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He’s gone, and he’s never coming back again.

If you’ve never felt the sharp pang of losing an immediate family member, chances are you know someone who has. It digs, it bites, it tears at the very core of your being. When the family member is a parent, the feeling is even more intense. One of your certainties in life—that your parents have always been there and always will be—is suddenly taken from you. The grief can be overwhelming.

But what if you didn’t have to feel the grief? What if you could go into your mind, gather up all the feelings that were causing you pain, and lock them away? You could spare yourself the anguish, the loss, all the baggage that remains with you after the emotional trip you’d go on.

Those were my exact thoughts after I lost my father in my mid-twenties. Life had dealt me quite the hand over the last several years. I buried great-grandparents, grandparents, and an uncle. Despite these personal tragedies, I was able to continue on, because my friends and, most importantly, my parents were there to help get me through the funerals and healing afterwards. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it all without them.

Then my father died.

My father, my world, the target of my every waking desire for approval was suddenly gone. The most gut-wrenching feeling of loss overcame me. Not only did the man I cared for the most suddenly die, but the man I would have turned to for help dealing with this was gone as well. I couldn’t even conceive of a way I could make my way through the emotional mine field that stood in front of me.

So I didn’t.

Slowly but surely I shut myself off from feeling any grief, any loss, any of the painful feelings I’d felt with the previous deaths. It was remarkably easy. There were the many details of the funeral to participate in, and I could always devote myself to helping the rest of my family through the ordeal. My family needed me, and it was easy to take all my own grief and put it on the backburner. When the smoke cleared and I was back home, on my own again, I simply chose not to bring my own feelings forward again. In fact, they were pushed even further back, locked away, moved to those corners of the mind only seen in the first waking moments of the day—that time just after you realize you’re crying and before you remember why.

The system worked remarkably well. I was able to return to my studies very quickly, and starting working again almost immediately. I certainly had my moments of weakness, but overall I was finding it easier to deal with the death of my father than even my seldom seen great-grandparents. I didn’t feel nearly as troubled as I had in previous losses.

But if I had looked a little deeper at the time, I would have noticed something even more important: I wasn’t feeling much of anything at the time. With my ability to feel all those painful emotions, I lost the ability to feel any of the good ones as well. Sure, I could laugh and share a joke with those around me, but those moments were like so many struck matches: quick to spark, but just as quickly the heat was gone. There was no lasting happiness in my life. Happiness would have required opening myself up to friendship, to love, and also to loss. That was unacceptable.

I continued this pattern for several years. I had girlfriends, but they were around for a couple months, and then gone. Either I would grow frustrated at their clingy—which I can now re-label caring—attitudes, or they would tire of waiting for me to become emotionally available to them. It was a great joke among my friends that I was going to be a confirmed bachelor for the rest of my life, and I laughed just as loudly as everyone else.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I made a decision to change my life. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to heal.” All I know is that over the span of several months I had been making changes in my life. I was unhappy at work, so I made changes to improve my job-satisfaction. I was unhappy with my education, so I made changes to increase my knowledge and career options. Somewhere along the way I also looked inside, at my personal life.

I was shocked to find there was little to take stock of. I had made few, if any, friends over the last couple years, and there was nothing I could point at that made me happy, that I loved. I had quarantined my heart, and realized that while no pain was coming in, no happiness was coming out. I had been starving myself of emotional contact, and my soul was emaciated almost beyond recognition.

Desperate to find any evidence to the contrary, to prove to myself that there was still life somewhere inside me, I went on a witch-hunt for any signs of passion, of the “old me” in my life. I looked to my writing, but it all read hollow. I searched the few hobbies I’d kept up, current events for anything that sparked some emotional response, even the eyes of the friends and family around me. Everything came back with the same result—I was nowhere to be found.

What could I do? A difficult question to answer when you can’t even decide who you are anymore. Whoever I had become, I knew it wasn’t who I wanted to be. Now that my situation was in my conscious thoughts, I could start making conscious efforts to deal with it. The first thing was to acknowledge the loss of my father, and come to terms with the pain and grief that I had held inside for so long.

After several shaky months of introspection and the help of family, my heart was set at ease. The inescapable healing process had begun, and while we can never completely heal from the loss of loved ones, we can shift our focus to a celebration of our life with them instead of giving in to self-destructing anguish.

More comfortable in my own skin, able to love myself again, I could look outwards and consider loving others. It’s never easy, because even at the best of times it’s difficult to open yourself up to the potential of rejection, let alone loss. But where before I had no chance of developing lasting and meaningful relationships, I can now look forward to the potential of something wonderful developing.

I have been able to pursue friendships and romantic relationships with a new, healthy openness. Life is about growth, and I’m once more on the path to becoming the man I’ve always wanted to be, the one my father would have been proud of. Whoever I was becoming has thankfully been stopped before he could make my life completely devoid of any happiness of fulfillment. With some hard work, and the love of my friends and family, I have escorted him out the front door of my heart, baggage in tow.

He’s gone, and he’s never coming back again.


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Signatures are lame. Oops!



Comments

The following comments are for "Good Grief"
by capulet

Good Grief
Thank you for sharing this. Much insight, very wise counsel. I am sorry for the loss of your father and happy to know that you have healed.

Nae

( Posted by: nae411 [Member] On: July 1, 2004 )





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