It’s been 18 years since Dad passed, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my grief. I’ve realised there’s no right way to grieve and if you don’t experience the 5 Stages of Grief it doesn’t mean you loved the person any less.
“So he’ll never walk me down the aisle when I get married? … He probably won’t even see me graduate uni?”
I remember that life-changing conversation with my big sister who sat me down and told me the tragic news that Dad had terminal cancer. Doctors expected he only had a few months left, and they were right.
I was just 20 years old and midway through my final year of university. Dad’s diagnosis came as a shock because he didn’t appear unwell on the outside. He left us five months later.
That was my first real experience with death. Dad was just 58 when he took his final breath, so his premature departure made me realise that nothing in this life is permanent. It taught me to always take every opportunity available to me and enjoy life because “who knows when your number is up” as he always said.
I’ve also learned that the 5 Stages of Grief isn’t a flow of experiences that everyone goes through in sequence. Some people might only feel one or two of them and these feelings can manifest in varying order.
I’ve also realised that there isn’t a right way to grieve and it’s OK if your grief looks different to someone else’s. It doesn’t mean you’re not hurting or that your grief is not valid.
Grief is as individual as we are
Dad’s death taught me that grief is as individual as we are. I realised early on that grief presents itself differently to everyone. Nobody really knows the ‘right’ way to grieve, but that didn’t stop so many adults telling me how I should be mourning as a young person experiencing such a great loss.
My family members endured varying aspects of the grief spectrum including denial, isolation, guilt and depression. I felt all those things too, but for me, there was an overwhelming sense of acceptance. From the moment my sister sat me down and told me Dad was not going to get better, I emotionally prepared for life without him. I think that was a hard pill to swallow for those around me who were experiencing denial.
‘You’ll regret it later’
Before the funeral service began, I decided not to go and see the open casket, despite pressure from my relatives. “You’ll regret it later,” I was told. I never have.
I’ve also written a previous blog post about how Dad’s funeral helped shape my own values of a final farewell.
‘You need to be strong’
The first time I cried after Dad died was when his casket was being lowered into his grave. Instead of providing comfort, a family member told me: “You need to be strong”. But why was I not allowed to cry at my own father’s funeral?
‘You’re too young to understand’
When my grief manifested in acceptance and I continued with my studies and work, I was told my resilience was because I was too young to comprehend my grief. That really stung because I saw Dad every day as he deteriorated and even drove him to his chemotherapy appointments when he became too ill to drive himself. I understood.
‘You need to go to the cemetery’
I was also shamed when I stopped visiting Dad’s grave. For me, I find peace believing some form of Dad’s infinite spirit is part of me and with me wherever I am. So going to the cemetery only reverses that feeling and makes me feel depressed that he’s no longer with me in the living world.
What I'm learning about grief
The more I learn about my own grief journey and other people’s, the more I realise that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve.
Acceptance and maintaining a functional life after loss doesn’t mean I loved Dad any less or that I didn’t understand the magnitude of the loss. It’s my grief and it’s just as valid as anyone else’s.
I hope that others feel their individual grief is valid too, even if it doesn’t prescribe to the 5 Stages of Grief, or if it manifests differently from those around them.
For some extra support in navigating the grief journey, Bare's bereavement specialist Claire has produced a series of grief videos and other resources. You can find these at Bare’s Grief Support webpage here.
At Bare, we know we often meet you at a difficult time in life. But for us, that means we can support you when you need it most. That’s why we love what we do.
To learn more about us, visit the bare.com.au or give us a call on 1800 071 176 (for an immediate-need arrangement) or 1800 202 901 (for prepaid).
If you’re seeking grief or bereavement support, we’ve compiled a list of services across Australia here. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, call 000. For Lifeline’s Crisis Counselling service call 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.