Walking with Grief, Living with Purpose

Yesterday while walking in my neighborhood, I realized how alive and present my father’s spirit is in my life. He was an avid gardener and life-long admirer of nature, and I feel his presence reflected in the beauty and wonder of the outdoors, the sounds and sights of Spring.

He was a daily walker and I feel extra close to him when I am walking. With each step I recall memories of the times we shared and “converse” with him on a heart level about new topics and issues that arise in my life. In life, I talked with him about any number of inconsequential and important things. And now, almost two years after his death, I envision him listening as I consider my new crossroads.

I feel his enthusiastic encouragement, unconditional acceptance of my choices and the comfort of his loving presence. It took some time for me to get here, but I have learned how to walk with my grief.

In 2012, I was at my dad’s bedside as he died, never imagining then how this event would shape my life going forward. He courageously prepared my family members by talking with each one about his eternal love and unique appreciation for our presence in his life. He was ready to go when the time came.

My family celebrated his life with a special and uplifting event of spontaneous participation and remembrance. I felt the love and support of many as I moved forward into the following days and weeks. But my dad was really and truly gone. His voice on the phone, his warm hugs and silly noises, his joyful smile and guiding presence, all were no longer accessible in a real and physical sense.

After a few weeks, the buoying support ebbed, and I began to feel some strong and surprising feelings: Anger. Despair. Desertion. A whooshing, jumbled tumult of grief washed over me and knocked me down. What could I do now? How could I go forward and surmount the emotions that I felt?

And then I remembered: In his last few days of life, Daddy (as I always called him) suggested that I write. So, I began to journal a little bit every few days, recording my current state of emotions and recounting to myself his end-of-life story. I wrote some, cried some, reread and cried some more each time I returned to write the story. I took my time to get from the beginning to the end, and along the way I began to accept and integrate my father’s physical absence.

Releasing my tears helped me feel better, and in the weeks and months that followed, I began to feel much improved. I was walking a new walk, transforming my grief into words on a page.

In 2013, I published our story as a short book called Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad and began a whole new journey of grief-inspired purpose. Daddy is no longer here and I can’t change that fact. What I can do is choose my response to the prevailing sorrow that I feel. My choices create new purpose in my life, as I reach out each day to introduce my book to grief and bereavement support professionals, chaplains in hospice and palliative care settings and counselors of those who care for their dying loved ones.

Sometimes I receive affirming reviews, notes of gratitude and requests for articles and blog posts. Some readers send me their own stories, trusting me to share their grief and loss. I am filled with awe and gratitude for these developments. This response to my intimate little story inspires me to write more on the topic of grief and loss, to help others learn to communicate around death, dying and the end of life.

Now I feel connected to a vast community of grieving individuals and support workers. My loss increasingly becomes an integrated, accepted and motivating part of me. I do not strive to “get over it” or “move on” from my father’s death. Instead, I awaken each morning confident that Daddy is walking with me into each new adventure I face. I celebrate the love, approval and joy we shared in life by acting on the grief-inspired purpose that is alive and well in me.

Julie Nierenberg

More Articles Written by Julie

A writer, editor and author coach, I am inspired by the journey of love and release through my father’s end of life. In 2013 I published a book about our experience. Guided by my father's living example as an author and activist, I write to contribute to how we prepare, individually and collectively, to live and support the final chapter of life. I write to immerse in the moment and to experience the satisfaction that writing can bring. Oklahoma is the home of my roots. I lived in McCloud, Tahlequah, Oklahoma City and Tulsa for many years before a recent move to Toronto, Ontario. As a young adult, I meandered through a variety of career emphases in environmental and biomedical sciences before realizing I was called to be an educator. Following my heart into education of gifted children, I enjoyed nearly twenty years, first as a Whole Language, Spanish and art teacher and then as an administrator. With a growing love of children, I courageously became a parent, twice! The joy and purpose I feel in that role is a guiding light in my daily life. Now my two daughters are firmly on the paths of their own journeys through life; I thrill to watch them as they navigate their chosen courses. In 2006, I grew wings that took me all the way to Toronto, where I joined my life partner and soul mate. There, I reinvented my career to flexibly accommodate travel between the home of my family of origin in Oklahoma and my new home in Canada. I established my own business as a writer, editor, author coach and self-publisher. It has been my great pleasure to work with other writers as a partner in authorship, or as editor and coach, and I look forward to many more such affiliations. With each passing day, more topics and opportunities present themselves and I embrace them with gratitude. During the months, weeks and days leading up to my father's death, I was present as much as possible. I was with him when he transitioned from this earthly life in April of 2012, so very privileged to be at his side. Later, as my sorrow washed over me in waves, I began to write our very personal story, and I connected with his memory, integrating my grief, through that effort. In 2013, I published the story as a short book and included resources to support others facing end-of-life issues. Since the book's publication as "Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad," I have reached out to many grief and bereavement support workers, hospice and palliative care chaplains and end-of-life advocates with an introduction to my book. I make many valued connections as I reach out with this purpose. With one such connection, Victoria Brewster, MSW, I am now co-writing another book on Death, Dying and the End of Life. We hope this book will offer a unique and comprehensive perspective, with multiple contributors sharing their end-of-life experiences.

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