This is the 10th Father’s Day since you died in 2006. I can’t believe how much you have taught me since your death. To put it bluntly, I think I have learned more since your death than perhaps I did in all the years previously. I hope that doesn’t sound terrible. But honestly, I didn’t always listen to you when you were alive because we struggled in our relationship for nearly two decades.
The last eight months of your life were “a gift” for our relationship when we made amends and forgave each other for many things. The years after your death became an opportunity to be in service in your memory and in a way that changed my life forever. First, with the 1,000 Mitzvah project and blog, then the book and now a speaking career about the transformative power of service and kindness. I’ve heard your encouragement and your voice in my head these past 10 years as I’ve questioned what to do next. I have often felt like you were my cheerleader coaxing me forward to continue to step through my fear and out of my comfort zone. Somehow with a death comes introspection and growth that even though painful can be unbelievably powerful. When I chose the Jack Lemmon quote, “Death ends a life not a relationship.” for the chapter in my book on Saying Goodbye, I thought it just sounded clever but now years later I feel like I actually understand that simple quote.
The stories we shared while you were alive and the ones that I’ve learned since your death have become part of my own stories. You used to tell me when I was a teenager and talked endlessly on the phone, that I had “verbal diarrhea”. Now I share that story in my speeches and end with, “I sure wish he’d at least told me I could actually get “paid” to speak.” It gets a laugh every time.
I often share my story about seeing a “black crow” at your funeral and then seeing other black crows several times in the ensuing months after your death. Crows were in the trees, at the swimming pool at 6 am that summer and one flying parallel to my minivan flying down the highway so that I could practically see into the bird’s eyes. When I decided that was how you were “sending me a sign”, it didn’t matter any more that crows were a very common bird. Even when I worried that maybe I had made this idea up to comfort myself, it didn’t matter because even if I had made it up, I HAVE felt comforted by these experiences. It’s always felt like you are right there still connected to me in spirit. I frequently have interesting conversations now with other people about this and have found out that I am not alone, many people feel that they have something they connect with – butterflies, pennies etc. that helps them feel connected to a loved one who is gone. I wouldn’t have believed that seeing a crow cawing could actually bring a smile to my face but today it truly does.
I’ve also learned a few important lessons about grief and how to help when you feel sad about loss:
- Take time for your self. I learned that grief is different for everyone, but no one can get away without confronting their grief. Giving ourselves permission to grieve and take time to do that turns out to be pretty crucial.
- Find a spiritual place to be with your grief. I found yoga, my synagogue and the woods to be incredibly helpful places to be with my grief. Finding that place to heal is essential.
- Cry. This can be one of the most important aspects. Let the tears flow. They are part of the healing process. Even if they come at inconvenient times which they did for me many times the past ten years.
- Write. My journal was and is an important part of my healing. It’s helped me record and move through all of the emotions over the past several years. And it hasn’t mattered if I wrote in a physical journal or just wrote on my computer what I needed to get off my chest.
So Dad on this 10th Father’s Day since you’ve been gone, I want you to know that while you are gone physically you’ve been with me so much over these past 10 years. I know I have taken on situations in these years that would make you very proud. I often imagine getting one of those great big bear hugs from you and hearing you tell me that you are proud of me. Today in honor of Father’s Day since I can’t give you a hug, I’ll be sure to give hugs to others in your honor. Thank you dad. I love you.