By Kara Nichols
For 14 years, I had the joy of being a daddy’s girl. He was (and still is) my hero. A hard-working man, who loved his family dearly. Strong, gentle and kind-hearted. His jokes and smile alone could light up a room. Truly the human form of sunshine in my opinion. From our beach walks to days spent at the racetrack, to watching cartoons and eating junk food together. I loved those moments the most with him. A simple childhood, filled with love, laughter and memories. Fourteen years wasn’t long enough.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the beginning of 2006 and wasn’t given long. I was kept away from just how bad it was. That year I would have too many lasts with him, not knowing it. Mainly my birthday, I saw my dad in the hospital, he was in high spirits… I wish I knew this was the last year around the sun spent with him, I would have stayed a little longer and hugged a little harder.
It felt like a dark cloud loomed over my family, and my daily life changed. My friends and their families did all they could to help with distractions and easing the pain that was happening at home.
My 8th grade class trip to Washington D.C. was happening and despite me coming up with every excuse to stay home, I was going. My dad thought it would be best for me to be with my friends and make memories. Little did I know, he was right. We were gone for four days and coming home on June 5 was a night I would never forget.
My mom met me at the school with a “family friend” and her kids, we didn’t go home but I didn’t even notice due to my excitement and talking about the trip. It wasn’t until we got into their house that it dawned on me and I started asking questions. “Why aren’t we at home?”
“Why can’t I sleep in my own bed?”
My mom looked at me and only said “Kara… your dad…” I stopped her, I shouted “NOOO!” “NO, HE DID NOT!” I didn’t let her finish, I couldn’t bear to hear it. I fell to the floor, my heart broke, my world shattered and I bawled my eyes out thinking about just running far away. I ended up eating ice cream, watching “Grandma’s Boy” and falling asleep. I woke up the next day to realize this was my new reality: my dad was dead.
My home did not feel like a home anymore, just a hollow shell of memories. I didn’t feel like a person anymore, I was so numb and in a state of disbelief. I was mad at the world.
It felt like I was standing at the beginning of a dark tunnel with no light, my sweet, beautiful previous life with my dad behind me. No tools to help navigate this dark tunnel, it was all up to me to figure out.
I am now 31 and a mom myself. I have been navigating my grief journey for 17 years now. I am no expert, but I have found my own ways to heal.
Music, friends, movies and television shows, humor, and writing have all helped me in their own ways. Filling the space, feeling not alone, having fun, being the peace, easing the pain, finding a reason to smile and letting go are just some of the things they’ve helped me with.
My dad loved nature and I do too. I like to think the sweet and pretty things that pop up are signs of him. A bright sunset, a close by critter, a beautiful blooming flower, and all the stars in the night sky are little reminders he is there, every day.
I’ve been coming to terms with certain things, such as why my dad hid me from the bad, though I wish he didn’t and he told me everything. I know he was just trying to protect my already fragile heart.
I was not a misbehaved rude bad kid like I was told numerous times. I was a grieving teen, I was hurting, and I had no guidance in this new reality of mine.
The therapist I went to from the age of 16 to 19 specialized in trauma therapy and sand play art. I never realized how much these two things actually helped me with dealing with my trauma around grief. My therapist was also a positive factor in my life. She really helped me realize that I was not a problem and showed me support and love when I needed it the most.
Grief does not just go away, it is with you forever. It shows up in many ways. Embracing it and sitting with it and feeling it took me a long time to do. It’s not easy, it’s still a struggle for me. Talking about my grief and feelings with it, and sharing stories about my dad, are nothing to be ashamed of like I always felt. It helps keep my dad alive and it helps me cope.
Grieving my dad not only for myself but for my kids was a whole different experience I did not expect. My children would never get to know my dad, feel his love, hear his stories, go on adventures, or be the light of his life. I tell them about him as much as I can, the stories and memories, the jokes and sharing any pictures I have. They know their papa would have loved them dearly.
Finding the grief community on Instagram, one page in particular really helped urge me to start my own page and share my experience. I love how people can relate to my writing and can feel the sense of not being alone. Being able to express myself and help others is a way of healing for me.
Lastly, writing this piece helped me realize I still have so much to say about my grief. I am happy I was able to share a piece of my heart with you all.
For more information about Kara, you can check out her website.
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