At the young age of 17 as I was about to become a woman, graduate from high school and leave my family home and start college who would have ever thought I would have to bury my father.  My dad became ill my sophomore year in high school with melanoma.  My best friend’s father at the time was also diagnosed with cancer.  The two of us dealt with issues that no teenage girl should have to deal with ultimately the death of a father.

As I plan for one of the biggest days of my life, becoming a bride, I am taking time to reflect about how my father has been a huge part of getting me to the alter, even though he’s departed.  At times like these I think “why, oh why, were you taken away from me so soon”. Wishing and wanting him to be here to walk me down the aisle and support me as I am about to become a wife.

We expect our parents to die before us; that’s just the natural order of life.  Yet that doesn’t mean we know how to deal with all the unresolved feelings that are left after they are gone.

For a long time, I struggled with this and continue to work on the loss of my father no matter the time frame that has passed.  After 26 years I thought the wound would be healed.  It has gotten smaller, yet some days it feels like it was just yesterday that I watched him take his last breath.

I took care of my father for months.  My mother would start the IV and I would rush home from school to turn it off or vice versa.  IV’s were a daily and nightly routine.  There were many sleepless nights and many times, by the grace of God, we would wake to turn off the IV as the last drop was going into the line.  We definitely had angels watching over us.

I watched him struggle with the pain of one experimental drug program after another and I always hoped that this time it would work and things would go back to normal.  I was blessed, in that, I spoke to my father the day before he died. He spoke to all of us kids and my mother.  He had a conversation with me about what he wanted from me as I became a woman, how he wanted me to be treated when I got older, what to look for in a husband and how much he truly loved me.

Even though my father wasn’t taken from me suddenly and I got the chance to say goodbye, I wasn’t ready.  I longed to hear his voice, see his smile or watch his eyes twinkle when his princess walked into the room.  If you’ve been caring for a parent who is ill and their passing is expected, you might think you’re ready. I’m going to suggest that you can never really be “ready”.

If the passing was sudden and unexpected, it can leave you feeling lost that you never got to say goodbye or say the things you really needed to say. You may even feel guilty.  If it was a difficult or challenging relationship, you may have conflicting feelings of being sad that their gone and happy that you no longer have to deal with a relationship that was tumultuous and sometimes hurtful.

Regardless of the state of your relationship and how your parent passed, it can leave you feeling empty, confused, and alone. Here are a few tips that may help you navigate this new area of your life:

Be gentle with yourself

No matter if they were sick or passed unexpectedly, it’s natural to think why me, why now, I wasn’t ready. You will never be ready, so be gentle with yourself. You cannot prepare yourself in advance for how you will feel so don’t be frustrated that you’re not healing as quickly as you had hoped. 

It is ok!  Everyone deals with grief in their own way and in their own time.  Make sure that you are allowing the emotions to come to the surface and not just stuffing them down.  This will not serve you and will rear its ugly head when you least expect it. 

Take the time that is necessary to cry even when you don’t think you have the time to cry.  Believe me, even as I sit here and write this article I have cried just thinking about my dad, the times we had and things he has missed.

Take your time

Don’t let anyone rush you through the grieving period. It will take as long as it takes and that amount of time is different for everyone. Grieving is never entirely over, it just becomes easier to accept over time. Again, 26 years have passed and somedays I swear it feels like yesterday. What heals the wound is what you do with that time.  Do what is necessary in order for you to heal and have closure.

Be kind to yourself

Grief takes a toll on you physically, spiritually and emotionally. Be gentle with yourself. Make sure you take care of you. Turn to people you know and trust and most importantly to God or your higher power.

Experience your emotions

All emotions are natural and okay to experience. In addition to your sadness, you may feel a sense of relief if they were sick for a long time. You may feel anger because your complicated relationship was never resolved or even with God for that matter. Or you may feel guilty that they were far away and you didn’t make enough time to be with them. All of these feelings are a part of the grieving process and feeling them is completely natural.

Ask for help

If you feel you need it, seek support. Talk to a friend who’s been through it or work with a professional to help you deal with your feelings. I use the horses to help others with the grieving process.

Death is a natural part of life, yet the pain it leaves behind for the living can be difficult to navigate. Recognize that you will feel this way for a while, not just a few days or a few weeks.  You may even be surprised by your grief when you least expect it.

If you’re struggling to work through your grief, Equine Gestalt Work can help you understand your feelings and work through your emotions. If this has helped you in any way, please share it with your friends.