Overcoming Grief and Loss – Guest Blog by Wan Phing Lim
The 1st of August 2017 marked the one year anniversary of my father’s passing. A year ago, at the age of 62, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. It was very sudden and unexpected for all of us, and within one and a half months of being admitted into hospital, he passed away.
It saddens me to write this article as I recount the distressing experience of losing my father, but I hope that by sharing my personal experience I can bring hope and comfort to others who are going through the same thing.
There are many articles online on “how to overcome grief”. Just type in the search term and hundreds of resources are a click away. Many seem to warn against cycles of anger, denial, guilt and depression; and advise to reach out for help.
Consumed by Anger and Guilt
For me, I experienced the cocktail of emotions as described in those articles, especially anger and guilt. For one year, I was just angry at everyone – at family members, doctors, friends, well-wishers, pastors and God. The cycle is vicious and the questions unending – why didn’t God heal my father despite our prayers? Why didn’t anyone warn me about the survival rate for leukemia? I experienced extreme guilt as well. Why didn’t I come back sooner to see my Dad? Why didn’t I pick up his call from hospital? After a while, I became adamant to overcome this. Slowly, I took steps to heal and this was how I did it:
(1) I allowed myself to express my feelings.
As I’m not a robust talker nor a social butterfly, I turned to writing, something I had always loved to do. I remember thinking at one point that I would write my way out of grief – I would write my way into healing. I kept a journal, and I wrote down everything that I felt, without fear of reprisal or being judged. I was determined to be honest no matter the cost. I also wrote pieces of fiction and non-fiction, some publishable and some for my own eyes only. Writing was a way to organise my thoughts, and it helped me to be aware of my feelings, after which I could pinpoint what the real problem was.
(2) I gave myself time and space.
My father’s passing changed the course of my life. I moved back to Penang after being abroad for 10 years. For almost a year, I was without a job and found it difficult to adapt to life back in Malaysia. It was as though I had to restart all over again from Ground Zero. I also felt judged and condemned by relatives who felt that I shouldn’t have given up everything to come back. However, I gave myself the time and space to rediscover what I wanted out of life. It was important that I allowed myself to recuperate (mentally and emotionally) and get back on my feet without being too hard on myself.
(3) I forgave everyone that I felt had done something wrong.
This was the most difficult to do, and it took me a year to get to this point. Anger, bitterness and resentment had clouded my vision for so long that I wasn’t able to enjoy life and see that anything was good again. After I came to this realisation, I started to forgive people that I felt had offended me, had done something wrong or hadn’t lived up to my expectations. For example, I forgave family members who I felt had said dishonourable things about my father, who had not cared for him diligently in hospital, or who had not handled the funeral properly… The list goes on. I forgave because I believed that it would allow me to heal and move on with my life.
Today, I can’t say that I have completely overcome the grief of losing my father. In fact, I’m not sure if that can ever be achieved. I still get teary-eyed and emotional when I think about him. But the fact that I’m writing this means that I’m ready to talk about it and I’m on my way to overcoming his loss. Certainly, with time, the pain lessens – but only if the grief has been properly expressed.