My father recently passed away unexpectedly. Suddenly my father was gone even though on the day he suffered a massive stroke, I had seen him and he had seemed his normal self. The grief I experienced was intense – this was my Dad, the man who had brought me up, cared for and loved me, and who had taught me so much. He had loved all of us – my Mum, my siblings and my sons. I was comforted by my faith and in knowing that he went without much suffering, that he was at peace and in a better place. During Dad’s wake, many came to pay their respects and share stories of the great influence my dad had been to them: as their teacher, their discipline master and their principal. We laughed and cried together with family and friends. This, too, helped ease the sadness.

What Others Sometimes Advise

Grief is a natural response when something or someone we love is taken away from us. But it is also a personal and individual experience – each of us grieves differently. The grief and loss that we go through depend on our personality, our coping style, our life experience, our faith and the nature of the loss. Healing will happen gradually and there is no right or wrong time frame. What is most important is that we are patient with ourselves and allow the process to naturally unfold.

I have experienced deep loss before, when I was first divorced, but I have learnt not to ignore my pain or push it as far away as possible. I now know that it can only make it worse in the long run. For real healing to take place, I have to face my grief and actively deal with it. When we first lost our Dad, many people came to me and said that I had to “be strong”, show a brave face to protect my family and not cry. But by showing my true feelings, I knew I could help them and myself.

Crying is not a weakness, and neither is feeling sad, frightened, or lonely. Though crying is a normal response to sadness, it is not the only one that we might experience. Just because some do not cry, it does not mean that they do not feel the pain just as deeply as others. Instead their pain could be shown in other ways. Our experience of loss and grief is different for each person and no one should tell you how you should feel or whether or not you should show it. Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It is okay to be angry, to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you are ready. Going forward does not mean you have forgotten about the loved one or that they are no longer missed.

Grief Can Occur In Stages

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “5 Stages of Grief” back in 1969. They are Denial (This can’t be happening to me), Anger (Why is this happening? Who is to blame?), Bargaining (Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.), Depression (I’m too sad to do anything) and Acceptance (I am at peace with what happened). One does not have to go through all or any of the stages, but still able to resolve the grief. We also do not need to experience the stages in this order. Do not try to fix ourselves in some stage of the cycle or worry about what we should be feeling. It is important to know that there is no typical response to loss. Our grief is as individual as we are.

I can identify with some and I know I had to deal with those emotions in order to heal. When it first happened, I could not believe it as Dad was generally healthy for his age. I found it really hard to accept what had happened. I tried to numb myself in those two days that he lay in a coma, and even denied the extent of damage to his brain. I kept my hope alive, expecting him to wake up and that all would be alright. I tried to think of signs that we may have missed or what we could have done to prevent the stroke. There was regret and guilt about the things I did or did not say or do. And I had moments where it was all so overwhelming; where I felt like I was in a bad dream, and moments where I even found myself questioning God. The sadness was deep, and it came with feelings of emptiness and helplessness. Our family endured a roller-coaster journey that had frequent highs and lows, ups and downs, and despair.

Coping with Our Grief

In sharing our feelings as a family, we found support in one another, and in others who mourned with us. This sharing allowed us to understand that we were not alone, and in expressing our feelings and experience, we learned to accept Dad’s sudden passing. Our family found ourselves within a network of support from relatives, friends and people who just wanted to help: whether it was with the wake, the funeral arrangements, in preparing meals, saying prayers or just offering their shoulder for us to cry on.

As a family, we wrote our last goodbyes to Dad in a card, saying all the things we hadn’t had a chance to say to him And we’ve created a photo album celebrating his life. But in the days after Dad’s passing and funeral, the stress took its toll on me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I needed to look after my body by getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising. I found that spending time with others and going to church also helped me through this difficult time.

Letting Grief Run Its Course

Father’s Day was a trigger for me. And I am sure there will be other events that will reawaken the memories and feelings. I talked about this with my sons and they had similar feelings too, as it is still so raw for all of us. But we decided that we wanted to find ways to honor our Dad and our Grandpa– this article, for me, is part of my healing journey as I remember my Dad and come to terms with the deep loss our family is faced with.