How Having A Relationship With Grief Helped Me With My Father’s Passing

Jeff Harry
7 min readNov 21, 2023

Today, November 20th, 2023, is my dad’s birthday. It marks eight years since he passed away on November 15th, 2015. Each year, we celebrate his birthday as if he was still here. We visit the cemetery, sing songs that he loved hearing and singing, and then eat one of his favorite meals.

When he first passed away, it was really difficult to cope. There weren’t many people I could speak to who had experienced a close death, so at the same time, people were extremely courteous and loving; I could tell that it was uncomfortable for them to speak about death and dying, as if talking about it brought them closer to it.

I had a few friends who had lost loved ones, and they gave me permission to grieve in my own way, as it is such a personal journey. There were a few things that I came across that helped me process and cope during this time that I’m sharing here today.

Hopefully, it helps you during this journey.

This story from Reddit was shared when a teenager who just lost their best friend in high school was struggling to cope. They reached out to Reddit for answers and this was one of the answers that came back.

I thought it so accurately describes how grief comes and goes. You can check out the video about it or read the story below.

Reddit: My Friend Just Died. I Don’t Know What To Do.

GSnow 13 yr. ago

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

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Having A Relationship With Grief

I also feel as if both of these videos capture the complexity of grief:

Andrew Garfield encapsulates what it feels like to feel grief. Start the video at 4:05.

What Tuesdays With Morrie Taught Me About Death, Life & Grieving

Tuesdays With Morrie helped me process death far before I was ready to deal with it.

These are some of the quotes from the book that still sit with me to this day:

  • “If you hold back on the emotions — if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them — you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.”
  • “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.”
  • “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”
  • “Yes, I said, but if aging were so valuable, why do people always say, “Oh, if I were young again.” You never hear people say,
    “I wish I were sixty-five.”
    He smiled. “You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning.
    Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. If you want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five.”
  • “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
  • “Love each other or perish.”

Grief & Play

“Death ends a life, not a relationship…The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live…Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.” — Tuesday With Morrie

My friend, Joseph, once told me that some of his best conversations he has is with his grandfather. When I asked him how old his grandfather is, Joseph told me he passed away many years ago. Yet, he has long dialogs with him.

Regardless of what you believe, the play aspect of having a conversation with someone who has passed is something we can do.

Here is Jamie Foxx talking about how he is going to have a conversation with his grandmother the night he won an Oscar.

Now are you really speaking to that person or is it just pretend?

I think Harry Potter has a really interesting answer to this.

As Harry Potter asked Dumbledore? Is this all real, or is it just happening inside my head?

Dumbledore’s Response: Of course, it is happening inside your head, Harry.

Why does that mean it is not real?

Celebrating The Beauty of Sadness

There is something also beautiful about sadness. I feel these two clips captured how embracing the complexity of feelings is not only powerful but makes you feel so much more human.

When my father passed away, all four of his brothers showed up for the first time in 20 years since their mom passed away. I felt this immense amount of joy having them and their family surrounding us that, at one point, I forgot I was at my dad’s funeral. Then, I realized that there was immense beauty to life that I could feel such joy and sadness simultaneously. I felt even more alive and able to connect with my family because I allowed myself to feel all these feelings together.

Death Chats

During the pandemic, when many of us felt closer to death than we had ever had, I started having a series of Death Chats with two friends, Lauren Yee & Julia De’Caneva. Both had experienced death in a variety of ways. It was our way of coping, and through these chats about death, I felt a better understanding of how I wanted to show up in life, having steeped myself in talking about death. It reminds me of this quote from Tuesdays With Morrie:

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A person who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

Moving Forward Vs. Moving On

Great description of the difference between moving forward without trying to move on.

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Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play