by Allison Henry
When my dad was dying, I had a hard time remembering what life was like before he got sick. Things that happened a year ago seemed like they happened decades ago. The world as I knew it had changed.
I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to go on after he died either. How would I even function? What would I do with the free time I had once we weren’t caring for him anymore? What did I do with my free time in the past? I couldn’t even remember.
My dad is John W. James, the founder of The Grief Recovery Institute. He started the institute over 40 years ago when my infant brother died. My dad read every self-help book, joined every seminar, followed every suggestion, yet found no relief from his pain. The Grief Recovery Method started with a tragedy.
Just because I knew about healing my heart didn’t mean that I never experienced heartache. From sexual abuse, breakups, moving, sobriety, and all the other losses people experience during their lives, I have gone through a ton of emotional pain. But I always knew that my feelings were normal and a natural part of life. I never had to pretend to be okay when I wasn’t (even though I have done that numerous times).
I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to avoid my feelings with shopping, food, binge-watching TV, dating, browsing the internet, and the like. Although those things did serve as a temporary distraction, they only shoved the pain down.
Walking through my dad’s last months, I had to force myself not to isolate, even when I wanted to. I had to try not to intellectualize away my feelings with statements like, “After he dies, he will no longer be in pain,” as if that means it’s not okay to still be sad.
I often think a bad situation has to be all bad or a good situation has to be all good. What I learned about taking care of my dad through hospice was that there were both positive and negative experiences. It was exhausting, heartbreaking, and difficult, as well as beautiful, tender, and an honor.
While it’s still painful and totally unfair, I’m still grateful.
- Our family has never been closer
- I got to spend my dad’s final days with him
- I got to tell him everything I wanted to say to him before he died, including how sad I was that he wouldn’t be able to be there to watch his grandkids grow up
This experience taught me that I am not broken just because my heart is broken.
When people ask how our family walks through our pain with such honesty, it’s absolutely because of the Grief Recovery Method that my dad created. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I could never be fully available to help other people until I did the difficult work of healing my own heart.
For more information about Allison and The Grief Recovery Institute, you can check out their website.
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