Bella’s Story: Losing my Father to Brain Cancer

Did you know that it’s actually healing to talk about our deceased loved ones? Sharing what made our person so special and reliving our favorite memories of them helps us process our loss and keep their memory alive.

That’s why we invite members of our community to share their stories of loss! When we share we heal and when we read each other’s stories we find inspiration and hope in each other’s journey.

In our next community post, Bella shares the beautiful memories of her father who she describes as “one hell of a man” and how she is coping with her loss…especially during the holidays. Read her story below!

My dad was one hell of a man… and putting him into words is probably one of the most difficult things to write. Because he was SO much more than I could even begin to put into words!

Some of his biggest achievements and accolades included being an Army Ranger, graduating from West Point, he was a neural linguistic programmer with his own business, a world traveler, and a family man.

I admired a lot about my dad – he had this big personality. You could always feel his presence in the room, partly because he wasn’t a small dude, but also due to his spirit. His gift in life was being amazing with people. He could ask you “how are you?” And in an instant he was able to make you feel so seen, and so heard. He was insanely into his biking, and most weekends you could always find him in Deer Creek Canyon taking long rides. Anything that got him closer to the mountains that he had fallen in love with years earlier.

My dad believed wholeheartedly in humans, and supported all of us in the things we wanted to do. Including me, he had three other kids – all with big personalities, and lots of goals to pursue. My oldest brother is teacher, my older sister an oncology nurse, and my younger brother an avid adventurer in Vail. Included in this family is also three grandkids, Daphnie, Tallulah, & Fletcher. I mention all of us because he loved his family SO much. Making sure we got together monthly for a weekend BBQ, spending Black Friday at the mall to people watch, and always taking all of the photos possible.

He owned his own business, as a neural linguistic programmer, where he spent his days helping so many people find new ways to be successful, and rewrite their neural software. The man knew how to make an impact with his words, and his overall presence.

After years of living in Colorado, my dad decided to take his love of the ocean and incorporate it into his life. When I moved to Tampa, he jumped on the opportunity to get closer to the water part of the year. My mom and him would come every other month to enjoy the warmth and continue building my dad’s business. That is unfortunately around the time that he was diagnosed.

It was January 2019 – my dad had been experiencing what he described as “word salad” — he could process the thing in front of him, but wasn’t able to say the word. He then proceeded to check into the hospital, there they discovered a marble size mass in the front lobe of his brain. From there it was all a little bit of a blur, he swiftly made his way back to Denver, where he had an appointment at Sarah Cannon. As much as the situation was difficult, we were blessed with the fact that my sister was a nurse at this particular institute. What we learned from this point on was tough, he had a stage four glioblastoma – brain cancer.

There weren’t a lot of options, and there were choices to be made. The first step in the process was to remove the tumor. Unfortunately with brain tumors, it is extremely difficult to remove the entirety of the mass, it has a growth property that causes the tumor to spider web through the brain.

My dad fought a valiant battle, and on January 4th, 2020 he passed. The brain tumor had entered into his spinal fluid, and it was just too far past to do anything else.

To say that the last twelve months has been easy, is an understatement. Layered onto his death, 2020 has definitely given all of us a huge list of obstacles to overcome. But it really has been more about sharing, and being open about what his death did to me.

Grief in no way easy. I had to really search for a number of tools to support myself when the waves seemed to crash down even harder than usual.

My go to in life was spin, and still is. I love the way that the music makes me feel, and how it connects me back to something that I know my dad really loved to do as well. Especially as we get closer into the holiday season.

My dad always was the first to play holiday music, he loved to drive home the long way so we can see more of the lights that decorated homes and yards, and always put the best hand written notes into his gifts. This year, I plan to do as much of this as possible – for my mom, and to honor my dad’s legacy. I realize that this Christmas will be different, and that even his one year passing will bring up a new set of emotions and challenges to work through.

So I will leave you all with this, a note my dad wrote in his journal back in 2000, one that I look at daily to remind myself that right now, in this world – kindness is everything… and even in the most grief filled moments, we can realign to find the positive in the situation.

“My center is my family, my soul, my friends, my health, myself. It is not work, it is not politics, it is not mean spirited people. Life is about love. Life is about joy. Life is about pain. That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

– William Sumner, The Inevitable You

5 Tips to Survive Thanksgiving (while grieving)

Thanksgiving is just days away and anxiety might be setting in as we prepare to see what the festivities will look like this year … during a global pandemic. The stress over getting sick combined with the emotional burnout of wearing masks while we eat with friends, keep an extra six feet away from our closest relatives, or ZOOM call into family dinner is a lot to take in.

But for those of us grieving the loss of a loved one, COVID is just one added layer to an emotionally complex holiday. Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of our missing loved ones, our changed family dynamics, and a bittersweet combination of the joy in the present and longing for the past when our love one was with us.

We asked our Community Manager Abby, who lost her father almost two years ago, to share her top tips for surviving Thanksgiving while grieving. Take a look!

Have more? Tell us in the comments!

1) Make space for your grief.

There are triggers everywhere during Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the empty chair at the end of the table where he used to sit or that someone forgot to make our person’s signature pie this year. Whatever the trigger may be, it is helpful to make space for grief and anticipate that we might feel big emotions. Make a plan for coping with potential triggers to make it easier to manage in the moment.

For example, mine is taking my dog for a walk around the block or taking space in my room to tune-out the overwhelm as I tune-in to my favorite podcast.

2) Keep an old tradition (or start a new one!)

Keep your loved one’s memory alive by carrying on their favorite tradition.  Carrying on legacies that that my Dad left behind, such as running the Turkey Trot 5k that he did every year, helps me feel close to him and appreciate the memories we made when he was still here.

If it’s too triggering to carry on a tradition without them, that’s okay too. We know that the traditions just don’t feel the same without them. My dad and I shared a love of Christmas music and we would always start listening too early in the year. I’ve found it hard to listen to Christmas music at all since he’s been gone. So maybe you start a new tradition, one that signifies new beginnings and  honors their life.

Both are a good fit. Do what feels right for you and remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Trust in your process.

3) Say yes to help.

Support is key during the holidays. Take some of the weight off your shoulders and accept when friends want to help you shop for groceries, meal prep or take the lead on organizing gatherings (even if they’re e-gatherings this year). My mom has been my role model for surrendering to her grief when it’s needed, she doesn’t let her pride get in the way of family members wanting to do things for her during the holidays. Last Christmas, my grandma wrapped all my mom’s gifts so she could visit my Dad’s grave alone. You could see the weight lifted off her shoulders by just that little piece of support.

It is also super helpful to surround yourself with others who “get it” and might not be so merry too. Venting can be therapeutic — especially with people who truly understand your pain points and frustration.

4) Don’t feel guilty if you just can’t.

Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from gatherings or anything else you don’t want to commit to when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Last year I got overwhelmed by pretty much everything during the holidays, I felt guilty when I wasn’t thinking or talking about my dad but when we did talk about him I got extremely testy and sad. My survival tactic was taking lots and lots of space from the commotion, either in my room or on a walk around the block.

Covid isn’t the only reason you might need social distance this year!

5) MOVE your body!

Exercise isn’t just about burning calories from eating too much on Thanksgiving – it’s about processing big feelings and emotions too! When I get sad about my dad’s absence during big events, I do a barre class to stay grounded. When I get angry about losing him at such a young age, I go to a cycling class and spin the anger away. And when I feel guilty, like I should have done more to prevent his suicide, I blast music through my headphones and run as far as I can.

Take a moment and get away to do your favorite yoga flow, for a run or walk the dog around the block.


Hi, I’m Abby! I’m the Community Manager for moveTHRU.  I was a Junior at the University of Denver when I lost my Dad to suicide. You can read my story of loss here. Through fitness and moveTHRU, I’ve found my safe space to talk about death without fear of being a “downer,” learned how to cope with my grief, and most importantly moveTHRU and process the loss of my dad. Grief can be very isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. As the Community Manager, I hope to expand the reach of moveTHRU so that more people can have access to the moveTHRU resources and support that I wish I had from the very beginning of my grief journey.

 

FEAR: Let’s Talk About Death

I can still feel Ian’s arms wrapped around me, grasping me tightly — almost desperately. The tears stream down both of our faces as the doctor’s news settles in. We hold each other as if we are holding on to this one moment in time — the only certainty we have left.

Ian’s terminal cancer diagnosis propels us into the world of the unknown — where tomorrow is never guaranteed and each milestone, each good-bye, each “I love you”, could be your last.

Death is imminent.

I fear for my husband’s life. Will he make it? Will he live to see Theo turn one?

I fear for my life. How will I survive without him? How will I raise a two young children by myself?

My mind wanders. I fear for my future without him.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. Ian is still alive. It’s been 15 months since his cancer metastasized. He’s beat the odds, but his time is running short.



I can still see the hospice nurse’s heartbroken look as she makes eye contact with me. I know what’s coming and I can feel her proceeding with caution — fearing my reaction. She starts to cry as the words leave her mouth. I wrap my arms around her; lifelessly comforting her as the air is sucked out of my lungs.

Ian will pass tonight. Ian will die.

For a second the room feels like it’s spinning, but then a new sensation takes over.

It’s relief. It’s calm. It’s peaceful.

I no longer fear my husband’s death. I’m ready. I’m ready to surrender — to stop the suffering, the fighting, the uncertainty and guessing. It’s his time.

Ian passes away in the early hours the next morning.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. I feel numb, disconnected, then angry, and sad. The fear returns — but in a whole new way.

I fear this new life without my husband.

I fear for my children’s life.

I fear for mine.

I fear that I’m not strong enough to do this by myself.

I fear for my heart — that if I open it up it will break again.

I fear that there is no going back — no return to “normal.”

I fear my own grief — it’s power to trap me or transform me.

I fear what other’s think about my grief — how I’m handling my loss.

I fear for my children’s grief — for their life without their father.

I fear that this is all too much.

I fear that I can’t survive.

I fear that I’m losing him.


I feared Ian’s death, and now that my worst fear became my reality — I find myself fearing my new normal without him. But what I’ve learned (and grief expert David Kessler puts so well) is that fear doesn’t prevent death. Fear only prevents us from living!

Luckily, Ian knew this secret all along because in the month’s leading up to his ultimate death, he chose life. Death was already certain for him — so why fear it? He chose life and made the most of it.

Same with my hospice nurse experience. Once she told me that Ian would die that night, all of the worrying, the waiting, the guessing, the speculation — the anxiety — was gone. It just was. Ian was going to die. So what could I do with the remaining time I had left with him?


Death is the ultimate change, the ultimate end. It is a change we think we can’t understand and an ending we think we can’t survive. But although the change happens whether we want it to or not, we can find freedom in accepting it., and in understanding it as a prelude to something else. – David Kessler


We fear death. We fear for the day that we will die. We fear for the day that our loved one’s will die. We fear for what our lives will be like in the aftermath of such a loss.

We fear death in an anticipatory sense — like in the case of Ian’s terminal illness — or even right now, as the whole world fears the potential risk of COVID-19.

We fear death both for its finiteness, but also for the unknown aftermath. What happens after someone dies? — for both the person dying, as well as their survivor.

Yet, much of our fear surrounding death is attributed to how we perceive it.


Fear is an emotional response induced by a real or perceived threat. – Psychology Today


Fear is valid — it’s a response — meaning, we don’t always consciously control it. Yet, what intrigues me about this definition is also the word “perceived”.

Yes, death is an ending. A painful ending. An ending to someone’s life. A life we don’t want to and can’t imagine living without. The threat is real — no one wants to say goodbye to someone they love, or feel the hurt of loss.

But the threat of death is merely a fact of life. Our perception of death is what makes us truly fear it.

Kessler explains that the way our society views and even talks about death — he lost the fight to cancer, heart failure, he left us to soon (ie. Like abandonment), she didn’t make it — adds an element of choice to the experience of loss. Like if he tried harder, we would still be here — he would have beat it!

Death is not a choice. In fact, death is a certainty! It’s not something that we can opt-out of or defeat. Death, just like birth, is another phase of life. Yet, society positions death as the ultimate enemy. Something to be feared, conquered and destroyed.

So if a loved one dies we — death wins. We lose.

This perspective does a major disservice to anyone facing a terminal illness or for survivors of a loss.

For those facing death, it ignites fear. If shifts the focus to fighting a battle that cannot be won (in some cases, not all); instead of focusing on how to live more in the remaining time left. For survivors of loss, it sets us up for regrets and blame — for getting stuck in all the should haves, would haves, could haves; for finding a doctor, a person, or higher power to blame; or for asking “why me?” as we try to make sense of the loss when most of the time it’s senseless. It’s an uncontrollable outcome of life.

Once we accept that somethings just are, that there are no choices to make, no winners or losers, and that life will unfold in a meaningful way despite the meaningless nature of such tragedies — it takes away the element of fear.


Now, I think it’s important to point out that I never would have considered this perspective or written these words before Ian died. But, the experience of his death and the grief that has followed has taught me how to surrender. To let go of control. To stop fighting and accept the gifts and challenges that each day brings me. I’m still learning, but this mindset is honestly my survival mechanism for navigating life without him. (I even dedicate an entire module on Surrender in my new moveTHRU Grief course — it’s that powerful!)

So if you are facing a terminal diagnosis, supporting someone who is, or have lost someone and are wallowing in the darkest depths of grief asking yourself what just happened to my life? — please remember that your fear is valid!

My advice is to lean into your fear — FEEL IT! My safe place for experiencing emotions is through movement — yoga, hiking, or jumping on a spin bike.

Then once you’ve felt it, challenge it. Ask yourself:

  • What are you truly afraid of?
  • What is the threat?
  • Is the threat real or perceived? (It can be a combination of both!)
  • How much control do I have over this threat?
  • And most importantly, is this fear potentially limiting me from experiencing life fully?

Fear isn’t about avoiding death. It’s is about missing out on life.


Thank you to my late husband Ian who inspired me to live fearlessly even though there are days I’m scared shitless of my new life without him, and to his mom Leslie who sent me David Kessler’s book Finding Meaning – The Sixth Stage of Grief. It’s helping me make sense of the senseless.

Surviving Suicide Prevention Month … As a Suicide Loss Survivor

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. While organizations and influencers flock to social media to raise awareness about taboo subject that is so misunderstood in our society, it can be a triggering month emotionally for those personal affected by suicide.

In our next community story of loss, Abby Reider shares how suicide has touched her life — by losing her father. Read on and share any questions or thoughts in the comments below.


Tell us about your person. What do you remember about him? What was he like?

My Dad was always a risk-taker – with a confidence and charisma known to test many boundaries, and many more people’s patience. He encouraged me to never stay the course simply because it was safe or easy, but to do the wild, exciting things that tempted me even if I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

Anyone who knew my dad knew him for his witty humor and heart of gold. He almost always had a biting comeback that you had no choice but to laugh at, and had a special talent for helping me see the good or humor in the worst of situations.

As he once told me, there’s a big difference in being a nice person and being a kind person. Anyone can act nice and pleasant. But others are kind, their souls radiate compassion and thoughtfulness, just like my dad. Kindness comes in many forms, but his specialty was building up the people around him, only with the best intentions to watch them succeed.

Cause of Death

I think the hardest part of my Dad’s death was watching him slip away in front of us, slowly but surely. He’d had a rough last couple of years. A job loss that stole part of his identity and passion, escalated to a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, which led to one failed suicide attempt and an eventually successful one.

As I watched him slip away throughout the years, I felt grief for every part of him we lost, mostly sad and lonely. But after his death my grief took a turn. I became less sad and heartbroken and more confused, rejected, ashamed and angry. I forgot to miss him because I was so hurt that he chose to leave me with no note and no goodbye.

Does Suicide Prevention Month bring up any specific memories, feelings or anything out of the ordinary for you?

September, aka National Suicide Prevention month, serves as a painful reminder of my Dad’s death a year and a half ago, but also as a therapeutic guide through my grief. I have been feeling an odd mixture of angst, anxiety and inspiration with all the talk of suicide prevention on my social media and daily life.

Part of me is hopeful. Maybe the stigma is finally fading and I’ll be able to tell people about how he died without them assuming that something is seriously wrong with me or my family.

Part of me is grateful. People are using their voices to share extremely important, and potentially, life saving resources. I’m proud of people who are going against the grain and trying to start these important conversations with their friends despite suicide being so taboo in our society.

But part of me feels so guilty. I read through the potential warning signs of suicide and steps you can take to save people. Did I do these things for my Dad? Sometimes I don’t think so. If I did, wouldn’t he still be here?

While these feelings are still very present at times, Suicide Prevention Month has also given me the understanding that my dad’s suicide was not his fault nor mine. Mental Health is so deeply stigmatized in our society, he simply didn’t have the help that he needed. The stigma led him to wait to ask for help until he was in a deep depressive and bipolar state. It was essentially too late. He simply didn’t have the energy or resources to control the impulses, intrusive thoughts and despair that took his life.

So in many ways Suicide Prevention Month has given me the resources I needed to make a pivotal milestone in my journey of grief. I am hopeful that others struggling with mental health will be given the support and love that they need and hopefully have a different fate than my dad.

It is crucial to have these conversations with an awareness and sensitivity to how it will affect suicide loss survivors like myself. Be kind and considerate with the people when you bring up those tough conversations, but don’t let that make you shy away from having them. When you have those conversations you’re able to carry on the legacy of your loved one and prove to the world that their life and mental health matters.

Back-to-School Tips for Widowed Moms

The first day of school looked different for us and likely the rest of the world this year. Izzy sat beside me tuning into virtual classrooms all morning long. I guided her along while Theo and our babysitter played outside, and tried my best to tackle my never ending to-do list during “snack time” and “recess”.

It was messy. It was hard. It was far from what I would have envisioned her first day of Kindergarten to look like. But we made it work.

Izzy finished her first day of virtual learning saying, “mommy, I love school!”

And while her words warmed my heart, the narrative that played out in my mind was more like, “I can’t do this!”


As a widow, any ounce of freedom from my children requires someone else stepping in. My husband, their father — the person who assumed half of the household, parenting, and financial responsibilities — is no longer around.

I often feel like half of a person left with double the work!

Whether it’s sneaking away to run errands; finding one hour to pay bills, fill out paperwork, manage various household items; to focus on getting moveTHRU up and running; to exercise; to just sit in silence for a few hours — I need someone else to watch the kids! So, I rely on family and friends to step in, or I hire help.

But sometimes it feels like I’m gone a lot, and when this happens the mom guilt hits me hard.

  • Is getting in a workout in really necessary?
  • Is making time for myself to work, heal, go on a hike, read, and just be alone too much to ask when my kids need me too?
  • Am I being selfish?
  • I mean, I lost my husband, but they lost their dad. They don’t have anyone else! I am literally their world!

The thoughts continue to circulate, feeding my anxiety and leaving me paralyzed, powerless, and then just really sad.


When school finished yesterday, I literally sat at my desk frozen — the apprehension of the this uncertain, new reality taking over me. School was going to be my kids safe haven. School felt NORMAL. It was a place I could leave my kids — free of mom-guilt — where they could run around, play and learn, like NORMAL children with living fathers do. To have this one constant — another shred of normalcy taken away from us — just plain sucks.

But it is what it is. So, what is a young widow and single-parent of two young children to do ?


After some tears, an aggressive workout, and lots of venting, I’m realizing that navigating the school-year is going to be a lot like navigating my new normal after losing Ian — it’s going to require a lot of SURRENDER and GRACE.

Now, I know I’m not the only widow or single-parent struggling to balance it all, so let’s break this down.

SURRENDER

I talked about surrender in my last post on dating as a widow — but, to recap — it’s the idea of letting go of preconceived ideas about how our life “should” be and instead, allowing each day to unfold. In terms of school, it’s recognizing that even though I have both kids enrolled in “in-person” learning, there will be times that they have to be at home (with me) learning from their computer — for reasons that are beyond my control (ie. a global pandemic!)

Surrender helps us define what is within our control — and more importantly — what is not. There are certain events in life that we cannot change. They are what they are. And once we accept this fact, we are able to see what we can control to move forward.

School might stay open, but it will likely close at some point. Either way, it’s out of my control! So I’m trying to shift my focus to what I can control:

  • My childcare needs
  • My teaching schedule
  • My work load
  • My “free” time for friends, significant others and myself
  • My mindset, expectations and how I prioritize my time

This is where grace comes into play.

GRACE

Giving grace is being kind enough to ourselves to recognize that we can’t do it all. I repeat – WE CAN’T DO IT ALL! (I’m still repeating this because I struggle with this concept! )

It’s acknowledging that we are going through a lot (whether you’ve lost someone or not because we are all struggling with something) AND giving ourselves permission to go through it in whatever way works for us. This means letting go of judgments, of expectations, of the “shoulds” in order to get it all done.

For me, this meant realizing that I can’t pull-off a pre-launch for my moveTHRU course next week; I can’t teach more spin and barre classes outside of school hours; and that I can’t talk one-on-one to every person who reaches out to me on social media for advice. It’s not that I don’t want to — it’s just not possible given the constraints of my reality.

Yet on the flip side, I also realize that if I don’t give myself the time I need to fill my cup — to do work that fulfills my purpose; to lead killer spin classes the set my soul on fire; to exercise in order to move through my emotions and feelings; and to find peace to heal — then I become angry, bitter and resentful about my world, and even worse…my kids.

There is just one of me.

There are two of them.

We both have needs and desires that must be met.

These are facts. I cannot change this.

So I’m waving my flag in surrender and giving myself grace to focus on managing the variables that are within my control, in hopes to create the best cased scenario for everyone.

I want DO it all and BE all, but I’m letting go — little by little — to create enough space to just think about all of these moving pieces and figure out which ones to prioritize, to let go of, and to pursue.

And so the journey continues…


For anyone reading this who is in a similar situation, I SEE YOU. I FEEL YOU. This is really effing hard! But you are doing great!

Trust that whatever you are doing, whatever you are feeling is just right for YOU. There is no right or wrong way to do this! (I’ll take my own advice here too).

And if you have any suggestions on how to mange it all without losing your mind, drop them in the comments below!

xx,

Emily

Fatherless on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just around the corner — a joyous, light-hearted day to recognize Dad for all that he does! But for many of us — those who have lost their father, fathers who have lost a child, or widows who have fatherless children — the day can also bring up pain, resentment, jealously, sadness and a host of other difficult emotions.

In our next community post, Gina tells us about her story of losing her father at a young age to an addiction related accident. She explains some of the complexities involved in losing someone to an addiction and how after 12 years of suppressing her grief, she now is confronting it head on to find new meaning from her loss.

Ironically, this Father’s Day falls on the 12th anniversary of Gina’s Father’s death. Find out how she will honor his legacy by recreating one of her fondest memories of dad and how she is moving through her grief in her story below!


I remember the last time I spoke to my dad on the phone, exactly where I was, what I was wearing, what I was looking at and what he said. He said that he wanted to ‘pull through this,’ and in a tearful manner how he wanted to see his kids grow and see them have kids and be a better father. I ended the call wishing him a Happy Father’s Day. Three days later, he passed away on June 21, 2008, due to complications from a pain killer addiction.

My father was absent most of my life, struggling with mental health and addiction following a bad accident; he would pop in and out overtime. While he was still alive, I felt like I was losing him, slowly to a disease I always questioned why he couldn’t control. My three siblings and I sometimes say that while he physically left this earth in 2008, we felt like we lost him well before then.

When I reminisce of my father I think back to when I was younger, before the accident, when he was ‘normal’ to me. My dad had a lot of love to give; he loved Valentine’s Day and would spoil my mom, my sister, and me with gifts. He was my younger brothers’ role model — owning his own business, working hard and long hours to provide for his family of five. Many people say I took his smile, looking back in photos he had the biggest one when he was with my family.

For over 12 years, I compartmentalized my grief. I packed it up and stored it away for another day, telling other people “oh we weren’t that close,” or “he wasn’t really in my life,” — rationalizing in my mind that as a woman, I was fine because I still had my mom. But even girls need their dads too. And as I grieve, I grieve both my father who died, and the loss that I’ve had even when he was alive.

Today, now more than ever I find myself feeling that loss creep up. Grief is funny like that, it hits you when you least expect it. I think about getting married and not having my father walk me down the aisle and often excusing myself from the table at weddings during father-daughter dances. But, I never thought that even small things like grilling out, maintenance my car or small home improvements would trigger tears and flood of feelings. I recently bought my first house on my own and inherited a lot of home improvement projects. A friend shared with me a YouTube Channel called “Dad how I do” by a man who grew up without a father that teaches people without dads to do home repairs. Things such as unclogging a bathtub drain, fixing a running toilet, putting up a shelf — his videos are full of dad jokes. I checked it out and immediately burst into tears – it is just not the same.

This Father’s Day oddly falls on the 12th year anniversary of my father’s death. This past year I’ve focused on working on the grief I’ve put aside for a rainy day. One way I have focused on working through complicated grief is through movement. Being introduced to moveTHRU has really allowed me to find community in grief – something I’ve never really had. But more than that, it’s allowed my body to release the physically stored aspects of grief. As a therapist myself, it is the biggest outlet I have. Recently I started to tackle some grief work and after spending two hours discussing my loss, I came home to jump on a rented Kaiser stationary bike. It felt so good to sweat it out. Hot Yoga is also great for crying – as I found no one will know if its tears or sweat!

Recently I was in a recovery focused meeting and we were sharing the gifts of our loved ones struggling with addiction have left us. For me, my father hasn’t left me many — but one I can remember is that he taught me how to ride a bike (beyond the Kaiser one). I talked about how vividly I could remember the park and the path I learned to ride on. I haven’t owned a bike in years — so two weeks later I was able to get a used one that otherwise was going to be thrown away! It felt like a ‘God moment’. I made a promise with a friend, who too, has an absent father that this Father’s Day we will go on a bike ride together, to celebrate our dads.

Living the Loss of Both Parents

When you experience one loss, death becomes more tangible — more real. You realize that no one is immune and that our loved ones can disappear from our lives in an instant. Even though we deeply understand the fragility of life and the meaningless, unpredictable ways that our loved ones can get ripped away from us, it’s doesn’t mean that it prepares us for more losses to come. It’s hard enough to comprehend losing just one person we love — so how do we make sense of our world when it unjustly takes away TWO?

Brett was just 11 years old when she lost her mother to breast cancer (six years after her diagnosis). Her death made Brett grow up fast. She learned about the certainty of death, it’s unpredictable nature, and the monumental impact it makes on our lives. So, when her father died suddenly when she was 27 years old, Brett couldn’t believe that the “universe would be so cruel to take them both.”

Brett shares her story below.


Nothing about either loss of my parents compares to the other. Drastically different in circumstance, I personally experienced the two on grossly different scales. My mother was originally misdiagnosed. Had she not been, she may still be here today. Six years in and out of hospitals, hospice at home, chemo, radiation, and morphine drips fueled the chaos of the unknown. In a daily warp of an uncertain truth that though no one had answers, no one could predict the good or bad days, and no one knew whether she’d be alive or not after school, I knew for certain that “mommy won’t be here as long as the other mommies” (her words exactly).

Most adults can’t grasp or cope with the fact that we all die one day, but as a child, having to accept that as your truth, as your norm, is quite the awakening. I grew up fast. I had too. Fortunately, my mom guided me as far as she could, leaving me with valuable lessons no mother would imagine teaching such a young girl.

After her death, I grew up with a dad who did his best to ‘mother’ an adolescent female. He was incredible, but clearly unable to offer all the female guidance a growing girl deserves. My greatest challenge was having to figure most things out on my own. My parents raised a strong, independent, warrior type girl, who was far beyond her years in maturity, but life is confusing, especially when she who taught you the lessons has already passed on to the other side. I was previously taught about what I had yet to experience, yet to understand. Growing into those understandings as a reflection of stories she had shared was at times sad, but also encouraging. I had a mother who knew things. All kinds of things and how lucky I was that she guided me, told me the truth about life before it even came to fruition.

My dad was always my hero — I was his girl! But after my mother’s death, he showed grit, a survival instinct that I could only hope to emulate one day. As a small business owner in the emergency service industry, he was working insane hours to provide. My dad remarried shortly after our mom died, it was a rough several years, to say the least. We were pretty much on our own through middle and into high school, but as a teenager, we began to reweave a relationship. I came to understand the challenges of parenting, the challenges my dad faced through his own grieving and post loss survival. I saw him as a human, not just my hero. We became friends, best friends. So losing my Dad suddenly, was far more damaging than how I lost my Mom. A period of anticipatory grief allows for a certain kind of preparation leading up to the point when you get to say goodbye. I always knew my Mom would die. I never thought the Universe would be so cruel to take them both. I never got the chance to say goodbye to my dad.

His death was my worst nightmare come true. It was a shock — like having your legs kicked out from under you. I was angry. I was sad. Confused. Baffled. My world suddenly became chaotic again, but this time, instead of a chaos induced by uncertainty, it was a chaos induced by pain and the absolute certainty — the finality of death. I could physically feel the hurt throughout my body. My challenges were more visceral this time. My body hurt and my heart ached. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I drank. I smoked. I did everything I could to self destruct while still maintaining the outward appearance of strength in order to uphold the identity I’d carried for so many years: the strong, responsible one. A warrior.

The greatest challenge after my dad’s death was recreating an identity without him, according to the new normal, and pulling myself out of the greatest darkness I’ve ever known. Each day was a challenge. Finding joy was a challenge. Being me was a challenge. Wanting to live life without him was a challenge.

I coped with my mom’s death while she was still here. She prepared me the best she could and school counselors were a wonderful resource by giving me a chance to momentarily escape the chaos by holding a calm conversation in a controlled environment. I was very loved by my dad, my family, shared growing up with my brother – my dearest friend and closest confident, and felt a sense of purpose. I felt a responsibility to overcome so that my dad and brother could do so also. I relied on girlfriends who supported me and also relied on my faith. Growing up religious – as my mother had taught me – I saw the strength she absorbed from her faith and I followed suite.

After a period of about six months that directly followed my dad’s accident – I call it the fuzzy period because it’s truly just a fog – I began to develop new routines that honored me and my body. After six months of self destruction, overworking, little sleep and unhealthy exercise, I started seeing a therapist, I began to eat regularly, drink less, and I went back to yoga. I began to run and hike again, allowing me to connect with nature. And I returned to my journal, reflecting on my reality as opposed to ignoring or distracting from it. I coped by doing the best I could each day. By taking small steps toward the lifestyle that I knew I wanted and needed to live, but understanding that it wasn’t going to happen overnight, I eventually came to a place of peace.

Fortunately I was surrounded by an infinite amount of love and support from the most beautiful people in the world. My community held me up, allowed me to feel deeply and honored my process without judgment. And it always helps to remember that my dad didn’t spend his life sacrificing and working his ass off so that I could be a victim to my losses. He did it all so we could be happy. And so I chose to be happy, I chose to be a survivor, I chose to find joy in life and appreciate my final moments (because to me, we are consistently living our final moments). That’s what dad would want me to do and I sure wish he’d had more time to do the same.


It’s been 22 years since I lost my mom and seven since losing my dad. I’m 33 years old. Still to this day, I miss them both. I wish I could ask my mom what it’s like to be a mother, what it means to be a woman. I wish I could call my dad to get his opinion, share a funny story or tell him I’m scared, let him save me. It’s like a kaleidoscope of emotions — all interchanging on any given day, at any given moment — mingling and overlapping, bright and beautiful or dark and chaotic. I can’t anticipate how I’ll feel each day, what will come up, how reminders will emerge. I mean, I could just set the kaleidoscope down and NOT feel, but for me, that’s not an option. And so I carry it proud and I let the shades and shapes of my emotions, memories and stories color my world. Each day is a new story, a new feeling. Their deaths will always be real and there will be more deaths to come.

And so I am grateful that I now know how to appreciate moments. I don’t take this life, or the people in it, for granted. These losses have completely morphed the way I see and walk in this world, for the better. I am lucky. Their lives and their deaths have been my greatest teacher, made me who I am proud to be.

Letter to Theo

March 5, 2020

I got the idea to write my kids a letter for each of their birthdays after reading Nora McInerny’s book No Happy Endings. Just like Izzy’s letter, I want Theo to get a glimpse of his life right now so that one day he can look back an understand how his past experiences have shaped him into the person he has become. I’ve also had so much guilt about Theo’s first years of life because so much of my energy has been devoted to Ian’s illness and ultimate death. I’ve had to focus on loving myself — showing up for myself, before I could show up for others. So this letter allows me to process my emotions and heal.

I also just want Theo to know how much I love him and how much he matters. I want him to know how much he reminds me of his father and how grateful I am that through him (and Izzy too) I will always be connected to Ian.

So here it goes …

Dear Theo (age 2),

On Monday, March 2, 2020, we celebrated your second birthday with family, friends and Wo-Wo (your name for any dog you encounter). Watching you enter your second year of life filled me with so much joy, love and gratitude for being your mom. Yet, despite the happy occasion, I couldn’t help but feel some heaviness in my heart too. You see, your dad died of cancer shorty after your first birthday and this time of year reminds me of his final days of life — which were really sad and hard for me. I also just wish that he was here to celebrate with us! He would be so proud of you, Theo!

I see so much of your father in you. Just like daddy you observe and listen. You can fly under the radar or instantly turn into the life of the party with a flash of your suave, but goofy smile and killer dance moves. Even though you don’t say much, you bring comfort to those around you with your snuggles and hugs. Daddy was really good at that too. He was always very easy to talk to and made everyone feel validated and loved. When I ask daddy’s friends about him they call him a “rascal” — a word I use to describe you all the time! I also see the way you charm the ladies with your smile and stares — I’m pretty sure you got that from your daddy too!

Sometimes I feel like I’m failing your father because you’ve taken to walking around in Izzy’s dress shoes and putting on my makeup. But, that’s just what it’s like growing up with girls! I’m trying my best to teach you how to swim, kick a soccer ball, and play catch. You absolutely love balls and are fearless when it comes to the water — daddy would be impressed! I miss your daddy and wish that he could be here to teach you to surf and do all of his favorite things, but I promise I’ll do my best to fill his role, and when I can’t I’ll ask friends and family to help out.

The truth is, Theo, you and daddy were only on this planet for a very short time together. I don’t think you will remember much about him and I have no idea what it will be like to grow up without your biological father. But instead of making assumptions and imposing my concerns about what your future holds, I trust that you will figure it out. I trust that loving you will be enough. I trust that I am enough. And I trust that you will write a beautiful story from what most people might label a tragic beginning.

You know why? You have an uncanny ability to turn any negative situation into something good. When sadness and devastation weighed heavily upon everyone during your daddy’s final days of life, you bobbled around the beach house, eating anything you could get you hands on, and lightened the mood with your goofy grins and giggles. You reminded everyone that even though we were losing daddy, we still had so much to smile about. You taught us that we can still find joy even in the darkest of moments. Thank you for this important lesson Theo.

Even though you and your daddy only knew each other for one year, I’m confident that you will get to know him more and more with time. His friends, family and I will keep his memory alive — we will tell you his embarrassing stories, look at funny pictures of him, and do all of his favorite activities like surfing, golfing and camping with you. There will be moments as you grow up where you’ll miss daddy — when you’ll feel angry that your friends have a father and you don’t; when you’ll want to ask him the important life questions and he won’t be there to answer. During these times I hope that you experience your emotions — get mad, get upset and express yourself freely. It’s not fair. I get it! So let’s talk about it — or or maybe scream, yell dance or go for a walk. We will get through this together. As I tell Izzy, the three of us are a team.

Finally Theo, with time I truly believe that you will realize that daddy is always with us. You will get to know your father every morning when you wake up and feel him in the sunrise; when we visit his hometown of Kailua and final resting place near the Mokoluas; and when you look into the mirror at your own reflection and see your daddy staring back. Because the truth is Theo that you carry a piece of your father inside of you. As you start discovering who you are, you will also discover your dad.

It’s been a rough start. But there’s something about your devilish smirk and gleam in your eye that gives me confidence that everything will be alright…if not, even brighter.

Love you to daddy in the moon and back!

Mama