Sarah first came to Comfort Zone Camp two years after her dad’s death and then became a “Big Buddy” volunteer. In reflecting on her own grief journey, Sarah shares how she disconnected and reconnected with her friends, family and most importantly her dad!
When my mom told me my dad had died, I was 12 years old and lying on an air mattress in my best friend Katie's living room. Katie was on the other side of me, and she immediately held my hand a little too hard and started crying. I don't remember what I said, but I know I made Katie and my mom laugh.
My dad made everyone around him laugh, even when he was sick. He was so silly, talking in a fake French accent or using the lid on the kitchen trashcan as a catapult. After he died, our house felt deafeningly silent without his laughter.
When my dad was in and out of the hospital, I spent a lot of time at my friends’ houses, especially Katie’s. Even though I was worried about my dad, I still had a lot of fun with my friends. But for a year or two after he died, it was impossible to simultaneously grieve and play. I also didn’t know how to talk about my dad in a way that didn’t make me feel very sad, and not talking about it put a wall between me and everyone else.
Sometimes all I could really do was cry, and sometimes I was a little too silly. Sometimes I was mad at my friends for things like complaining about their dads leaving their shoes around the house. They said they were “sorry” a lot when they could see I was sad, because they didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to hear they were sorry- but I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to hear, either. I made new friends with other classmates who were going through a stressful event, which helped because we could connect over our similar feelings. But my “old” friends never went away. Even though we didn’t always know what to say to each other, they gave me the greatest gift; they waited for me to figure out how to grieve.
The same year my dad got really sick, my neighbors’ uncle did, too. They died within a year of each other. While we had always spent a lot of time together, having the shared experience of loss made us even closer. They became the people I first talked about grief with. We started a few traditions with my neighbors when my dad was sick. After he died, most “family” events consisted of my neighbors, my mom, and me. Somewhere in between graduations, holiday dinners, and going to church together we became a family.
My mom brought me to Comfort Zone Camp two years after my dad died. For the first time since his death, I felt like I completely belonged. At camp I gained the ability to talk about my dad without feeling so sad. This skill allowed me to be present in my life again. I’m happy to talk about my dad now with good friends or my mom, and sharing stories about him allows me to feel closer to them. Comfort Zone is not just a part of my community; it is another family.
While I've spent a lot of time really missing my dad, I’ve always felt incredibly connected to him. I've always been like him, physically (we have the same eyes) and mentally (we share a passion for psychology and meditation). There are even unexpected connections. I played ultimate frisbee and started running long distance in college only to find out from my grandmother that he did as well. When I miss my dad I try to increase my level of connectivity to him. I write him letters and talk to his tombstone from time to time, but I feel closest to him when I'm doing something we did together, like cooking. My dad took me snorkeling a lot and I always feel like he’s a little more “here” when I’m near the ocean. I feel my dad's absence so deeply, but his presence is such a big part of what makes me “me.”
I’m 24 now, and my dad has been dead for half my life. On the anniversary of my dad’s death this year (like every year) people from my patchwork family reached out. The friends who stuck by me even though I was so difficult when my dad died? They are still my closest friends, and every single one of them called or texted. My mom, neighbors-turned-family and the Comfort Zone community also made themselves available. Every single one of these people is part of my family, a family that is happy to honor my dad’s memory- even if they didn’t know him. More than that, they are a family who love me and a family that I have the privilege of laughing with. On this anniversary, a day that I will forever associate with so much sadness, I am reminded of the connections that have gotten me through grief- and how truly lucky I am.
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