I want to welcome you to the world of Love, Lizzy where we work together to create a more compassionate and expansive definition of what it means to be a thinking and feeling human.
As we all head into the holiday season it is only fitting that our first submission and love letter from Lizzy is about grief. Bittersweet they say is the place where both joy and sadness exist at the same time. That is how I often feel during the holidays as I navigate the sorrow of the absence of my mom, Lizzy, and experience the joy of making new memories with my beautiful nieces.
With that, I share with you Lizzy’s wisdom for the courageous human who wrote inquiring for support navigating the death of her father. May we all find a little more time for the parts of us who need healing this season.
My dad died in a very public and news-generating accident earlier this year. He and I had a rocky relationship that left us both dissatisfied for years. We both reached out to each other often, hoping the other would be able to give us the relationship we wanted but in the end, I wasn’t the person he wanted me to be so he couldn’t be the dad I needed him to be. It was hard. What I know is if his life hasn’t been cut short we would have kept on reaching out until one of us transformed OR one of us would have cut the other off for good.
I find I keep grieving multiple versions of who my dad was and wasn’t. I grieve for the him that could have changed and been the dad I’d been waiting for my whole life… And I grieve with anger for the dad who never felt I was worth the effort of changing. I don’t know how to resolve any of my feelings when I struggle to accept where our relationship was at the time he died.
Any perspective or guidance you can provide would be welcome.
I want to thank you for the courage you show in sharing your grief with me. Often, our sadness wants us to stay isolated and alone, so I hope that even just hitting “submit” has given you some comfort. I have sat with your submission for a few days, tossing it around in my heart and mind, trying to find the right wisdom to share. First, I want to simply say, I am so very sorry for the loss of your dad.
In reading your message, I am reminded of the way that the death of someone we love is a portal to a new dimension, much like the cupboard in The Chronicles of Narnia is a portal to another time and place. The difference is you didn’t open the door to the cupboard, crawl in, and decide to embark on this journey. It sounds like it was quite the opposite, actually; you were pushed through without warning, and now you find yourself on the other side of the cupboard, lost and confused about how to navigate this time and place. You desired to embark on the journey of closeness with your father, and by your words, I can tell that you are deeply grieving the loss of that opportunity. By your reflection on the timeline, I can see that it has not been very long since you lost your dad. I imagine you are still making sense of the world around you without him in it, and perhaps things smell and taste different, or maybe some days you can’t taste anything at all. If this new dimension is at all alarming to you, I want to let you in on a secret us grief survivors all know; it actually is alarming. Your nervous system is catching up to the tangible changes that have occurred in your reality. She deserves love and nourishment. Whatever she may be asking of you right now, I hope you can find some time to carve out space for her needs. She is deserving. I want to say to you, taking that time and space will enable you to understand this new world a little better and begin to find your way.
It is clear you have multiple grief paths occurring at the same time. There is the “traditional” (if we can even call any grief journey traditional) path; the grief of losing your father. His exit from this earth is enough on its own to require your full attention. The other paths of grief you are traveling are from the past and of the future, things that can never be. This requires a more nuanced approach than the traditional grief path and will ask you to do some time traveling in order to chart a path to healing and reparation.
I once had a guide tell me that I could resent my mother even though she was dead. At first, this felt like betrayal. It seemed much more loving to only honor her most beautiful attributes and treat her as a saint. But that was of great disservice to me and to her humanity. It also stunted my own emotional development, keeping me trapped at the ripe age of 22 when she left this earth. So, having tried literally everything else to cope with the loss, I indulged the guide and began writing pages and pages of resentments for my mother. From there, I sat with them and felt them deeply. I may have had several “out loud” conversations with her about my anger and frustration. Eventually, these resentments were breadcrumbs to my path of understanding and forgiveness. I started to see her as a woman instead of my mother. In that light, I could see her trying her best to cope with the world within the layers of “stuff” she endured before I came along. It also gave me insight into my lineage and how her mother’s traumas became hers and then became mine and so on. I can only speak to my experience, but this exercise created immense healing for me and opened up a new portal in my life, one where I was allowed to have ugly feelings and express my anger and then move on to a dimension where those things no longer haunted me. This was a journey of my choosing, and it was quite empowering.
So, here is what I am going to suggest to you, and I only want you to take what resonates and leave the rest. This is my response to your specific note; “I don’t know how to resolve any of my feelings when I struggle to accept where our relationship was at the time he died.” Firstly, acceptance might just be a leap right now. You can get there, and I encourage you to have that as your long-term goal because you might be able to accomplish it once you are able to honor the many things that happened and give yourself what you deserved in those heartbreaking moments where he let you down.
For now, I want us to back up a little and start at the beginning. This healing journey may require you to travel back to the past to the moments where you were deeply let down by your father. I am not going to paint you some rose-colored version of forgiveness of your father, although that is where we desire to end up eventually. What we are going to do is honor the parts of you that feel rejected and unseen by him. She may be as small as three years old, or perhaps she is also ten or sixteen or twenty-five. She is actually looking for the love she never received from him and has been holding out hope that he would return to her and give her that love and acceptance, eventually. You are going to go to her, and you are going to give her all of the things she deserved to have, hear, or feel back then. One part of you might be simply exhausted by the contorting you have continued to do of yourself to try to get his approval. I bet she fancies a break from all of that performing, and she is entitled to one.
She may be stuck somewhere rather vivid and familiar like your childhood kitchen table or snot-nosed and devastated in your high school bathroom. We must go there and visit her. She needs you. When we go there to sit with her, we are going to offer her an opportunity to share with us what she really needs. It may feel strange at first to be sitting with a little version of you or even a version of you from just last year, but I can imagine that these parts of you feel very alone and scared. This is your opportunity to evolve their story by coming alongside them to validate their experience, honor their feelings, and share with them the perspective that it is safe for them to leave the place where they have remained waiting for him to return and give them what they need. You, my darling Kay, are what you need now. That does not diminish the immense pain and sorrow we feel for our dad never showing up in the way that we needed and leaving this earth before he learned how to show up for you. We are capable, however daunting and overwhelming it seems, of holding all of these things to be true at the same time. You deserved for your dad to be what you needed. It is devastating that he never became that for you. It is heartbreaking that he is gone, and even in his limitations, we miss him dearly. And, it is possible for us to discover a way to meet ourselves and love ourselves in the way we needed to be loved by him.
What we know now about the beautiful brain is that doing this sort of time travel and rewriting the script on memories that haunt us is that it actually can change how we feel in the present. I recommend you start with Richard C. Schwartz’s literature, “You Are The One You Have Been Waiting For.” It’s an incredible introduction to this work and very accessible. Please take it slow. Slow and steady wins this race. I want to add, it is deeply unfair that he is no longer here to do this. I want to say to “past you,” of all ages and all disappointing moments, that you absolutely deserved to be accepted and loved by your father in the way that you desired. You are so very deserving of love. I want to be bold and say that this statement from your submission may feel very true to you: “I wasn’t the person he wanted me to be, so he couldn’t be the dad I needed him to be.” But I believe there is another truth. He absolutely had every opportunity in any moment leading up to his death to choose to be the dad you needed him to be, with no requirement for you to be any certain kind of way. Now, the fact that he could not choose that, and was incapable for reasons beyond our understanding, does not make you unworthy of that from him. To be candid, whatever demons he must have been fighting that kept him from loving and accepting himself is why he was unable to love and cherish you the way you deserved. If that’s hard to believe for any part of you, I understand. It’s ok if it takes her a while to believe us. That’s the work we need to make all the space and time for, as we must be gentle and patient as she learns to trust that your love of her is as valuable to you as his and that his behavior had little to do with you.
This world wants us to move so much faster than we are supposed to. If I could say one thing to you that you take from all of this, it is this: please be gentle with yourself. I didn’t know your father, but I can guess that if he could have and would have known how to get there, he would have given you everything you ever wanted and needed. It is deeply disappointing that he did not figure that out before leaving us. You are entitled to that disappointment and anger. And also, I can hear you desperately wanting to feel something else, to get to the other side of this. The way to that other side is through, my dear Kay. And I know from the courage you showed in writing to me that you have the courage to embark on this journey to giving yourself all the love and acceptance that you have always deserved.
I am sending you all the light and love I have to give, and I hope that my reflections here serve you on your journey back to wholeness.
If you enjoyed this love letter from Lizzy, you can easily sign up for her mailing list and receive love letters directly into her inbox by visiting her website on her website.
Looking for some life wisdom from Lizzy? Submit your question to her here