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The Questions I Never Knew to Ask - Forgiving My Younger Self

father loss grieving daughter non-linear journey Apr 12, 2023
Blinded by grief, forgiveness of past self

By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

They say becoming a parent changes you. It really does. It changes you in every single way, including the way you grieve. 

Now that I’m a parent, I’m grieving my father in a different way. I’m no longer only grieving that he never got to be a grandfather or that I never got to know him as an adult. (My older brother once commented to me, he never got to buy our father lunch. I feel the significance of that deeply.)

But now, I’m also grieving that I never got to connect with him parent-to-parent. What would our relationship be like now that I’m also a parent? 

When I was getting ready to go into labor with my oldest (who is now almost 2.5 years old), I remember having a moment of panic wondering what if something happens to me and I don’t get to meet her and see her grow up? What if she had to grow up without me? 

When I was going into labor with my second, the same worries crept into my mind. This time around, it got me thinking about my father, especially around the time that he received his death diagnosis. 

I never knew to even ask him (or hold space or honor his grief) regarding the fact that he was dying in the next few months.

I never got to ask him what it was like knowing he wasn’t going to get to see my brothers and me grow up.
I never got to ask him what it was like knowing he wasn’t going to get to grow old with his soulmate, my mother. 
I never got to ask him what it was like closing down his medical practice, his life’s work, or saying goodbye to his lifelong friends.

He knew that he was never going to get to walk me down the aisle or see any of us get married. Or, meet his grandbabies. Or, get that apartment in Tel Aviv with my mom that he always talked about. The list goes on and on. He had to sit with all that. He never burdened me with any of those feelings. I certainly couldn’t have shouldered any of those anyway. I think my brain and heart would have exploded. 

What was that like for my father? What exactly was he feeling?  What was that like hearing about his death sentence and knowing just how much he had to leave behind in a short amount of time? What was it like holding it? How long was he holding the emotional pain before the brain cancer took over? Was there a point when he was no longer lucid enough to comprehend what was going on? I do think to some degree, he knew what was going on up until the end. 

When he could still complete coherent sentences a few months into chemo, he once told me that he didn’t want to be a prisoner in his own body. He didn’t want to be dependent on others. Duh. He was a doctor and took care of most of the town we lived in, no wonder he was struggling. He was supposed to care for others, not the other way around.

In retrospect, there is so much more that he was going through that I had no idea about. How could I? I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. I have no idea what it is like to be a parent with a death diagnosis (I hope I never get to understand that one).

Now that I’m a parent of two, the thought of not seeing my babies grow up fills me with strong harsh emotions and a sense of deep sadness. As I type this, I feel the tears welling, my heart starting to pound and sweat dripping down my forehead. I can’t - don’t want to -  fathom not being with them, ever, not even for a second. 

Forgiving My Younger Self, Blinded in Her Grief

There was one time, a few months before my dad died when he asked me why I was crying and told me to stop. I remember saying to him that he wasn’t losing him. I was losing him.

How wrong was I? 

I was so consumed by my own grief of losing him that I couldn’t see that he, too, was losing him. 

However, I will NOT use this as ammo to berate that brokenhearted girl. I will be compassionate to that grieving girl who could not see past her own grief. I didn’t have any of the tools that I have now. I didn’t have 16 years of grief work as both a griever and a professional under my belt. I also wasn’t a parent. 

If there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it’s to practice self-compassion, especially in times of grief.

(Granted, as a mom, I’m still working on this one!) 

As a grieving daughter, I’m getting a bit better.
As a grief specialist, it’s a tool I encourage all my clients to utilize. 

There are so many answers I’ll never get. Many answers I don’t think I’d want or be able to hold well. So many questions that will remain questions forever. 

And so, yes, I fully honor the part of me that feels bad for not being able to see past my own grief. I also fully honor that I was grieving, heartbroken, and didn’t have the capacity to see past my own pain.

I also did not have the self-awareness or any of the tools I do now. I’m lovingly looking back at that girl who was doing her best, who was trying to learn to breathe again. I’m wrapping her in my arms, accepting, forgiving, and embracing her pain.

As my dad always said, “Time is non-linear.” I’ve adapted that to be that grief is non-linear. 

Our grief changes with us. It changes with each season. We can grow with our grief and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our grief. I’m constantly in awe of how the more grief work I do - both personally and professionally - the deeper I am able to go into my own grief and continue to grow and heal while helping others to do the same.

My dad was a doctor and a healer. I’m proud to get to continue his legacy of healing, in my own non-linear way. 

How can you practice self-kindness today?

If you’re in a heavy grieving season (or not!), how can you be kind and understanding of yourself? There’s no right or wrong way, as long as it’s loving and kind.