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Missing the Future and Enshrining the Past

father loss grief grief support grieving daughter Aug 16, 2022
beautiful blue sky and gold buddha statue

By: Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

What could have been different?

What could have been better?

What could have been more?

I never got to buy my dad lunch. I never got to know him as an adult. I never got to have that future with him. My mom never got to grow old with him. My brothers and I  didn’t get to introduce our children to him.

What would he look like old and wrinkly? 

He’s frozen in time. As time goes by, there are no new memories to share. The older memories start to take different shapes and new details - both factual and figments of our imagination - begin to emerge. 

When grieving, there is the tendency to bedevil or enshrine. When we enshrine someone, we only focus on and remember the positive and happy memories. In some cases, grievers can obsessively keep memorials to their person and many objects that remind them of their person (i.e. leaving all their stuff where it was). 

In contrast, when we bedevil someone, we only focus on the complaints, disappointment, and negatives of that relationship. 

Both bedeviling and enshrining are limiting as they do not let us view the relationships as a whole. This is not to say that we are looking for issues where there are none or glossing over existing issues. But, in looking at the full picture, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we can start to process and move through our grief.

No relationship is all good or all bad. 

In order for us to work through our grief, we have to be able to see the full relationships and be emotionally honest and truthful with ourselves. 

For many, many years, I absolutely enshrined my dad. I wanted to keep ALL AND I MEAN ALL of his stuff (sox included. I wanted it there for him if he did come back.. I know… It was a fantasy). 

In my eyes, he walked on water. My grief only allowed me to remember all the good. This is not to say that my dad was not amazing, oh, he was. But, he was human. Humans are perfectly flawed and truth be told, we didn’t always get along 100% of the time.

In our grief, we can grasp onto something, anything, to try and make sense of our pain.

Grief can totally skew all. Of course, remembering our loved ones fondly is not a bad thing at all. But, it can also keep us stuck in our grief by only remembering ‘part’ of the story. Every relationship is complex, even the most wonderful. There is good, bad, and so much in between. 

With every season, there can be a new type of grief.

Sometimes the grief is at the forefront. Other times, the grief is a dull ache in the background, just out of sight, but still felt. Never forgotten. 

  • My dad never got to walk me down the aisle.
  • My dad never got to see me as a bride.
  • He never got to dance with me at my wedding.
  • He never met my husband and made him watch Sallah Shabtai. 
  • He never saw me as a parent. Never met my daughter.
  • Won’t get to be there when she is a teenager and torturing me the way I tortured him and my mom. 

Sometimes, I just feel so tired of him being gone. Sometimes, it just feels so stupid. I’m over it. But that, sadly, does not change the fact that he is gone. Still. 

Just put on some lipstick and smile. That was some of the worst advice a well-meaning acquaintance gave me. It offended me deeply.

But, I realize, I do have so much to smile about, on my own terms and in my own way. These are also things that I would have never been able to appreciate if I had not done so much of my own grief work, especially with regard to enshrining.

  • My dad ‘chose’ my wedding dress. When I put my dress on, he was in the room with me. I felt his presence. I don’t have a ton of those experiences to share so this was even more special.  
  • My dad was at my wedding, in so many ways. A very dear friend of his from childhood was able to make it last minute. It meant so much to me to have him there. So many people from many parts of my life made the trek. It was so special. My mom walked me down the aisle, representing them both.
  • My daughter proudly carries his name. She even has some of his facial expressions and his cheeks. It’s super cool to see aspects of him in this tiny human. 
  • I have the value, of Tikkun Olam, healing the world, deeply ingrained in me. While I can’t heal the world the way he did as a medical doctor, there are plenty of ways I can as a grief specialist, mother, and human. I’m working to pass down these values to my daughter too. 
  • While my dad can’t make my husband watch Sallah Shabati, his mom did say she’d watch it with me. It was cool to finally meet another person who enjoyed the movie as much as my dad. Unsurprisingly, I found the DVD on Amazon. Confession: we still haven’t watched it yet, but I take comfort knowing I have the DVD and someone to watch with me.   

There are so many things that I wish were different, better, or more.

Realizing that alone is comforting. Vocalizing it, sharing it, and being witnessed is soothing. My pain and hurt are valid but don’t have to taint everything. 

I am making new memories with my dad every day. 

Is it in the way that I would have preferred? Nope. Not in the slightest. But, is he here? Yup. Every single day.

Truth be told, he still walks on water in my eyes. But, I also remember he was a perfectly imperfect flawed human too.

I remember the good, and I remember the not-so-good. I remember the whole relationship for what it was. That took a long time for me to be willing to remember anything less than ‘good’. But once I worked through my enshrining tendencies, I was able to move through my grief and regain more of my memories. Not only did admitting the full picture not feel disrespectful towards him and our relationship, but actually felt like I was honoring him more by remembering him as the full complete human that he was.

It’s such a gift that I am so grateful I have and feel so blessed to be able to give to those that I work with.