April 11, 2016 at approximately 11:30 am, my world changed. I was in the jury room of the Kent County Courthouse, waiting to be called for jury selection as I read a book. I was at the far side of the room, it was quiet though there were 100 of us in there. I looked up as the court employee called my name and told me to gather my things. Then I saw my husband standing in the doorway. I knew what had happened. My father, my dad had succumbed to the cancer and was no longer suffering. I cried out and crumbled in the courthouse hallway. Typing this now I still feel that overwhelming sadness that my dad was no longer here on earth.
As an adult, we are more aware of the fact that time is fleeting and that we will not have our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles with us forever. But we still aren’t prepared when it happens. My father lived for just 8.5 months from time of diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer to when he died. He fought hard to beat it, though at times he felt so awful from the treatments he just wanted to let go. He was 80 years old when he died. A lot older than he thought he would live and I am thankful we had him as long as we did.
The grieving process is a bizarre one. It’s different for everyone. I can only speak for how it has been for me. I’m still going through it 10 months later. I still haven’t come to terms completely with my dad’s death. I accept he’s gone, but the pain and sadness and emptiness of knowing the man who was my rock is gone is still very fresh and raw.
Most days, though I think of him and miss him, it doesn’t hit me. I can go long stretches without crying and feeling despondent over dad. I can laugh, concentrate on other things, work, play, enjoy the blessings in my life. Then some little thing will trigger the tears and the deep sadness. There are times when I just go in the bathroom or bedroom and cry.
I got a taste of what this would be like when my mother in law passed in 2012. She wasn’t officially my mother in law yet as my husband and I hadn’t gotten married yet. But her death had a big impact on me and I still miss her and grieve for her today. I know for my husband and his sisters their grief is still there and will probably always will be.
Once you have lost someone who meant so much to you, someone who was a major part of your life, you are never the same. You feel like there is a piece of you missing. A hole where your loved one resided in your heart. That’s not to say they aren’t still right there in your heart, but it’s different. You are different. Life is different.
The sun still shines, the birds still chirp. Holidays and birthdays are celebrated. Life still is happening all around you and you are still part of it. At the beginning it’s almost surreal being surrounded by life and the living when your focus is more on a death. Sure, you go through the motions of daily living, but you are not fully engaged.
For me, I had to force myself to hold in my grief so I could be there for my mother, take care of my home, go to work each day, be a wife and a mother. I feel like I’ve never fully expressed my grief. And maybe we never do. It becomes a part of who we are and we never stop grieving.
I have not had anyone have the audacity to suggest I should “get over it” as I have heard some people have encountered. I am lucky to have an amazing support system of family and friends I couldn’t live without and will never let go. Perhaps that is why I know I can allow myself to grieve when I need to and I am able to get through all that life has thrown at me.
I am going to give you all a bit of advice: if you encounter someone who is grieving, just be there for them without commentary or judgement. If you are the one grieving, know it’s okay to grieve for however long and in whatever manner you need to grieve. There’s no timeline to follow. Just let it flow.
I’ll always love my dad and I will miss him until I see him again when I join him in heaven.
Joseph R. Frattarola
December 2, 1935 – April 11, 2016