January 1, 2016

4 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me After My Dad Died.

I can tell a lot about a person from the way that they ride a train.

The way that they look out of windows without really seeing anything at all. The way that they stare down at their hands or the way that their face gently shifts into involuntary smiles at thoughts that I’ll never be privy to. On my train ride home after work today, I sat staring out of a window listening to an entire Beatles album on repeat all while crying profusely.

What does that say about me?

It’s been seven years since my dad died. Sometimes it feels like seven years, but on days like these, it feels like it’s only been seven days. I was 15 years old when my dad passed away. Fifteen years old and insecure. Fifteen years old and easily embarrassed. Fifteen years old and unprepared. Fifteen years old and unsure of everything that made me who I was. Losing such an influential guiding force during such a crucially developmental part of my life catapulted me into a whirlwind of struggling to discover myself, while simultaneously dealing with a critical absence in my life.

Here are four things that I wish someone could have told me when I was 15 years old and completely, utterly, painfully lost:

1. Continuing doesn’t mean forgetting.

I know that you feel selfish to enjoy the things in your life that mark pivotal moments. Your high school graduation. Your first dance performance. Moving into your first dorm. Graduating college. Because he can’t enjoy experiencing these moments in your life, you feel like you can’t either. But you have the right to change. To grow. To explore and to experience.

It’s easy to feel guilty for continuing, but the only direction you can go is straight ahead. Yes, press pause a few times. Press rewind and fast forward, but the reality is that you can’t stay stagnant forever. Press play, because regardless of how often you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, you deserve to.

2. Loss can act as a catalyst for inspiration.

Pour your soul into what it is that you love. Let your heartbreak bleed into your art. Let your pain inspire you to love harder. Let your anger inspire you to really breathe. Let your sadness provoke empathy within you for others. Allow your loss to break you so that you can go deep within yourself to find the pieces that will take you years to put back together. Let your loss teach you gratitude, humility and acceptance. Let your loss teach you what love really means.

3. Feeling what you’re feeling is okay.

The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can journey towards healing. Stop trying to fight the hurt. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time. It’s okay to have relapses, to fall into extended periods of depression, to feel hopeless, empty and alone. It’s all a part of the process. Don’t rush your healing. Learn to appreciate every morning that you wake up with a broken heart, and every night that you fall asleep crying. This will guide you into the mornings in which you wake feeling a little stronger and the nights in which you fall asleep in peace. Regardless of how impossible it might seem, embrace your pain and trust the process.

4. The people who are throwing out safety nets while you fall and fall and fall—keep those people in your life.

Show your gratitude by truly cherishing them. They are a constant reminder that a strong support group can help you get through this. They are a constant reminder that regardless of how alone you feel, you never really are. Learn to accept the help that the people surrounding you are so graciously offering. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t believe the lies in your heart that tell you that love will always end in a crushing loss like this one. Understand that there are people in your life who really love you and who really appreciate you. Don’t push them away.

It took me a long time to understand that I didn’t have to punish myself for continuing my life. It also took me a long time to understand that without the loss that I experienced, I wouldn’t have been able to access the parts of me that would have otherwise been inaccessible.

I would give every piece of my soul to have my dad back in my life, but I have finally learnt how to embrace losing him. Without my loss, I wouldn’t have found a liberating passion in dance. Without my loss, I wouldn’t have learned how to truly love, respect and appreciate the people in my life. Without my loss, I would have never learnt that healing is a journey that anyone can take. And that the first step on that journey is coming to the realization that you deserve to take it.

Without my loss, I would have never known what real heartbreak feels like, and that seven years later, I could still feel pangs of it on my train ride home.

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Kelisha Gardeen

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