I was so incredibly lucky with the wonderful group of people that supported me through the worst experience of my life. I was surrounded by amazing friends and family members and more love than I ever thought I could receive. At the heart of that was my incredible, strong, caring, loving, goofball of a father.
After my mom passed away, I thought I was alone. I thought no one would know how to be friends with the freak who only had one parent. Man, was I wrong. People seemed to come out of the woodwork. Friends I had lost touch with reached out and offered their support. I honestly didn’t know what to do with the amount of support I was offered. It was overwhelming for me, and I ended up largely isolating myself, if for no other reason than because I couldn’t handle the love I was receiving. I turned pretty deep within myself, and slowly found myself cutting out people or refusing to talk to any of my friends about the pain I was going through. It was too much to have to explain to them both what it was like missing a parent and how I was feeling about missing that parent. But there was one person I couldn’t push away no matter how hard I tried. That is the man I am so wonderfully blessed to call my father, and one of my best friends.
This first chapter of Option B is about resilience. Having resilience is always important, no question about that. But it’s an especially important component of grieving because, while we do grieve, we cannot let that grieving destroy our core strength. And, while resilience is an important characteristic to have, there are also characteristics we have to say “go away” to. We call them the Three P’s: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Are you battered by the thought that it’s all your fault? That’s Personalization battering your brain. Are you haunted by the thought that what happened will affect every aspect of your life forever? That’s Pervasiveness dictating your thoughts. And do you think that this is the way your life will be, forever and ever, and it will never get any better? That’s Permanence setting up shop and refusing to budge. Want to see someone who was a victim of the 3 P’s? Just take a good look at me.
I was on the dance team at my high school, which meant that there were always mothers around us. Whether they be working on costumes or cooking team dinners, it seemed there were always moms around. I convinced my dad that I was okay to go to my first performance by myself, and he stayed at home. Less than half an hour after I showed up at our team dinner/rehearsal, I was out in the hallway, bawling my eyes out, unable to catch my breath. I didn’t think I could go back in, and then he showed up. He drove the 20 minutes to my high school, 2 hours before he had to, because he somehow knew I needed him. He sat with me in the hallway until I was able to calm down, and then he came in and sat at dinner with me. That was the first of a very long (and still growing) list of times when my dad became my stand-in mom. He never complained a single time.
He was there at every dance competition, every soccer game, every concert, and every awards banquet. When my mom died, he became a single parent overnight to four kids, who all needed very different things from him. It couldn’t have been easy, but he did it. And through the years, he has continued to do it.
My first semester in college was anything but easy, and he never once let me down. My grief hit me hard that semester, and being 6 hours away from any of my friends or family didn’t make it easier. But any time I called, he answered, and would talk to me for as long as I needed, which sometimes meant being on the phone for two or more hours. When I got angry at my situation and took it out on him, he took it on himself. Even when there was nothing he could do, he did his best to make my pain his, if only so I would not be alone in my grief.
I don’t know of many 20 year olds who look at their parents as their best friend. That’s how I see mine. He has become my biggest confidant, and I have my mom to thank for that. I think she knew she was leaving me and my brothers in capable hands. When I mess up, he’s there with a helping hand or words of wisdom. When I fail, he’s there reminding me of everything he thinks I can be, even when I don’t see it in myself. Better than any of that, he has been there cheering me on through every success and every win.
My dad has been so many things to me over the course of my life, but one of the things neither of us ever thought he would be was two parents in one. Losing my mom was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but it gave me one of the best relationships I have ever had. I don’t know where I would be today without him, and I think I am only beginning to realize how much I lucked out in the parent department with him.
Thank you, Dad, for all the things you’ve done for me, and especially the ones you didn’t even know you were doing.