Moving On After the Death of a Loved One
When we lose a loved one, in the beginning it isn't so much a matter of moving on, as it is of getting through the day. That period referred to as "the beginning", however, is a long one, and it doesn't end all at once. Its ending is more aptly described as "slowly fading". Even, too, as we cannot imagine moving on, we do; because each day comes and goes, and here we still are, going through the motions and getting through each of those days.
After losing my parents, several aunts and uncles, some close friends, a baby nephew, and my own unborn baby I had come to the realization that it takes five years before it feels as if we are really ourselves. My conclusion was confirmed, too, when, on the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001, Diane Sawyer interviewed the families of some of the victims. She said that it was noticeable that the fifth anniversary had seemed to bring change in the progress of the family members, when it came to their grief. She noted that upon interviewing them for that fifth anniversary program they were finally showing signs of looking forward to new futures, and that it seemed clear they had entered a new phase.
Saying that it takes a full five years to feel back to oneself isn't saying that we feel equally horrible at four and a half years as we do when only one year has passed. With each day that passes we move farther and farther away from that initial shock and grief, so we don't feel the same several months or two years later as we do in the beginning. It is a gradual fading, but what I found was that the grief remained painfully close to the surface far longer than I once imagined it would.
As one year passes we expect to feel a lot better than we may actually feel. What I discovered was that there is that numbness that occurs when loss is so terrible our minds can't bear it, and as the numbness wears off the thoughts that need processing emerge. I found that those painful thoughts were thoughts I could bear only in small doses before becoming overcome with grief again. What I discovered, though, was that as the grief flared up again the numbness would return. This was a process of dealing with the more difficult thoughts a little at a time in small doses, over the months that followed a death. As the first anniversary came, however, I was dismayed to discover that after a year of being numb so much of the time, the numbness would wear off; and then I would begin to feel all the grief, almost as if for the first time.
What always helped me was that "get-through-each-day" thinking that seemed to come naturally. I gave myself permission to not think about the grief or the person if at all possible. I told myself that the person I loved would understand if I had to wait for a while before thinking about him/her. I reminded myself that I had the rest of my life to think about this person, and that my main objective at the time was to get through each day.
We all have our usual daily activities we must do, and that helps. One thing I realized, too, is that grief seems to creep into our minds and push all the positive, nurturing, thoughts and memories we have to the back of our minds (or even into a "closet" along "the outer edges").
It's as if our minds are one, big, room full of sadness and grayness. The longer that "grayness" takes up most of the space in "the main part" of our mind, the more chance it has to "take hold" and seem to harden.
As the days and months pass, though, if we have even small moments of joy or at least positive thoughts, those small positive thoughts and "bits" of joy start to move into that "gray emptiness". Sometimes those positive moments may be as simple as laughing at a television show or enjoying a walk on beautiful day. They can come if we do something new or buy something that gives us pleasure or get out and have some good conversations and coffee with friends. They're small and seemingly minor, but they start to accumulate; and if they don't push all that grief into the background completely, they at least brighten the "gray". As time passes, if we make it a point to keep finding just those small joys in life the "grayness" no longer takes up our whole mind. If we're lucky, time also brings some big joys in life; and when they occur they have a way of rushing in and pushing the "gray" into the background a little farther.
When we are grieving it is unbearable a good part of the time, and barely bearable the rest of the time. When we're in acute grief we're in shock, and it isn't a time to even think about moving on. Moving on isn't something we can always just decide to do. Instead, moving on seems to kind of slip in, take us by the hand, and lead us away from the grief. That is, I guess, because "moving on" and "time" are pretty much the same thing.
My advice to anyone going through grief would be to take care of your own emotions. Give your mind a chance to rest from the grief and just think of neutral or pleasant things as often as possible. Being with someone can help, although we can all find ways to bring small joys into our days by ourselves. Sometimes something as seemingly silly as buying a pretty set of potholders can brighten a day. Cheerful music, enjoying a morning or evening walk, going out to have a coffee alone at an outdoor table, spending time with a child, having a pet - anything that helps keep our mind on more pleasant things is good. We may not be able to control what big joys come or when, but we can control whether or not we find some small ones.
I don't believe people should worry about things like whether or not they give away or pack away the deceased person's belongings in a hurry. For some, clearing out belongings is a way of trying to move on; but my opinion is that clearing away belongings can be more painful too early; and the presence of someone's belongings (as long as they aren't, say, out and in our way each day) doesn't stop us from moving on. I'm not sure feeling pressured to get rid of them helps us move on either. My approach has always been to make a reasonable effort to put away or pack away things that would be too ridiculous to leave around, but not be in a hurry to make permanent decisions or to get rid of every last item that had belonged to the deceased. I found that time, as always, was the thing that told me when I was ready to do that type of thing.
Developing an "I'm the star of this show" attitude can help guide us through grief. Once someone is gone, in the beginning they are "the star of the show". After the funeral or memorial service, though, we become "the star of our own show". The focus - at least for the immediate future - needs to be on us and on getting through the most difficult period. Sleeping when we can helps our minds rest. Eating well if possible helps us give our body what it needs to help our mind deal with things. Getting our daily work done, even if we're just going through the motions, help keep our mind occupied; but if there's a day when you just don't feel up to getting some things done, giving yourself permission to just rest or find one of those small joys is important.
Reminding yourself that your loved one would want you to do what it takes to get through the grief can help. So can realizing that if you don't think about them for a while it doesn't mean you'll forget them, aren't grieving, or didn't love them.
When we lose a loved one we never get over it completely, but we get to a point where we are back to feeling like ourselves (even if we still have that little part of our mind that remains a little gray). When we first lose someone it is an unbearable shock that's hard to believe. Once the shock wears off the grief swoops in and over us and can sometimes make it feel as if we can't even breathe. Grief is a monster that we can't kill or tame all at once. It is a monster that, when met over time with moments of a neutral, pleasant, or joyous nature, will start to shrink and retreat, leaving behind only a small footprint. We need to accept that that footprint will always be there, but as the weeks and months go by the grief does die down a little at a time.
What we may be surprised to discover, though, is that far sooner than we would have thought we do laugh again. We have those moments when we feel pretty much like "the real us". There is no doubt that we continue to battle our thoughts and fight off either tears or the overwhelming horror that come with tears we can't fight off. Still, it is surprising how soon so much of our days is spent feeling reasonably normal. I suppose what happens is that even while we are consumed by, and in the grips of, that overpowering, huge, monster that is grief; time's force continues to pull it away from us; and the resilience of a heart that has loved so much eventually prevails.
Sometimes others will worry that we're not "moving on", and they can even make us feel as if we should stop talking about the loved one if we talk about him a little too much, or get rid of his belongings faster than we have, or simply start a new life sooner than we appear to be. My advice to the grieving would be to stay strong and stay true to yourself. Deal with your grief that way you need to, and don't feel pressured by others who would deal with it differently.
Difficult as it is to believe when we have just lost someone, we all just keep moving on, whether or not we want to, and whether or not we appear to be. If you ask how to get through your days, rather than ask how to move on, time will move you on, and your heart will will tell you when to take another step.
A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTING
I sincerely appreciate all the heartfelt comments and contributions that readers so often share with other readers. So often, it can help someone just to know he's not alone in what he's going through, or gone through. I wrote this Hub in response to an online question. Whether or not it even partially accomplishes my aim to offer something even just the smallest bit helpful to someone grieving, I don't know. That was the aim, though.
These days, with over 300 Hubs and over 1000 other pieces of writing on other writing sites (and with all that writing being a "spare-time thing" for me), I'm not able to personally respond to comments on some Hubs (like this one) that have comments that call for a carefully thought out response, rather than a quick "thanks for reading".
With most of the things I write in my spare time, it's about the writing. With a few of those things I've written, it's more about trying to reach out to people, "person to person", in some attempt to somehow offer something that might be helpful or useful to them in a difficult time.
The people who are interested in reading something on this subject are people who deserve a better, more well thought-out, response than a quickie, "thanks for reading". Comments from readers remain welcome and deeply appreciated (on behalf of anyone who may benefit from reading them). I do regret that I'm no longer able to personally respond to each comment.
This won't be anything everyone would want to do, but if you have a story/situation you'd like to share with others, as a way of letting them know they're not alone and perhaps having an ongoing discussion with others in similar circumstances, maybe the following bereavement forum would be something you find useful/helpful:
Reply to coasttocoast
Before I make observations or offer thoughts, it's important for me to say (again) that I'm not an expert and only someone with personal experiences/observations. Before I venture to offer thoughts that came to me, as I read your post; I'd just like to say first that I know I may "know nothing", and if anything I say (guess about) here doesn't apply, I hope you know I'm only "throwing out things that struck me" as I read. So, such as they are...
You're right that my mother, sister, and brother and I weren't distanced after my father died. When my father died, it wasn't just us to found it such a shocking "kick in the head", it was people like my aunts and uncles, cousins, neighbors, etc. My father came across as reasonably youthful and very healthy. He was adored by so many people because he was good to so many people, and I have to say I've never seen a bunch of people so, so, shocked (to the point where people were just kind of silent a lot of the time) after someone (who wasn't their own husband or father) died.
Anyway, both then and after some other big losses in life, what I discovered was that I (and just about everyone else in my family) have done is to pull inward. I don't know how many people pull inward in times of horrible, horrible, loss; but people close to me (and I) all tend to do that. I assume many (maybe most) do. In a time of terrible grief, that, I think, is when people tend to go into that "I'm the star of this show" (at least when it comes to their own personal, processing, of the grief), and they become very focused on themselves and on how they, themselves, are getting through each hour, day, year, etc. I'm not saying people completely forget about those who share the loss, or forget about other people or things in their life; but somewhere underneath, there's always kind of that focus on themself. I think, maybe, that's part of how grief works and gets processed.
When people pull inward it isn't even always obvious that's what they're doing, because they keep living life, talking to other people, going through holidays as a family, etc. etc. Again, though, way underneath, there's the unbearably painful part of grief that a lot of people don't/can't talk about just because it's way too much, because they may not want to make loved ones feel worse by talking about how much pain they're in, or because they just can't be that candid about their inner-most thoughts/feelings.
So, it's kind of like families go on and keep living. Everyone knows that everyone else is dealing with losing the loved one. Much of the time nobody can, or will, really talk about those inner-most thoughts. What can be misleading is that people talk about a certain amount, so it looks as if they're being pretty open and honest about what they're dealing with - but there's that line a lot of people in deepest grief cannot cross when it comes to verbalizing what's going on inside.
As a mother of grown kids, there are a few things I've learned about how mothers tend to operate. It wasn't until I was a mother, myself, that I even had a clue about mothers think; and it wasn't until I had grown (or nearly grown) kids myself, that I even had a clue about yet more ways mothers tend to think/operate. One of those things I've discovered is that, no matter how grief-stricken I've ever been, I tend to try to keep acknowledging to my kids as "low key" as possible. I'm the mother. I'm the adult. No matter how old they've become, I have this thing that I will always be the mother and need to be strong because I am. (I'm not saying I think I need to mother my grown kids. I don't. Emotionally, though, I know that if it looks like I'm falling apart (I mean in a "long-term" way. I'm not referring to crying as "falling apart". I mean appearing to become "overall unhinged in grief, within the general context of life".), it will make my kids feel just that much less "comfortable" (for lack of a better word).
When my mother died there were all kinds of grandchildren and other young family members around, and I knew they were kind of nervous and "spooked" (for lack of a more appropriate word); and I knew they were kind of watching me to see what I was doing. I felt as if I had to show them that I would not fall apart. I felt it would make them feel just that much more secure, and I felt that, particularly in such a time of grief for them; I didn't have the luxury of not being strong for the young people who still needed someone older and wiser to be strong for them.
Where all this is going is this:
1. When families pull inward (and, again, I think grief makes most people do that to one extent or another), family members are obviously not growing closer. They're growing more distant. The longer people remain "inward", the more distance can develop. The more distance that develops, the more likely misunderstandings, miscommunication, and misinterpretations of one thing or another are to happen. That makes yet more distance.
2. The other point to the above "background" is that I think most of the times, most mothers aren't going to ever be able to be truly, truly, honest about how much they're suffering emotionally. It's built into good mothers to want to remain strong, come across as someone who is capable of having coping abilities, someone who wants to be a good example when it comes to coping skills, come across as someone who knows how to adjust and adapt and make a new plan, and someone sons and daughters don't need to worry about (because, after all, no well adjusted, loving, mother wants her children to be worried about her). As a daughter, no matter how old I was (six or thirty-five), I recall how unsettling it always was to see my mother in grief or having health problems or just seeming vulnerable or fragile at one time or another. It wasn't that my mother was "the type" to burden us. She was strong and tough, right up to the end; and she chose to "remain the parent" right to the end too. Still, over the course of a lifetime, people run into those times when they see their mother suffering or struggling with something. No matter how much my mother stayed strong, there was no way she could stop me from feeling unsettled if I thought she was going through something. Anyway, the point is, I remembered how it felt to be a grown daughter; and that's why, as a mother, I've put in a big effort to come across to my kids as someone who is super strong, super positive (at least if at all possible), and not someone they need to feel unsettled about (or for).
It's not that I keep some worry or sadness I'm going through from my kids. It's just that I won't talk about in a way that isn't calm (even non-chalant). So, I'm the type who'll say something, like "I'm dealing with something awful right now." What I won't do is try to drive home the point exactly how awful I do feel. It's particularly challenging when my kids are going through the same loss I am. In fact, what I've seen with them is that they know I'm dealing with something awful; so they won't feel very free to really talk about HOW bad they're feeling either (because they don't want to add to my sadness).
The point to all this (other than trying to share how mothers of grown kids can think) is that if your mother described your father as her soul mate, there's a really good chance she's going through things she can't/won't even try to express. I had a family member who lost her toddler, and she said she and her husband found the grief so unbearable; the only thing they could imagine trying to do to ease it was to have another child and have a joy that was at least somewhat "of a similar level" to their loss. She said she had trouble explaining to people that she wasn't trying to replace her baby at all. She knew there was no way she could do that. She and her husband were just so, so, unbearably unhappy; they wanted to find some source of joy in life - if just to have something other than sadness in their minds and hearts.
I wouldn't be surprised if your mother's decision to find someone to date came from that kind of thinking. Saying something like, "I'm ready to move on," is, if you think about, a way for her to try to explain why she wanted to go out with someone; but maybe what's underneath such a simple, easy-to-understand, explanation was more along the lines of, "I'm so, so, miserable and in need of something nice in life; this is something I thought might be a good way to begin to move on."
I think your noting that you weren't close by in the time following your father's death hits on a big point too. When my father died, my sister was already married. She had a two-year-old. My brother was a teenager. My mother and I did form a certain kind of "thing" that involved us doing things to get out together, or spending a lot of time talking. It didn't mean for a minute that she was closer to me than to either my sister or brother. I know it didn't. It just meant that we looked closer at the time, sometimes. Of course, if there have been disagreements in a family, that makes more distance. Sometimes if a person is in grief, he can't help but feel closer to the person he's not having disagreements with.
When my mother died I had been at her house taking care of her daily. I stayed at the house because there were a lot of loose ends (to say the least) to take care of. My sister worked full-time. So did my brother. I was there every day. I'm not at all saying the grief was any less or different for either of my siblings, but getting through each day in that period after my mother died was a different thing for me than for them. I lived with big and small reminders of my mother - reminders of a happier time, reminders of all the awful things that led up to her death, reminders of everything. There wasn't any escaping it. I couldn't think of the happy times because doing that made me feel worse. I couldn't think of the awful times because doing that made me feel bad too. I'd just go to the local shopping center and see the bank I'd so often parked outside of and watched her go in, or come out. The doorway brought back memories. The same with the doorway she'd come out of at the grocery store. Then - when they wrecked that shopping center to build a new one, I had to go through feeling as if it was "an end of an era" and not wanting to see the old, run-down, mall be demolished.
Some nights I'd go out and walk through the neighborhood, or I'd stand out in the yard - just to get away from the house. A couple of nights it occurred to me that I could stand in a certain place and look in at the light in the kitchen, and feel like I was back to the time she would be behind that door and doing something in the kitchen. I knew it was an "unhealthy" thing to allow myself to do, but I did. I stood in that spot in the yard and pretended to be back to a happier time for awhile. Then it made me feel worse because I did that.
My point is that it is a very different thing for the people who have been in someone's daily life to adjust to than it is for someone who wasn't close by. Again, I can't stress enough that I'm not saying the grief isn't the same or equal in so many ways. Processing it, and the experience of being nearby-versus-not, can be different. Then, too, how close someone was to someone in his own way; birth order, how life was for any one family member at any one time; etc., are all different. Nobody can exactly go through the same matters of loss, guilt, etc., and yet, in a lot of ways, people all tend to go through some things in common. It's no wonder people get confused about whether or not they truly understand other family members' actions, decisions, motives, etc.
It strikes me that what you've been going through in more recent times is almost more a matter of grieving the whole life and relationships you had before, and may not really quite be grieving the loss of your father at this point. No doubt, you're grieving his loss. We tend never to get over the sense of sadness after losing a parent we're close to. It's just that I think your sense of loss and grief has now kind of "metastasized beyond" just the isolated matter of your father's death.
Basically, I'm under the impression you feel like your father's death marked the complete unheaval of not just your world, but your life and you and your sense of wellbeing within the context of your family.
That didn't happen for me when either parent died, but I've had something like that go on in my life. What I found I needed (and still need) were things that reminded me that my whole world had not fallen apart, and that my family remained strong and solid and close in spite of having some big strains on it.
As I think about what all of you might be able to do to make things better; naturally, the thought of talking with someone like a counselor comes to mind. So does the "ever-popular" suggestion that everyone try to find ways to communicate more effectively and openly. The trouble is, I think, sometimes when everyone is going through his own thing; it's almost too much to also try to work on relationships.
If I can throw in one more thing I've run into in life, there was a time one of my sons and I were having real trouble getting along. (It was around the time my mother had just died, and he'd been super-close to her, among a number of other factors.) He and I decided that neither of us wanted to be fighting all the time, so we agreed not talk about any of the "hot button issues" that inevitably got us arguing. We knew it wasn't the greatest thing in the world to stay way from "confronting the issues" we had between us, but we also knew that (at least at the time) there wasn't going to be any agreement. So, we agreed to stay away from talking about those "hot button issues" and only talk about things that were "neutral". What doing that did, though, was give us the chance to be together and enjoy time together without arguing or without feeling resentful. It kind of brought us back to a time when we'd been close and gotten along well. Something as simple as laughing at the same movie, or talking about things that were enjoyable gave us the chance to "be us" again - the "real us", not the "temporary, arguing, us".
That was the beginning of us growing close again, and it was the thing that would help us stay close through a lot of difficult times that would follow (and times when it was most important we be close).
Other than that time with my son, there have been one or two big things that have created strains between me and a couple of family members. We have always done the same thing, and that is to tell ourselves that, no matter what people do; we generally can never really understand "where they are coming from", and nobody ever means to hurt or slight someone else. We remind ourselves that life is too short to let strains damage close relationships, especially because the people involved are usually very certain that, underneath it all, family members love each other in a way they can never express.
It occurs to me that since your mother is old enough to have grown kids, she's middle-aged. She may have been looking at her future (after the future she'd always assumed she'd had was taken away), and assessing whether she had much choice in either letting dating wait, or going for a relationship with someone she thinks will make a good match. Futures and time can look a lot different when you're middle-aged than when you're student-aged. :)
Something else I've discovered about being old enough to have grown kids and grown nieces and nephews, is that; as the older person, I've always kind of thought that kids grow up and don't care much what parents/aunts/uncles think or so. Grown kids have their own lives; so, as the earlier-generation adult, I've had a tendency to think grown kids have outgrown worrying about my input, decisions, actions, etc. I've discovered, though, that I've been wrong about that at times. I've discovered that even grown kids still care about what I think about one thing or another, or do. So, what has felt to me like "realizing they're grown now" has occasionally looked to one grown son, daughter, or niece or another like insensitivity on my part. Basically, I've sometimes kind of assumed that grown kids don't care all that much what I do sometimes. I've discovered they still do.
Also, as bad as losing a parent is, losing a long-time spouse is a whole different, far more complicated, kind of loss. I've known some people who were married over 30 years and suddenly broke up, and I've known people to lose a spouse to death. There are issues about day-to-day life, looking at the future, losing the person, thinking of the things he won't get to share, and any number of other complicating things. There are also issues about having to watch one's own children go through the loss and wondering (no matter how old one's children are) what one can do to return life to a feeling of "some version of normal" for one's children. Maybe, in her own way, your mother believes if she builds a life for herself, that will be a "version of normal life" that you and your siblings will benefit from.
I don't want to make you feel bad about your mother (and, of course, I don't know how she feels inside), but there's the chance she was in so, so, much pain and loneliness at losing her "soul mate", she went into the "emotional survival" mode grieving people can go into, which is, "I need to do whatever it takes to help myself feel at least a little better." She may have known that, of course, there's zero chance of the life and future she once had being returned to her; and that can be a pretty unbearable thing for people to have to live with. She may have thought that taking "positive steps" toward healing and re-building a life would be healthy examples for her grown kids. She may have even thought that her kids had their own life and wouldn't mind a whole lot if she had a "friend".
You're probably right that you delayed the grieving process by not being there all the time. I can see how once you got back home you'd be being faced with the things that your family members had been faced with years before. Also, though, there's a lot of the "being there thing" that can make grief seem so much worse. A silly example I have is that I was going through my mother's mail and papers (and stuff), and I found a note she'd left for someone, asking them to make sure they didn't let the cat into the kitchen because she'd left some Thanksgiving treats out and didn't want the cat checkng them out. I know I'm going back to the thing about not being able to escape the large and small things that make things so much harder when we're around the home after a death; but my point is that even if your mother and others got to process some of the "proximity-to-the-loss" issues awhile before you had to, there were things they had to deal with that may be hard for you to imagine. (I know I never said to my sister, "You know what I found? Mum's note about the cat." It would have made my sister feel as bad as I felt when I found it, and it would have made me feel bad all over again. So, a lot of things I just never said to anyone.)
The fact, too, that you had to go through your father's long illness (besides losing him) means that you've had grief to process about watching him go through that, not just grief to process about losing him. You were young when he was going through is long illness. (Young people's brains aren't even finished completely maturing until early- to mid- twenties. How they think, experience things, interpret things, etc. can be affected by being young.) It was a lot for a teenager/early twenties to have dumped on her. It's probably not at all unusual or surprising that such a "kick in the head" so young (particularly since it was preceded by all those years of your father's illness) meant you'd have some trouble with depression/chronic unhappiness.
Maybe you didn't so much need more time to get over losing your father. Maybe what you needed was time in adult life, building a life with just your mother and siblings and kind of feeling like you got on your feet emotionally. Maybe, after having life in upheaval for as long as you did (with your father's illness), you needed a chance to experience a sense of "normal" (even if it had to be without your father) with your mother and siblings; maybe as a way of getting back some of that pre-illness time your whole family had at one time. In other words, maybe it was a kind of closure you needed after losing "pre-father's-illness" life so long ago, and for so long, before the illness was no longer an issue in all of your lives.
If I could go on just awhile longer.... I think I know how you feel about your new partner and wishing he could know the "you" you were before (and the family you had before). When I met my husband (from whom I'm long divorced now), it was a couple of/few months after I was in accident in which my best friend had been killed. I still had some remnants of injuries, and I felt like I was "the girl who was in the bad accident" or "the girl who was living with having just lost her long-time best friend". My (then) new acquaintance and I got to know each other better over the next few months. We had our first date about six months after the accident, and when my date (and future husband) came to pick me up, it was my father who answered the door. That was the only exposure to my father my new boyfriend had before my father's heart attack. Later, he would come to the hospital with me once on one of my many visits before my father died.
In any case, as our relationship grew, I kind of felt like I wasn't "just the girl who lost her best friend", but then "the person whose father just died". Living with double-whammy grief when I first dated my husband, I felt like I was kind of "damaged goods" in some ways. He had his two parents, and when we'd eventually go visit them in another state, I felt like "the one who only has her mother left". As with all loss, I moved on and never thought a whole lot about being "the one" any more. We were used to it. When it came time to get married, we went with a small wedding because I figured, "Since I don't have my father - why bother with a big wedding." (The "damaged-goods" thing reared its ugly head again.)
Well, I knew my husband for 18 years before we divorced; and we've now been divorced for years. Just last week, my ex-husband was visiting, and my brother came by with some photos of our childhood, as well as photos of my father. I was enthusiastic as I shared with my kids' father the pictures of my father being "him" (not being the man in the hospital, or just the man who answered the door that day). I felt like the pictures showed my ex-husband that I, too, had had a father - and I was proud of how handsome and youthful my father looked. It was as if a part of who I am, and a part of my life, that my kids' father had never seen was something I could finally share with him. I was kind of "little-girl proud" to share the pictures of my childhood home, my grandfather and father with my sister, my brother, and my different shots of my father with someone who just had never known that part of my life. It was just kind of like I could show my ex-husband, "See? See how good it all was? See how things were, and who I was, before I became "the person who no longer has her father"? As I clarified for my brother which baby in the photos was which family member, and as I filled him on things in the pictures he's too young to have remembered; and as I watched my ex-husband sit and seem to kind of enjoy (yet feel left out, of course) my brother's and my going over these pictures for a little while; I felt like - after all these years - I was getting to be "the one with the father" and "the one for whom things are normal and good and happy".
When it comes to your new partner, my suggestion is (if you haven't done this already - and I don't know what took me 30 years to do it (LOL) ), don't just be "the person who lost her father to cancer" or "the person whose life was turned upside" to your partner. More importantly, try not to see yourself as that person. Don't just let your partner be the person who brings new things into your "otherwise unhappy life". Let him be part of your overall life, which includes the "pre-loss you", as well as the "post-loss you". If you can look at, and share something like pictures or stories about your family before your father got sick, do that. Yes, you're someone who has been knocked for a major loop by the loss of your father (and problems in the family), but you're still the same you. You just don't feel like it right now, probably. Do things that remind yourself of the "old you" and your relationship with your mother and siblings before.
Don't let the loss of your father take away more from you, your future, or your family than it already has. Separate an awful thing that happened in your life from who you, as a person, are (if you can). Your mother, siblings, and you all have the same awful loss to live with; and it's a loss none of you will ever get over completely. You all need to try to understand the others, because you all need each other's support on this one issue of having lost your father.
Sincerest wishes that you find a way to heal some of the fractures, and re-build the closeness that will help make the loss of your father just a little less painful for all of you.
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