Author: Katie Mesmer [Preface & Edited by Ken Diviney]
By way of introduction, Katie grew up with Ryan and was among his closest friends, as she now is with my daughter, Kari. Her dad, Marty, died from cancer in February 2011. Marty and Ryan loved sitting together at his kitchen table and talking (mostly sports). They were, in fact, friends. Marty was profoundly saddened by Ryan’s injuries.
In such a profound way, Katie openly & honestly shares her grief & loss. I’ve never heard anyone depict this better & I felt compelled to share with you. For me, it’s shockingly relatable as this time of year brings many people remarkable joy… while some ache deeply in grief.
In living tribute to Katie’s dad, Marty, she’s clearly made of the right stuff. His children are his greatest legacy.
A gut-wrenching “Oh, SHIT! You are going to hurt for so long.”.
Sometimes I worry about reaching out to people because of what I might represent to them. Like a poster child of dead dads, cancer, and death. Sometimes I must remind myself that grief and loss are not contagious. My grief and loss don’t make me unique, but what my grief and loss have made me is hyper-aware of other people’s pain.
When I first became a member of [one of] the shittiest clubs to ever exist — where the admission fee is shockingly and heartbreakingly high — I felt so alone. Oftentimes I still do. That’s the thing about grief. It isolates you.
Even if you are grieving the same person, the grief will look different for everyone. I’ve gotten over that fear of reaching out to people because I remember how desperate I was for someone who just “got it”. The Dead Dads Club is not exactly a club people are begging to get into.
Still, once you’re in, you’re in it for life.
You feel blessed to know that others are members too, as devastating as it is to know someone else also feels that pain.
Death, and therefore grief, are so rarely talked about in daily life. This only leaves grievers feeling more alone. So many people think after the first year of your loss you snap back to “normal”. The truth is, you never go back to your pre-loss self. I think that part of the reality of mourning is recognizing that life as you knew it is never coming back… since losing someone who was so intricately tied to your everyday existence is life-altering.
My life is now broken up into two eras; before dad died and after dad died. The “shouldn’t you be over that by now” people will start to show… or try to convince you that you can “stop thinking about it”, “be happy because it’s what your dad would want”. What they don’t know is just how wrong they are, that is, until they join the club. They will learn that you never “get over” your loss. You will learn to carry it with you everywhere you go… for the rest of your life.
The pain from this loss is not limited, as love is endless.
It’s like when someone dies, the initial stages of grief seem to be the worst. But in some ways, it’s harder as time goes by. You consider how much they’ve missed in your life… and in the world. Days filled with happiness, heartbreak, joy, and sadness all that they have missed. Time just becomes a marker for how long you’ve lived without them.
The love for a parent is unique… and so is the pain of losing them. For me, no happy news will be as happy without getting to share it with my dad. Sadness will only be deeper without having him in my corner. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve felt like “I can’t believe that my dad died, I need to tell dad!!” or “I just need to go hug dad and cry in his arms as he comforts me because MY DAD died.” As time goes on you realize how many questions you didn’t get to ask them, how much you didn’t know about them. And, if you are like me, you start to write them down and end up with a mile-long list of forever unanswered questions.
There are things that time does “help”. The fog that grief “gifts” you with, lessened for me around the sixth year. Grief no longer rules every second of every day. I started writing about my feelings instead of running and hiding from them. While writing hasn’t healed my heart (I’ve come to accept that nothing will), it has allowed me to sort through feelings, and feel something other than extreme sadness and intense anger.
Yet there is a big part of me that would take the ‘first stages of mourning’ (pain) any day because they are the days that are closer to when I last saw, talked to, and hugged my dad. These are the days when I can still vividly remember all of his popped collars, hand gestures, facial expressions, and sayings to a T. Where the colors and clarity of the video reel in my head are in full resolution.
But the reel keeps playing new slides and I will keep navigating my way through the fog with blood on my shirt, the gaping hole in my heart, and the everlasting love I have for my dad. A part of me will always wish I could celebrate the joy of his life without the pain of his death, but then I wouldn’t remember the last time I saw him. So I will continue to travel, often, down memory lane because I know that’s where I’ll find him.
If you are in a similar boat or even in similar water, regardless of how much time has passed, I hope that you grant yourself all of the compassion that you need and that you know I’m sending some your way as well. You are carrying an unseen load that shifts around, in your mind and body. An ache that you didn’t ask for, or ever desire.
To the people reading this and wondering what you can do for your grieving friend, well, there are no magical words you can say to take away the pain. Showing up, sitting with us in silence (even if it’s awkward), truly does help and honestly, that is all you can do. Feel awkward but stay anyway. Just hang out with our pain.
Many people think that bringing up our lost loved one reminds us that they died. In fact, it doesn’t because nothing could make us forget that. What it does is remind us that you remember how they lived. Bring them up. Share stories of them. Don’t let us feel like we are the only ones still remembering them.
My dad left the physical world before I could truly appreciate him. He left before I got to soak up all his words of wisdom and before I could ask so many questions. I hope that I thanked him enough for all that he did for me. I hope he knew how grateful I was to have him.
If you’re reading this and still have your parents… please, please, please call them. Tell them you love them. Spend time with them. Don’t make excuses. Get to know them as not just mom and dad, but as people.
Loss, you continue to teach me. You continue to humble me. You do these as I make my way through the duality of your lessons. The insight you’ve given me will live in my bones for the rest of my days yet…
You are a huge pain in my ass.