It has been ten days since the third Noticing of my dad and this is the first time I’ve sat down to write a post. I flip between thinking this does and does not mean something. The first Noticing is understandably a huge thing, and the second wasn’t much easier; should the third have been more like the first two or should it have been more like those to come? Do I get less sad over the years or does it peak again at 5 years? 10?
I know there are no right answers, but I feel that there are typical ones, and maybe I’m in a normal place that it’s not like this third Noticing “wasn’t a big deal”, but it was different and it will continue to be different. I know that grief takes different forms for everyone and at various stages of their lives, but I guess I always manage to forget that change is intrinsic to life; I should have figured that this May 6th would be different from the past May 6ths.
I feel like I wore my grief differently this year. I think last year I was afraid of how I would feel at the second Noticing, but it snuck up on me because I had been distracted with the rest of my life and I had only had one Noticing before and it was a little devastating. This year, I had been nervous about this whole time of year (Dad’s diagnosis was April 13 and he died May 6, so spring in general is a bad time) even from January and I anticipated feeling so horrible that I ended up preparing myself emotionally and taking care of myself to avoid feeling as bad as I was scared I would feel, and in the end, essentially, all I did was take care of myself and made it less bad. I think I keep wanting to say that I’m less sensitive to the important dates, but actually, I think I just made the effort to be sensitive to them and handle them how I wanted to (which was always surrounding myself with my family and partner, and participating in rituals that honoured my dad, which was always eating). It’s tempting to say that I wasn’t as affected this year, but realistically, I put time aside for every important date – diagnosis, his birthday, the last time I saw him, the day he died – and I think about him all the time, and somehow these actions put less weight on his Noticing day by spreading it out over weeks, and somehow that was more manageable.
Part of what has made it easier to live with is that most people in my life know that my dad has been dead for a little while; either we were friends before he died, or they’re friends I’ve made through work in the past year and all they know is that he’s been dead since they’ve known me. In any case, this is a fact about me and I’ve learned to be less nervous about telling people it. Obviously I still try to be mindful of the situation – there isn’t always the need to drop the whole truth – but I am now much less afraid of what it might do to the group or person’s mood if I say, “my dad died # years ago when I was 23, three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.”
Maybe it helps that we’re older now, too. Between cousins and friends, I know a hefty handful of people who lost a parent or two in their late teens to 20s, and we all felt alone and sad and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, and our friends wanted to help but it was such foreign territory. Now I’m 26 and most people in my life are somewhere between 23-32, and more people know someone who has lost someone. It still isn’t expected to know such grief at this age, but it’s less unexpected now than it was at 23, and we’re all dealing with it better. (It also helps that I have many deep relationships with soft and empathetic people.)
Now that we’ve made it over the hurdles of my brother’s wedding, my mom’s 60th birthday, my first real and loving romantic relationship, and my sister’s ongoing achievements at work, it’s tempting to say that it will be smoother sailing from here. It’s not that it’s a grand ol’ time, but just that we’ve learned to live with it and that’s how you survive.