2018, my year of loss and mourning
From an online perspective, I’ve been quiet since the early summer. This has been a year of great loss for me. In a span of eight months, four dear souls departed this world, causing me to enter quite a stretch of mourning. Losing a close friend and two elderly beloved pets was hard, but nothing like watching my “never-sick, strong-as-a-bear” father take his last breath on July 4th as I sang to him and stroked his face.
Initially, getting though my shock and heartbreak while supporting my mother to get through hers was certainly one of the biggest challenges of my life. The next phase was about trying to figure out how this deep mourning thing works. Especially when the rest of the world doesn’t know how it works either.
And I get that. After all, it’s different for everyone. There’s absolutely no formulated approach to this stuff. All we can do is try to be utterly honest with ourselves and to others about what’s going on, and express as best as we can what would be supportive. For me, it’s a complicated balance of not tiptoeing around the subject, but also not expecting me to share much about my experience or my emotions in a group setting. I absolutely prefer one-on-one conversations, and even then I choose pretty carefully with whom I share. I want to feel pretty secure in knowing I’ll be given the space to share freely, that my tears are welcome and not causing too much discomfort, and that I won’t be offered advice, positive perspective or other forms of “help.” The only help that really helps is listening space for me, my emotions, my experience . . . with acceptance. So, how the heck to relay all of THAT to well-intentioned family and friends???
I don’t blame anyone in the world for wrongdoing. We just simply don’t know . . . have never learned how to support others who are grieving. Of course, I have found an exception — those who have experienced deep loss themselves. They tend to know about the only “help that helps.”
If you’d like to learn more, check out this excellent 4-minute video, “How do you help a grieving friend?” The narrator, Megan Devine, wrote the book, It’s O.K. that You’re not O.K. which was a real lifesaver for me and my mother this summer, because we were definitely not feeling very O.K. It gave us more understanding and self-compassion as we entered a very sad, challenging chapter in our lives.
As a way to honor my father and do what I can to help him and his impact not be forgotten, below I share my words of appreciation during the memorial service. I’m happy to say that I shared all of it with Dad over the past few years. To my knowledge, there was nothing left unsaid between us, and this (along with documenting the events of this summer plus journaling) has helped me immensely on my mourning journey.
My Tribute to Dad, John P. Crisler, Sr.
We’ve been wondering the past 24 days if Dad had the same kind of impact on others as he did us.
Looking around this packed room helps answer that question. Thank you so much for being here – it is really supportive to us.
This is tough. We’ve been in shock and doing some pretty big grieving. Simply put,
*He is not an easy human to live without.*
Something I’ve come to realize is how fortunate we really are. We’re not lamenting any “could-“ or “should-have’s,” but instead we’re busy with our great LOSS. On the other side of all this mourning is so much CELEBRATION. And that’s what I want to share today.
Dad wasn’t a material man. The most expensive thing he ever bought for himself were his softball bats (no joke!), well and maybe a Prius or two, but that was all about efficiency. And instead of purchasing things for others, he gave a constant flow of invisible gifts, the very best kind. I see the following as five of his legacies.
Legacy 1: LOVE / ACCEPTANCE
Some say unconditional love doesn’t exist. I can honestly say that I experienced Dad’s love for me, my brother, my mother and his grandchildren as just that.
As a child and throughout my entire life, I experienced him as very nonjudgmental. He seemed to accept everything without complaint, even if he didn’t fully understand. This gave me an amazing amount of emotional Safety and Trust. An experience of unconditional love. What a gift.
Related to this is the Warmth/Care/Connection he brought to us through hugs, tickling, humor, and Support when-ever it was needed. What a gift . . .
*** I could love him and feel loved by him with all the EASE in the world***
Legacy 2: UNDERSTANDING
A lot of you might not know this, but Dad spent a lot of time trying to figure people out. He made it something of a hobby to understand what motivates us all in the things we say and do. We had many discussions about this. I believe he would have made a great psychologist . . . also because he listened so attentively, bringing safety and acceptance to so many of us. I thanked him (as I have Mom) for teaching me these skills and helping to form my own career.
A little story about how his drive to understand people made him quite empathic at times:
Right after our daughter was born, all 4 grandparents gave my 2.5-year-old son quite a bit of attention. We were all together in a North Carolina beach house, and he fell down 3 steps. He was fine, but clearly embarrassed because nearly his entire family witnessed it. About 10 minutes later, completely unannounced, Dad took a deliberate spill down the same steps, so that his grandson wouldn’t be alone.
Legacy 3: LIGHTNESS / HUMOR / FUN
- He’d read the comics every Sunday, sharing the ones he’d thought would get us to laugh.
- I couldn’t be around him without laughing – a lot. He’d threw out more zingers than anyone I’ve ever known, mostly satire, my favorite kind of humor.
- Johnny [my brother], I’d say you have big shoes to fill, but Dad lamented—with a prideful smile—the past few years that you had surpassed him!
Legacy 4: HONESTY
For a long time, I’ve known Dad for his uncanny skill for being very honest, while NOT putting people off. He highly valued being truthful at all times. AND he cared very much about his relationships. So he maintained them by being authentic with lightness and humor. I admired him so so much for this, in my experience, unique art, which I’ve always deeply appreciated.
Legacy 5: PERSEVERANCE / COMMITMENT / RELIABILITY
It’s not been easy to find many silver linings to our loss. One I’m holding close to me is this: Dad never had to go without playing ball or singing or telling any of us he couldn’t help out. He only lived the life he wanted, in health, side by side with Mom and as a dependable and fun husband, father and grandfather.
Mostly through his lifelong hobbies of base-/softball and singing. Thank you, softball buddies and choir members for honoring him today.
I imagine you all experienced him as extremely reliable.
So did we. I could give many, many examples, but will hold it to how Dad passed up many promotions at NASA because he didn’t want the added stress. He preferred to be a steady, strong, reliable presence for his family.
Dad could have written this
It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes . . . R.W. Emerson’s definition of “success”:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Boy did I breathe easier because of my father. I think a lot of us did.
- In beautiful collaboration with Mom, Dad role-modeled this every day.
- I see them both as two of the most successful humans I know.
- The world feels a bit less safe, less humorous, less fun to me without Dad in it.
- But he’ll always be with me, a part of me, helping me to carry out this very meaningful version of “success.”
I’d like to end with Dad’s own words. His strong suit didn’t typically involve letters. On his laptop, I found just one piece of personal correspondence, to one of his grandchildren in which he expressed some pretty rare vulnerability and a very positive message:
“I had a terrible time as a youth committing to things. I could always see how poorly I might do and not so much how well I might do. I was literally frightened of everything. I could not comfortably give an informal presentation to people I knew, about things I knew until I was in my late 40‘s. I discovered very late that with a better attitude I could have pushed myself at a young age much more.
A wise man [I’m pretty sure this was Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and psychologist] once said: ‘The only thing you can control in life is your attitude. Others will almost always control the circumstances you find yourself in.’
Realizing I can give myself a better attitude about anything is the single most powerful thing I’ve ever had going for me. I (and you) will do anything better if we can put ourselves in a positive attitude about doing it. Not always easy, but doable. Doing as many things as you can as well as you can is really what growing up is all about, and having fun! J”
In closing . . .
Let’s follow Dad’s wisdom. When we can, choose to be positive . . . because life sure seems short.