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When Heros Die: Lessons from Grief

Those remembered are never lost. Until we meet again daddy. Michael Dade 1956-2011


Today marks one decade...10 years since this daddy's girl lost her best hero. Time has continued to move, check-in calls have stopped, sympathy cards no longer arrive in early March, and family members have forgotten the dates. Grief, however, remains. Damnit!

The complicated truth about grief is that it shows up as an uninvited, but often expected, guest that arrives at the party regardless of your welcome. It stands on your doorstep, waiting for entrance, with a multitude of lessons if we are willing to accept them. After a few years of fighting, I decided to accept my uninvited guest was here to stay. I let grief inside and started to receive the lessons it was there to teach me.

Grief Lesson One: Yield to the pain.

I live in a neighborhood that is filled with tall pine trees. Each yard on my street is defined by the cover of these giant evergreens. They kiss the sky on sunny days, turn into skyways for birds and squirrels during the Fall afternoons, and even though the yard care is a headache, grief lesson one is best described by what I've noticed about these trees. When the tough storms roll in, this is when the trees come alive!

One night during a crazy storm, I called my brother out of fear that one of these trees would give into the wind, break, and fall onto my house. He calmed me down by saying, "They were built to flex so they can weather the storm. If they didn't bend like that they would break". I often think about this when grief arrives on a "good" day and I find myself fighting its presence, hiding my tears. I learned to invite grief in on these days and find myself whispering, "Flex Shari. Yield to the pain. Bend so you don't break." We are strong enough to weather even the most unthinkable storms, but we must be yielding without breaking. This lesson was the most motivating!

Grief Lesson Two: Mourning is different than grief.

A decade is a long time to be sad. Think about it. 10 years is a long time to feel anything consistently. Immediately, after the death of my dad, sadness covered everything like fog at dawn. It was so thick and heavy I had a hard time seeing past it for a long time. And then a strange thing started to happen, it lifted. Not all at once, but slowly and in moments. I smiled with friends, laughed at TV shows, and felt compelled to dance to music again. Then the guilt came. How could I allow happiness in when I should be grieving?

Over time I learned the difference between mourning and grief. Mourning is the public expression of having lost someone or something meaningful; while grief is the private expression of that loss. I learned these two experiences do not always have to align. Today, I can privately grieve the loss of my father by typing this blog post AND also have plans to join a friend for a fun walk afterward. Both of those experiences are valid. I don't have to hide away and trap myself in sadness to prove my father's life was worthy of mourning. This lesson was the most freeing!

Grief Lesson Three: Living is good for grieving.

For many years, I avoided anything that reminded me that I am a daddy's girl without a daddy. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, successes, failures, Mondays, Tuesdays, get my drift. Everything hit hard. It prevented me from being excited to live because inevitably, I'd experience something that just reminded me of my loss. I remember one of my close friends would always invite me to spend holidays with her family if I was unable to go visit my own family, and each year I would turn down the invite because I did not want to be reminded of what I had lost.

Through therapy, I realized I was defining grieving as the loss of life, not just the loss of my father's life but also the loss of my own. This was unfair to the life that was still before me. My life didn't die with the death of my father and neither did the essence of my father's life. He lives on through me. So I decided to begin living my life so that others could have the chance to meet my father through my actions, my thoughts, and my being alive. This lesson was the most inspiring!


I never thought about losing my father. I knew death would come into my life at some point, just not for him...he was my superhero after all. The truth is I miss him. Every second, every minute, every hour of every day. I am grateful for his life because he taught me so much about love, strength, humility, and legacy. And though I miss him here with me, I am grateful to learn lesson through his death. Lessons including that I can endure great pain without crumbling (on most days), I can move past sadness, and I can allow my life to be a continuation of his. If you are grieving, I hope these lessons can be helpful for your journey.

-- See you again Michael. Somewhere. Very near. Just around the corner. Your baby girl.

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