I’ll never forget the night my father died. I was 14 years old when we received a call from hospice telling us to come right away. The next thing I knew we were loading up the mini van and my soon to be brother-in-law was running red lights to get us there as quickly as possible. My dad was already dead when we arrived. I walked into his room and looked into his yellowish face. I was numb; all I could think was “oh my gosh, it’s finally over.”
When I was 6 years old my dad was diagnosed with leukemia, and growing up with him was not a pleasurable experience. It wasn’t because he was sick all the time, but because of the verbal and emotional abuse he put my family and me through. So, the night that he died I felt the joy of relief and freedom from this horrible situation. I didn’t have to tune out the shouts of my father as he fought with my mom. I didn’t have to come home and hide in my room because it was the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to tell my friends they couldn’t come over in fear of what my father might say or do. Never again would my mom, my sisters and I have to huddle in the back of the house while my dad was on a rampage. Never again would I be left standing at the front door, crying, watching him drive away again, calling for him to come back and wondering if he ever would. Never again. It felt good.
Relief from a traumatic and abusive situation is a confusing thing to process. Your life radically changes but how in the world do you begin to communicate what happened? For so long none of my friends knew what was going on at home. The ones that knew found out from their parents and treated me differently.
My parents were separated about a year before my dad died. When two girls found out about my situation at home they started asking me, “Are you ok?” How is everything at home?” When I answered “fine” they continued to pester until I finally snapped and said, “What do you want me to say?! My life sucks?!” I left the room and they never asked me about it again. From that point on I felt pitied by them. Before this happened I had never communicated my feelings to anyone outside of my family and my best friend.
Learning how to communicate a complicated grief story is not an easy task. In fact, after my first experience I rarely talked about it until I went to college. By then I had developed well-rehearsed, superficial responses to any question. I became a master of saying a lot without saying anything at all.
It wasn’t until a year after I had graduated from college that this changed. I was out to eat with a new friend and she asked me about my past. So, naturally, out came my fluffy response and to my surprise she replied, “Nope. Try again. What really happened?” I was shocked. No one had ever been so blunt with me before! So, for the first time, I openly and honestly shared my story with someone I barely knew. It felt really good.
This was a pivotal point in my life. It gave me the courage to share my story with people which, in turn, allowed me to begin to heal, grow, ask my family questions, use my story to help others, and not be concerned with what people would think of me at the end of the day.
I know I still have a lot to learn. Communicating a complicated grief story is never easy, especially when you do it for the first time. So, if I can leave you with a closing thought it would be to find someone you can trust and tell them what happened. And, I’m going to continue to share my story and my experiences along this ugly grief journey.