Grief is a life long journey. This is a statement that I don’t think people understand until they have experienced grief for themselves.
My life story has been defined as a grief journey almost since before I was born. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant with me and then lost her battle shortly after I turned 4 years old. I grew up knowing my mother through the most amazing father. My dad, Larry Barnes, kept my mother always a part of our lives. While the initial pain of losing my mother faded over time, the grief, anger and sadness associated with my mother not being around to participate in my growth milestones was always present.
It would be hard for me to describe the relationship that I had with my dad in words that would give it justice. He was truly my hero and a man of integretity and generousity. There was not a day of my life that went by that I was not told “I love you”.
As an adult I talked to my dad almost every day on the phone and he was unusually the first person I wanted to call when I had news, good or bad. He was so proud the day my first nephew was born, 12/18/01, and was the most amazing “Grandpa Larry.” I watched him with my nephew in excitement of the day he would get to spoil my children with love. He walked me down the aisle on 7/27/02 and was so happy because he loved my husband! He even sang at our wedding.
In March 2003, the word cancer again entered my world when my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He put up a fight, but very quickly lost his battle on June 5, 2003. I feel blessed that my sister and I were able to put everything on hold and go home to Indiana to take care of him. The three of us, plus my then 18 month old nephew, spent 4 months together. That time was filled with the stress of caretaking, but also very wonderful moments. I had the chance to cry with my dad about the anger we both felt about the losses we were about to experience as it became evident that he was going to die. And again, not a day went by during that 4 month period where we all didn’t say “I love you” to each other.
On June 4, 2003, I had to fly back to Atlanta to take my clinical compentancy exam for my doctoral program. I left my dad with a heavy heart, but knew that he wanted me to take the exam so that I would not fall behind in my goal to become a psychologist. I took the exam, flew home, and told my dad I passed. At this point, he was very sick, but I know he heard me.
That night, my sister and I stayed awake all night talking and listening to our dad breathe. He sounded so uncomfortable. Our hearts were breaking, but we knew we had to tell him it was ok to go. My sister whispered in his ear, “it’s ok dad, we’re going to be ok, you can go” and he took a last peaceful breath with my sister and I right beside him in the home we grew up in. A heart breaking moment that added to my grief journey.
The death of my mom defined my childhood and the death of my father, changed my adulthood. I miss him dearly, and even though it’s been almost 9 years, I still have moments when something really good happens where I think for a moment, “I need to call dad.”
Just as my dad kept my mom alive for my sister and I, I keep “Grandpa Larry and Grandma Tina” alive in my house for my girls. So my grief journey continues and with each new day and new milestone for me or my children, I miss my parents and mourn the loss of their physical presence. The grief isn’t as intense as the inital loss, but it still has an impact.
~ Cindy Schoell