial obligation.
At times, my own pride got in the way of letting people take care of me or do something nice for me because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. At the time of my Father’s death, I felt like that was a sign of weakness and regrettably turned away support that could have been Jesus consoling me through another person.
Ways to Remember Your Loved One
Celebrate their Birthday, have a Mass said for the repose of their soul on their birthday and on the anniversary of their passing, clean their tombstone, pray for them, do things they would’ve loved to do.
Listen to music they like, travel to the places they liked to visit, or donate to a certain charity in their honor.
Start a new tradition and visit the cemetery and bring flowers on the anniversary of your loved one’s passing in gratitude for the life God gave them.
The loss of a loved one isn’t the end of the love you have for them; it’s the beginning of learning new ways to love them even when they aren’t physically here.
My Dad’s faith in Jesus became my strength. Whenever I would catch myself letting my mind wander into dark places, I remembered my Dad still believed; he still kept going because he had faith. That was his compass even when his body was shutting down. I would spend time in Adoration and, even when the words escaped and I would burst into tears, I would find consolation in just letting Jesus be present to my pain. I desired for Jesus to heal my broken heart, but I didn’t know how to ask.
Healing takes work and intention. Whenever I would feel depleted from my grief, I would turn to Our Blessed Mother for strength, particularly Our Lady of Sorrows. She knew the painful suffering of grief and yet still loved humankind. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly I accepted this new life without my Dad around. I accepted Jesus’ will for me and our family and I continue to recommit to accepting His plan each and everyday.
This post only scratches the surface of grief, but hopefully gives you some comfort from the grief that you have experienced. You aren’t alone in your sorrows and, when grief overcomes you, remember that it takes time to heal and there is no expiration date that says when your mourning should be over. Give it over to Jesus and invite Him into your pain and allow Him to heal you.
If you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.