The Color of my Scars -- Healing on Father's Day
The Color of My Scars
I have a scar in the crux of my arm; a favorite dog, a rescue, a fighter, accidentally engaged my arm with her teeth, instead of the intended dog. The scar is about the size of an inchworm, white (now), raised with little footprints along its spine where the stitches once held me together. We eventually lost our dog, we hope she rests in peace, but she indelibly remains with me.
Losing my father was the deepest emotional wound I have ever had to heal; inside my spirit is a scar, still rough red and yet to be stitched back together. I was in the hospital room when Dad lost all bowel control; I was holding my mother’s hand when he began agonal breathing; I was his medical power of attorney when Mom became inconsolable. Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. Except that many things do. As Kristi Hugstad, certified Grief Recovery Specialist writes: “Grief is about loss, and that loss comes in many forms -- death being just one of them” (2017). When you say goodbye to a loved pet, when you “lose” your virginity, when you get dumped by that bastard, when you “go remote” because of a global pandemic,
Grief happens -- differently, but experiencing the healing process is universal.
There are a plethora of theories on the grief process, most include similar ideologies. The first stage manifests as shock, numbness and/or denial; second, you feel a mixture of yearning and bargaining; the third is depression and anger; and finally reconstruction, recovery, and acceptance. Some experts break it into seven stages, others five, and John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory (Shorey 2020) suggests four stages of traumatic loss recovery. Collectively, these processes are considered non-linear and sometimes stagnant; possibly never achieving acceptance, or achieved one day and a new trauma causes a rebound (Non-Linear 2021). Dr. Jennifer Guttman on the Kübler-Ross five-stage model asserts “these [stages] are normal reactions we have to tragic news. In fact, she [Kübler-Ross] called them defense mechanisms or coping mechanisms that we need to move through in order to manage all kinds of change” (2020).
I value the productive adaptations to change learned through the grief-healing process.
|Dad and me, at our family cabin.|
I recently spoke with an eighty-something woman at an airport, traveling independently to see her daughter. She had lost two husbands. She had a way about her that seemed calm and accepting. This response is opposite of my mother, who has yet to accept my father’s passing, and certainly could not attempt to travel alone. Everyone heals differently. So, how did I heal? A lot of crying helped. And a conscious recognition of my feelings having validity. I remember curling up with a sweater of his -- proof that he wasn’t gone. Then, an indescribable wish to exchange places, asking for the death to play-out differently. Oh, anger! -- at the doctor for letting him die from a side-effect of his bone marrow transplant (he’s still to blame). And on Father’s Day, his birthday, and his deathday, I sit and remember him. Sometimes, I write a poem, or a passage of remembrance -- social media is a great venue. The most important skill to draw from loss caused by traumatic change is a recognition that it is healthy to feel all the feels.
|Giving away the Bride|
Writing about loss is a cathartic process to feelings; however, for me, it may be several years before I am ready to polish this loss on public record. The guidance I have received many times throughout my MFA on writing memoirs is waiting a minimum of eight-years before delving into the past trauma -- in order to provide clear perspective on the topic -- it’s been nine, and this is as polished as I can get. Kathleen Adam, in “A Brief History of Journal Therapy” advises: “writing about trauma too soon after it occurred can be emotionally overwhelming. To write about the same traumatic experience over and over again is similarly detrimental” (2006). But, for the immediate, Lastly.com, a life story website, suggests “writing has been a cathartic method of getting through loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Writing helps you get down the things on paper that you wish you could have said or done. Writing also helps you dig deeper into other issues that may be present. You can discover more about yourself in the grief process” (Grief n.d.). Writing facilitates an outlet for expressing emotions felt during the journey through the stages of grief, potentially expediting the healing process.
I am writing and healing along with the colors of my scars.
|Last Photo of Dad being silly for his grandkids|
Adams, K. (2006). A Brief History of Journal Therapy. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://journaltherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Article-KA-A-Brief-History-of-Journal-Therapy.pdf
Getting over Grief by Writing. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.lastly.com/blog/getting-over-grief-by-writing
Guttman, J., Psy.D. (2020, April 8). Understanding the stages of grief and facing tragic news. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sustainable-life-satisfaction/202004/understanding-the-stages-grief-and-facing-tragic-news
Hugstad, K. (2017, July 27). Grieving Losses other than Death. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/at-a-loss-grieving-losses-other-than-death_b_59794d8ce4b06b305561ce05
A Non-linear Process: The 5 stages of grief. (2021, February 8). Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.schumacherandbenner.com/pottstown/funeral-home/blog.aspx?ID=1143&Title=A+Non-Linear+Process%3A+The+5+Stages+of+Grief
Shorey, H., Ph.D. (2020, January 6). Attachment styles and reactions to grief and loss. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-freedom-change/202001/attachment-styles-and-reactions-grief-and-loss