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Today marks two years since my Dad died of cancer. For me, those two years have been the best two years of my life, if you exclude the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you lose a parent. My daughter was only 2 months old when I found out that my Dad was going to die and he was gone in the blink of an eye. I’ve previously written about my first year as a parent. Initially, apart from trying to deal with coping with the loss, I was just left feeling angry. You see my Dad knew that he was going to die. For an age. Many months passed by, with him knowing that he had terminal cancer, and he chose not to reach out to me. We’ve always had an off and on relationship, as he was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, but he was still my Dad. I can remember the moment I found out he had died. Having visited just the day before I knew as soon as the phone rang that he was gone. I carried on pushing Daisy in her pram and off we went to the baby weighing clinic. Where I proceeded to bawl my eyes out! Today I want to talk to you about how I’ve dealt with the stages of grief since losing my Dad while dealing with having a small child too.
A recent trip to the seaside brought back lots of memories of my Dad. It finally feels like the right time to talk about it all more, and how I dealt with the stages of grief.
Firstly I want to be completely honest here. When my Dad died I became depressed. As I had my daughter just months before it was classified as PND. However, I feel that it was just depression through and through, rather than being specifically linked to having given birth. I never blogged about this, as I feel lucky that I made it through relatively unscathed. I was feeling well, mentally, around the 9-month mark, so by Christmas 2016, and I didn’t want to spend my time dwelling on how it feels when your parent dies. So initially I blocked it out. Completely. It definitely had an effect on my mental health. Most days I was left feeling a little numb. Like I wasn’t quite present in the room with my family. As I was also dealing with my daughter, and what would later turn out to be an FPIES diagnosis, I just felt that I had too much on my plate to grieve the loss. Initially, I didn’t go through the stages of grief, at least I didn’t feel that way at the time. Now I look back I realise that the five stages of grief came on pretty fast, at least the first 3.
I wasn’t ever really in denial about my family member dying. I guess as we had a strained relationship for years, that I had already felt like I had begun the grieving process for my Dad. For me, I knew it was going to be a part of life, given how little care and respect my Dad had for his own body. I quickly skipped past the denial stage and moved right on to anger, at my Dad, for not telling me that he was dying and leaving me with the financial burden of his funeral (that I later didn’t go on to pay for), and then I moved right through that stage quick sharp straight to depression. Where I stayed. For months. I would cry, for seemingly no reason, if I heard a song, if I thought about memories of my Dad, or just generally over the tiniest things. Crumbs on the hob. Cat hair on the sofa. I felt like I could deal with the difficulties of my daughter being ill, but acknowledging that my Dad had died, and the stages of grief are normal, wasn’t something I started to do until a year or so after my Dad passed away. Even now, that I feel strong, I have to work hard to avoid being stressed about petty small things.
I never really had a bargaining phase when dealing with my grief, but I know many people do. I wasn’t thinking that my Dad had passed away for some noble reason, or because of cruel fate or bad luck. Instead, I accepted that he had died because he failed to look after himself. His girlfriend admitted to me at one point that he had a lump in his groin for a long time, but refused to go to the Doctor about it. As a parent of a small child, this filled me with rage. I carried this anger with me for a long time, but now I have accepted that everyone deals with fear in a different manner. Personally, I like to confront things head on but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t know if my Dad would have been saved if he visited the Doctor earlier but we may have had some proper time together before he passed away. I don’t really like to think about this.
(AD) Now that I look back, and 2 years have passed, I feel like I am recovering well now. I am almost back to normal – whatever normal is. I’ve accepted that my Dad has died, that he didn’t want to ring me and tell me he was dying of cancer, but I’m grateful that I got to go and say goodbye to him in the hospice the day before he died. I have found ways to deal with the stages of grief, in a healthy manner, and to look after my mental health. I do not try to numb the pain. I no longer feel numb. I know that the stages of grief are normal and it is a part of life. Feeling grief is normal and it is common to feel the physical symptoms every day, especially in the early weeks and months after your loved one has passed away. I’m ok with admitting that to myself, and others now. Grief really is complicated. It is really difficult to find your own way to deal with it, and everyone is on a very personal journey. These tips for dealing with the stages of grief are just passed on my personal experience, and I’m not an expert as such. Hopefully, they will be of help to someone out there. If you need some professional help to manage grief you can use BetterHelp.
My own tips for dealing with the stages of grief
Arrange childcare. If possible, financially, then consider arranging childcare. I started my daughter attending nursery one morning a week. I found that this was really helpful for me, mentally, as I could drop her off and someone else was looking after her that morning. Also, if I had been having a down few days I knew that Daisy was going to have great fun at the nursery. The staff there love her, look after her well, feed her nutritious food and they spend the whole morning singing, playing and generally having fun together. If you have family members to help then ask them. Do not be afraid to lean on loved ones at this time – even if they are grieving too. Other members of your family may love the distraction of looking after your children for a couple of hours, or even overnight, to allow you some time to rest and recouperate.
Be kind to yourself. You’re going through a difficult time. Your life doesn’t have to be running perfectly right now. People will make allowances, if they don’t then frankly they’re not the type of people you want around you.
Treat yourself. If you can afford to then book treats. A massage, a hotel stay, a day trip, a trip to the local spa, whatever it takes to allow you to have some time to relax, and reflect. It can be really, really tempting to keep busy all of the time to block out the pain, and the grief. This is just prolonging the time it will take for you to begin to process your grief.
Take days off. Even at short notice. I work for myself and I had days where I just couldn’t concentrate, for a year afterwards. I allowed myself to climb into bed, take my daughter for a walk or do a little shopping. This refreshed my mind and allowed me to feel happy about the rest of my life.
Allow yourself to be sad. This is a normal part of grief. Don’t try to stop yourself from crying. You need time to let it out. You won’t cry all of your tears in the days or weeks after the death of your loved one, so allow yourself time to be sad. Explain to loved ones, or don’t explain if you don’t want to. Bottling up your grief may lead to you blowing up with anger.
Give yourself time to sit alone, for quiet reflection. I didn’t do this for a long time but then I began to sit alone, thinking about memories of my Dad. Sometimes this would make me cry but over time it got easier, much easier. Gradually my anger towards him turned back to love and I was able to talk and think, about the better times in our relationship as Dad and Daughter.
Continue with your usual routine as well as you can. If you have a normal routine, whether it’s a school run, walking the dog or watering your garden try and keep doing the little things. A routine is really helpful for you as it’ll keep your brain occupied and help you feel like you’re achieving things still.
Create a new routine if you don’t have one. As above a routine is important. If you don’t have a routine typically then consider creating one to give you small things to look forward to each day.
Sleep when you need to. You’re going to feel exhausted in the coming days and weeks. Allow yourself to sleep and rest when you need to. Try to ask friends and relatives to help with your child or children. It’s really important that you allow your body time to rest, and recover, from the shock.
Eat a healthy diet. It can be tempting to stop cooking and start living on takeaways. However, in the long run, this isn’t going to help your physical health, mental health or your bank balance!
Don’t look for a crutch such as alcohol. This is always going to be a bad idea!
Consider counselling. If you can face it then consider speaking to your Doctor to arrange counselling. There is typically a waiting list but if you can afford to go private I’ve found prices are around £40 per hour. Prices vary per area of course.
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