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Goodbye Daddy

Heather van Mil14 comments3928 views
Remembering my father's death

Grief is a funny thing. It never looks exactly how you expect. You may have noticed it had been pretty quiet over here for the last few weeks. that is because my father unexpectedly passed away in the early hours of Friday, September 19. His sudden passing at the relatively young age of 64 has shaken our family and in the process, I’m learning what grief looks and feels like in my life.

Horse rides with Dad
Horsey rides with my Dad

If my relationship with my dad was a Facebook status, it would be “it’s complicated”. Our tumultuous past, coupled with the fact that we lived over 4000 km apart for the last 10 years has left me left me feeling at odds with the grieving process. Although we talked regularly and visited yearly, my Dad wasn’t a part of my daily life so his absence hasn’t impacted me in the same way that it has the rest of my family. His passing doesn’t quite seem real to me yet – logically I understand that he is no longer with us, but it isn’t tangible to me yet, and a large part of grieving for me is trying to get to that place where I really feel it deep in my bones.

Playing Music with Dad
Music was always a big part of our lives

The viewing was the first step on that journey. My Dad wished to be cremated, so we had a private family time to say goodbye beforehand. That hit home for me, seeing him then, but it also didn’t feel like him in a way. He was cold, and even his hair didn’t feel real. My sister in law aptly pointed out that she expected to hear loud snoring. In life, even while sleeping, my Dad was a loud man with a larger than life presence. Afterwards, the busy work that follows death occupied our time and spent our energies. Much of it was impersonal and left me feeling a bit numb so I looked for ways to remember my Dad that had meaning to me. My sister and I got matching tattoos in his honour as well as keepsake memorial necklaces filled with a bit of his ashes. And yet I felt like my grieving wasn’t complete. This “new reality” just didnt seem real to me.

Daddy Tattoo and Memorial Necklace - memorializing my father's death
Tattoo and Memorial necklace – part of how I am keeping my Dad close

Next we will scatter his ashes. My mother, siblings and I all will take part in this ritual in ways that are personal and meaningful to each of us. I brought my Dad back home to BC with me, a place he always wanted to visit but never had the chance. I’m researching different options, but am thinking of renting Harleys and scattering his ashes along the Sea to Sky highway up to Whistler – arguably one of the most beautiful bike routes, and one I always wanted to travel with my Dad. Perhaps then I will finally come to terms with my father’s death, or maybe there are many more steps on my grieving journey.

My Dad and my daughter on his beloved Harley
My Dad and my daughter on his beloved Harley

Maybe it’s silly to put a timeline on mourning, perhaps it is a lifelong process. The first Christmas, birthday and Father’s Day without him. The first time an appliance breaks, a deck needs to be built or an oil changed and he isn’t there to help. There is a bit of mourning every time my 18 month old hears a motorcycle and says “Papa!” remembering a man she had only met twice. I often wonder what she thinks when that motorcycle passes by without stopping. Does she wonder why Papa doesn’t say hi? I’m sure I will grieve a bit when my own daughters are walking down the aisle with their Dad and mine isn’t there to witness it or reminisce when we walked the same path and shared a laugh on my wedding day.

Walking down the aisle with my Dad
Working hard to coordinate our steps

Whether this is a finite period of time with an end in sight, or a lifelong process that only ends when I do, it definitely isn’t what I expected. Even writing this post Is a way or mourning and remembering a man who, despite having a difficult and frustrating relationship with, was still my Daddy.

Toasting my Dad at his favourite watering hole
With my family, toasting my Dad at his favourite watering hole

14 Comments

  1. Hi Heather,
    I very much enjoyed reading about your feelings about your grieving. Being separated by geographical distance from your family in Ontario, will be hard especially when you just want to give your Mom or one of your siblings a hug. I wonder what Adri thinks about her Papa suddenly being gone? Talking about your Dad, the last viewing, the memorial celebrations, what your plans are for his ashes that you have is lovely. In a death denying society, sometimes it is hard to share how you feel about death and grieving. Thanks again for sharing you and your Dad! Hugs, Barb

  2. Oh Heather, I am so very sorry for your loss. That was a lovely tribute to your relationship with your Dad and I hope that you are able to find a way that is special and meaningful for you to scatter his ashes. Your idea about renting Harleys sounds like a very fitting way to say goodbye. Take care and be gentle with yourself.

  3. Oh, Heather, this is hard! My relationship with my dad is also “complicated” so I can totally relate. The tattoo and necklace idea are neat. I’ve learned also that grief is complicated and takes time. It will hit you at odd moments. If you haven’t, give yourself permission to cry. I lost someone dear to me last summer and found myself not grieving for a long time – there never seemed to be a good time to cry – and it helped when I realized that and just cried about her loss. Anyways, blessings to you during this time!

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I imagine the complicatedness of your relationship when he was alive adds a complication to your grief. Thanks for your openness.

  5. Thinking of you Heather. I can’t imagine. My Dad is 65 and I don’t know what I would do if I lost him. Even thinking about it makes me feel like I can’t breath. Big hugs. This post was a beautiful tribute to your dad.

    Best Wishes,

    Crystal

  6. Wishing you love and ease as you pass through these hallways of grief. I won’t lie, it will be tumultuous at best. I lost my Mom in her 66th year. That was 7 years ago and I still miss her dearly. Granted, the energy is different and emotions are not as raw.
    Stay close to your family is my best advice. You each give and get strength by keeping his memory alive.
    Thank you for sharing your life. <3

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