Twenty years ago this month I lost my Dad to a tragic car accident. To me "tragic" is an understatement of course and certainly it was tragic in more ways than one. My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one in a vehicle accident. The annual mortality rate here in the USA from vehicles is mind blowing... but no one seems to be overly concerned. I mean I never hear much about vehicular safety. When a loved one takes to the road to go to work, school or walmart few of us ever think anything of it. On an early April morning in 2001 my Dad made a 1 mile trip to get a newspaper and my whole world was turned inside out. I was certainly "shell shocked" and "unsettled" for years.
You see... your Dad is like no other person. No matter how bad I had been or how stupid or no matter the size of my screw up... my Dad was always in my corner. Sure he would correct me but he let me know he was 100% behind me and believed in me. More than once he told me "you have the right stuff". No matter what. Often he told me how proud he was of me... at times when I was certainly not proud of myself. When you lose your Dad you lose that one person... your greatest champion.
The grieving process is just that.. a process. The initial loss and pain is almost unbearable... mixed with disbelief and confusion. This stage can last for some time...months or years. For me the next stage in the process was what I call the "woe is me" stage. Where I was really pissed off I lost my Dad too soon. Particularly because my Dad was in great shape for his age, closing in on 70 and still building houses. Compared to his 2 brothers he was a supreme physical specimen given the years behind them. Everyone assumed he would outlive everyone in his immediate family by a substantial margin. Him being the first of his siblings to go was not supposed to happen, that made me angry. Other folks may lose their parents to old age but had lots of time to say goodbye... and on and on. Tons of reasons for me to stay in the "woe is me" stage. Admittedly I wallowed there.
The final stage for me (none of them are ever completely over by the way) was what I call the "gratitude stage". Finally I started to realize how much my Dad had done for me. How much he actually had prepared me for this incredibly tough process. I started to think about all the other folks who had no dad at all or who had lost their dads when they were very young. I had gotten almost 32 years with my Dad! I also thought of all the people who had shit dads... dads who beat them, abused them, molested them and/or their mothers. I think of all the people who have alcoholic dads or meth dads or any other terrible addictions. Dads that gambled, philandered, ran away, lived off welfare, etc. etc. etc. My Dad was an incredible Dad... every single day of those 32 years. I have been incredibly blessed. It is indeed the very reason I myself am a decent dad and know how to be a dad. I also learned in this stage to give love and gratitude for my dad as this is the best way to memorialize him and honor him everyday. My heart swells with love and gratitude when I think of my Dad.
The gratitude step of the grieving process has helped me immensely in this past 20 years of the healing. So many times when I have started down that road of "woe is me" I now know to STOP and start to think about all the other billions of folks who have it way worse than me. When I miss my kids... I think...wow how grateful am I to even have 2 amazing kids to miss. When I am behind on my laundry and dishes I think wow how grateful am I to have a washer/dryer/dishwasher, clothes, dishes, utensils... when so many people have so little and wash their rags at a muddy creek. What I have learned is this- NO MATTER HOW BAD I FEEL... YOU CAN NEVER HAVE NEGATIVE FEELINGS IF YOU ARE FEELING GRATEFUL.
Look for an opportunity to practice this next time you are having your own little pity party or negative feelings. Flip whatever it is into gratitude. Do this and your life will immediately change. Thank you Dad for being such an amazing Dad and giving me the most valuable lesson in my life. Your love continues through me and reverberates onward into the ages.