March 7, 2020 made it 4 years since I lost my father. Every year, on that date I just reflect. I think about the days leading up to that day, the minutes leading up to his last breath and the second I kissed him goodbye…for the last time. In that moment, I was broken. I was broken not only for myself, but also my mother, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my extended family, my husband and most importantly my 2 year old daughter. Laila was so close to her Pop Pop. At 2 years old, she spent so much time with him and it was quality time. I remember one of the last things I said to him was that I would make sure she remembers him and how close they were. I had and still have this huge fear that she will forget who he was and who he was to her. I make it a priority to randomly talk about him, show pictures of them together, and ask her about some memories she may have. I need those memories to stay fresh in her mind. I want her to be able to talk to her sister about how much she loved Pop Pop. What I have been struggling with is, where do I draw the line? Is there even a line?
Am I projecting my grief onto my child? Am I using her as my own therapy to cope? Am I being unfair by forcing these memories on her? I know some of you may be wondering why I have these questions. Maybe I am exaggerating. It is a struggle to lose a parent, but there is another level added when you have a young child who also adored that parent. While it is important that Laila has her memories, I have to also remember I am her parent. She needs me. She needs me to be strong for her. That part is still hard for me. There are times when she will just randomly start crying. She will say, “I miss Pop Pop”. I remember one day, she and I were riding in the car and a slow song came on. A song that was slow but not necessarily sad and had nothing to do with losing someone, but she said the song was making her think of Pop Pop. She asked me to change it, so I did. My adult mind couldn’t understand why she was so sad in this moment, all I knew was my baby was hurting. My baby was grieving. Even though this was 2018 and my dad passed in 2016, my 5 year old baby was still grieving. She said, “I wish we could go to Heaven so we can check on Pop Pop”. My heart instantly broke. This was the moment where I had to really put my feelings to the side and be there for my child. I failed. I couldn’t control it. It. just. hurt. To my core. I remember my chest getting tight and the tears just started flowing. The good thing was, I was driving and she was in the backseat so she couldn’t see my face. I was able to disguise my pain briefly and respond by saying, “I understand baby but just know that Pop Pop checks on us all the time.” I looked in my rear view mirror and saw her face light up. There was a moment where she felt safe and secure. She still felt the pain of missing him but I think my response comforted her in that moment. I was able to be her mom while still being a daughter.
Before my father’s passing, he was in Home Hospice from November 2015 until March 2016. My mom was his primary caregiver and I was her “backup”. I remember telling myself that one feeling I did not want to feel when his time came was regret. I did not want to regret not spending enough time with him. So I went to my parents’ house every single day after work. Eventually, I got to a point where I just could not stay focused at work and so my employer at the time let me go with a severance. In that moment, I was stressed out because I needed to work but deep down I knew that there was a reason that this was happening. I was able to be at my parents house all day on most days. As you can imagine, this put a strain on my home life. My husband who was my boyfriend at the time, was forced to take on more in order to care for our child. I didn’t realize it then, but I was not as present as I should have been. Even when I was physically there, I was not really there. I was literally struggling with being a girlfriend, a mother, and a daughter. How can I successfully be all 3? As simple as that sounds, it was so difficult. My husband played a major role in my ability to navigate through my life during those 4 months and beyond. He literally picked up my slack. He realized my inabilities and helped when and where he could. Reality is, he was close to my dad as well. Closer than I even realized. They had secret conversations that I never knew about. So this was hard for him as well. He was grieving too. So with all of this emotion and change in our household, my 2 year old felt it.
Losing a parent is never easy. It is one of those things that you will never ‘get over’. You have to grieve in your own way. Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve or where you should be in your grieving process. For the record, I am still grieving. I still find myself getting angry at the ‘forever’ in his death. I still cry, frequently. Losing him is still so painful. I can sometimes feel it physically. It literally makes my stomach hurt at times. One thing that I eventually realized is that grieving is an individual process but it is also a shared process. As a family, my husband and I and my girls have to grieve together. As a daughter, I have to grieve the loss of my dad. As a mother, I have to pour into my child at all times so she is able to grieve in a healthy way. I can’t allow my child to feel like she has lost a parent who is still living. So everyday I tell myself, “Nicole, you can do this”.
I want to end this post with a ‘Thank You’ to my mom. She lost her husband. Her soulmate. She had to create a new normal and through all of her grief and pain she was still able to be a mom and “Neena” (grandma). She is the reason that I am the mother that I am today. I am so grateful for her and so proud of her. She is my hero. Thank you Mommy.
This post is dedicated to my loving father, Richard Lee Laird, Sr.
May 30, 1956-March 7, 2016
I hope your baby girl is making you proud. ❤