Saying Goodbye to a Father and a Friend: The Myths of Grieving
The past week has been difficult for my family and me. On March 3rd, we lost the patriarch of the Birkemeier family just 21 days before his 89th birthday.
Marvin (known affectionately to me as “Dad”) was a hardworking, fun loving soul whose compassion and care came with “teeth.” He loved his people and if you were fortunate enough to call him “friend” you knew that you had a loyal fellow traveler for life.
He was many things to many people, but to me he was more than a father-in-law. He was the only dad I knew for my first 20 years of marriage (until I met my biological father), and truth be told, he was the first consistent father figure in my life.
From day one, Marv made me feel welcome in the family. Like I was a part of things, not a bystander- new to the party. When I met my mother- and father-in-law, I wasn’t sure what being part of family should look like, other than what I’d experienced in my own family. And to say it looked nothing like that was an understatement. Especially when it came to the consistent and unconditional presence of a father.
At times, his acceptance of me felt awkward. It wasn’t familiar, so I had to learn to trust it. But that didn’t stop him from loving me like one of his own. And although he wasn’t what some would call the “gushy type,” he was a big softy who made sure to tell me I was loved, and he showed it, as well.
I learned from Marvin (and my mother-in-law, Nancy) what it looked like to be loved by parents without expectations or qualifications. And I knew that love applied to me, even when we disagreed. Which- let’s just say- was more than once.
I’m thankful that out of all the fathers-in-law out there, I got him, and I will miss him deeply. And for all these reasons and so many more, I am grieving.
But, what of this grief and grieving?
There’s certainly no shortage of myths around the subject. What it should look like. How long it should last. How best to deal with it. What processing grief should look like. But the reality is that grief is different for each of us. It’s relative to who you are and to the relationship you had with the one for whom you’re grieving. It can also depend on what sort of “loss” you’ve experienced.
In any and all cases, grief and grieving come with sorrow, pain (at times, even physical pain), despair, suffering, anger, denial, confusion, regret, and even joy. Particularly when someone’s passing means they are no longer hurting.
We can feel a sense that things aren’t right in general. Like the world has tilted off its axis. Our mind can become cloudy. Days run together. We’re forgetful. We’re fine one minute and not the next. Sometimes, we look for a temporary distraction, something that helps us feel we’re in control, or that makes us forget, even for a second, that we’ve lost someone. (And by the way, it is common to “forget” that someone is no longer with us- or that their absence doesn’t “feel real.”)
It helps me to know that any and all of these experiences are a part of grief and that they are not linear. Nor do they adhere to any timeline or have an expiration date. I hope it helps you to know this, too.
OH! And this is really important: There is no wrong way to grieve, outside of refusing to allow yourself the time and space to do it.
Please, give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. It’s also helpful to share it with others. Those who are also grieving the loss and those who are in your support system. And if the grief feels like more than you can bear, or if you can’t seem to connect with your grief, please find someone qualified to help you with this. A counselor, grief support groups, a pastor or spiritual advisor.
For me, my grieving process began the morning of the day Marvin (Dad) left this earth. A couple of things happened. You see, for a while now, Dad had been suffering. His memory and body were failing and fading quickly. I had been asking God to “bring Marvin home” and wondering why He wasn’t answering my prayer.
Then, on that Friday morning, my sweet hubby called to tell me that he was going by Dad’s to pray over him. And in that moment, I felt a little nudge. A sense that this was part of what God was waiting for.
In the days leading up to Marvin’s death, I had been waking up with the same song playing in my mind each morning. (Like, it was in my head before my eyes were even opened!) The song is titled The Goodness of God. And on that Friday, just after my husband called, my dear friend Chrissy sent me that song saying, “I just keep thinking about you and this song.” (Second nudge.)
So, I got ready, headed up to the memory care unit and was surprised to find a rare moment of one-on-one time with Dad. I turned on the song and sang it over him. There’s a line in the song that says, “I’ve known you as a father. I’ve known you as a friend. And I have lived in the goodness of God.” I saw clearly then that knowing Marvin as a father figure and friend was indeed part of the goodness of God. And I am so thankful.
On that afternoon, surrounded by all of us, his bride of 66 years, his kids by birth and by marriage, and many of his grandkids, telling stories and laughing, sharing memories and grieving, Marv went home to heaven.
I couldn't think of a more fitting photo to share here. This is a picture of Dad and me on our deck swing at one of his favorite places, The Lake. And on that swing on that day, with our precious pup Max snuggled in between, Dad and I had a wonderful conversation about Jesus. When I think about Marvin, this will be a memory I forever hold dear.
This next week will be a kind of limbo for us as we wait for the opportunity to say our “formal” goodbyes at his service on March 17th. Can I just say how tickled Dad/Marv would be to know we are honoring him on St. Patrick’s Day? A day he loved to celebrate; I think in part because the love of his life is Irish. He spent every St. Patty’s since I can remember riding on a float in the parade, throwing necklaces and candy to kids. (And there just might’ve been a little green beer in that mug of his.)
And now, we go on celebrating and grieving. And making plenty of space for others to do the same. I can think of no better way to honor a man who loved much and was loved much.
And what of your grief? My friend- feel it. For as long as you need to. If you loved deeply, then you will need to grieve deeply. And in case no one has told you, I see you. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry you’re hurting. Give your grief some space. Recognize that the anger or anxiety or frenetic pace at which you’re traveling might be grief disguised or repressed. Don’t carry it alone. A load shared is a load lightened.
And if you’re so inclined, bring your grief to Jesus. You might not be sure about what that would look like, but, in the book of Isaiah, we’re told that He was one “deeply acquainted with sorrows.” Loss and grieving were no strangers to Him. Despite His divinity, Jesus did not escape grief. Nor the painful emotions that come with it. He can understand your pain in a way perhaps no one else can. So, bring it to Him. Even if part of your grief is anger at God, just take it to Him. Tell Him. Cast your burdens upon Him because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
My friend, in this day, honor the one you lost by honoring your grief.
And if you think about it, next Friday, say a little prayer for my family. And share some Irish cheer in memory of Marv. He would have loved that.
Here are a few resources on grief. Check out Griefshare. You can also find support here.
And as always, reach out to us at email@example.com.