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Aftershocks: Missing our Fathers through Time and Space

It is human nature to try to control things that we cannot control: the weather, other people, our sense of security. We want things to stay as they are, or we want people to see the world through our lens, so that we feel the world is both recognizable and understandable. The death of a loved one is one of those life experiences that shake us to the core whether or not it is anticipated.

We might go through our fathers' funerals with a sense of depersonalization — this is happening to someone else, not us — or we might have every word we hear seared into our souls. We may not have much memory of who we spoke to on that day, or what the weather was like, or who came to the funeral home to offer their condolences, or some of it may stand out in sharp relief.

In the immediate days after the death of someone close to us, we are usually surrounded by many people; friends bring us food, offer to do errands, hold our hands at the funeral home. We may have a gathering after the funeral to celebrate the life of the person we just lost. And then life seemingly returns to "normal. We go back to work, we walk the dog, we do our own grocery shopping, and we are faced with the loneliness that death brings as it catches up with us in the dark hours of the night when we are alone, on our car ride to work, or as we wait for a train.

As we traverse the days, weeks, and months immediately following our fathers' deaths, we go through our process of grief, which may include not believing that we have lost them, feeling extreme pain or guilt, being angry, or experiencing depression and loneliness. We may find our emotions expressing themselves through physical symptoms as well, with waves of nausea, headaches, backaches, or unexplained body pain adding to our distress. We may experience the dichotomy of both enduring one of the most difficult things we can go through in life and life continuing as it was in the days prior to our loss.

The loss and its ramifications continue, which is why we think of this as the time of aftershocks. 

The major earthquake has jolted us, but there are many more subterranean, unknown seismographic events yet to radiate from that initial quake. The shifting of our lives and ourselves that the poem "Shifting the Sun" spoke of at the opening of this book continues in the days and weeks and even long after our fathers have died, just as the earth shifts subtly after an earthquake.

We inhabit a world in which many of the traditions of mourning have been lost, such as assuming a year of mourning in which the community respects the mourner's process; so many of the aftershocks are now borne in private as the world around us rushes along with its business.

When it is a parent who has died, the loss can shake us on a much deeper level and these experiences may be more intense, more painful, even if the loss occurs when we are adults. Our parents provide our first relationship template; we learn from them, as earlier chapters have shown, how to form relationships both in childhood and in adulthood. No matter what our relationships are with our fathers, their deaths sever that first early bond, both literally and figuratively; we become untethered, often feeling like a bereft child despite perhaps having children of our own.

To navigate the loss of the person who helped bring us into being, who took care of us when we were most dependent, who has known us the longest in our lives is no small task. At times the pain feels unbearable, but it is certainly not insurmountable.

pp. 141-142. Excerpted from "Daughters, Dads, and the Path Through Grief - Tales from Italian America" by Donna H. Dicello Psy.D. + Lorraine Mangione Ph.D. Published by Impact Publishers.  Copyright 2015. 

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