The Power of Grief

Last Sunday, my Uncle John died. It wasn’t a surprise. In early May, his doctor predicted that a shift in his cancer meant my spry 78-year-old uncle had only a few weeks to live. His family began sending nearly daily mails with updates on his condition, a kind gesture. Yet, it began to feel like a dreadful clock ticking down. Why it affected me so intensely, I wasn’t sure.

When I read the email that he had died on my phone, I didn’t know what to feel. Mike took me out for a glass of wine, and I started to cry at the table unexpectedly. In the car, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably.

Me and my dad

My Uncle John’s deaeth triggered something. I’m grieving for my dad all over again. This shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Dad died 30 years ago from lung cancer. I was 13. In the photo in his obituary, my dad is standing next to my Uncle John as best man at his wedding to my aunt. My father died the day before Thanksgiving; my mother and I spent the holiday with my Uncle Mary Jo and Uncle John eating turkey entrees at a cafeteria. A couple days after he died, Uncle John bought me a journal. He took me aside. “I know how much you like to write, and it might be good for you to write down how you’re feeling now.” I filled every page of that journal within a week, and it inspired my lifelong habit of journaling.

But my uncle inspired people for a living. He raised millions for charity as a professional fundraiser, and spent years as a motivational speaker. He didn’t just do it at work, either; his sons both became fighter pilots, and one went on to become a doctor. Slacker.

Research suggests that children who lose a parent at a young age develop into more resilient and successful adults. Other studies indicate that children who lose a parent never quite recover fully. I think they’re both right. It’s fair to say that, as a teen, I never felt like anyone else understood what I was going through. Kids would complain about their parents and I’d just think, “Well, you’re lucky you’ve still got a father.” I felt pushed into adulthood early, and struggled between whether to act out or to try to be the perfect daughter that my father would have wanted.

Sixty percent of people who lost a parent during childhood say they would give up a year of their life just to spend one day with the person they lost. I know that I would. What would I do with that day? I’d start by introducing him to Mike.

 Then, I’d like to cook with him. I’d ask him to show me how to make his chicken and dumplings. I’ve never figured that dish out. I’ve always thought that if I could make it, I’d have this grief thing beat.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

Comments

  1. Kat, I love love love this entry. I relate to it so much. Even now, 6 years later, I cannot hear taps or a 21 gun salute without bursting into tears. They were both done at my grandfather’s funeral. He was the best friend I ever had. And I would absolutely give up a year of my life to have one more day with him.

    I’m lucky that he met James. But he never knew him as my husband. And there are so many things I’d like to have his advice on now. I’m lucky that my grandmother kept his recipe for chocolate cake written down. I make it all the time.

    I have a wonderful recipe for Chicken and Dumplings that is so simple it’s silly. If you’d like to have it, email me. Maybe it’ll come close to what your dad made for you.

    You have my deep condolences on the loss of your dad and your Uncle John. Great fathers (surrogate or otherwise) raise great daughters. And you certainly are great, in any number of ways.

    • Kathleen Flinn says:

      I will take you up on that chicken dumplings recipe. There’s a great line at the end of the film Like Water for Chocolate that goes something like “As Long as someone makes her recipes, she’ll never truly be gone…”

  2. Kat, I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle. I’m not sure I knew you’d lost your dad when you were young; that’s something we have in common. I agree with you that both research conclusions sound right.

  3. Sue Nugent (RubyMcgee-Twitter) says:

    Anymore people keep things ‘personal’ and we lose touch that everyone is living a life.
    I appreciate your story and am sorry for your loss-thanks for sharing the story things that often do not fit in the context of an obituary-but are reminders of people we never meet and their life that contributed to the world around us.

  4. Kat, very nice post. We miss those that have been the most influential in our lives. Sometimes we don’t quite relize how influential they were.

  5. Kathleen Flinn says:

    Thanks for all the kind words. I haven’t posted anything in the past month. I couldn’t until I got this off my chest, I guess.

    Grief is one thing that, unfortunately, nearly all of us eventually relate to in one way or another.

  6. Kat,

    Grief is so unpredictable.

    An interesting article about this very issue:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704875604575280400596257236.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    and the results of some research done on the subject just published today:

    http://www.hellogrief.org/about/life-with-grief-research/

    Strange timing.

  7. I’m sorry for your loss–even as I’m aware that “I’m sorry” never conveys enough. Both your losses, actually. I’m beginning a memoir project about my dad, who I lost when I was 10. It’s a loss that’s defined my life in both awful and wonderful ways.

    I remember reading about those studies you mention in _Sharper_, and that first one really resonated with me. Do you have specific sources about kids who lose their parents early?

  8. Irene Flinn(Mom) says:

    Darling Kathleen,

    You were always so close to Aunt Mary Jo and Uncle John because they were such a huge part of your life – before and after you lost your Dad.

    You have worked hard all your life and many, many time your Uncle John and Aunt Mary Jo have followed your successes and told me how proud they are of you.

    He is now one of your guardian angels, dear daughter.

  9. Kat, my dad died about 4 years ago today. Your lovely words about your uncle and father have led me to have a spontaneous, good long cry, gosh I miss him. I suppose the day that we don’t feel grief is the one to worry about? Hugs to you and thank you for sharing.

  10. Karen Sue says:

    Kathleen, I think I would be your cousin-in-law. I am married to Steve. John was a dear man who was amazing. Two days before he died he comforted me. His memory will live on. I met your Mom and Eddie for the first time at the funeral. I feel like I’ve heard about them for years!

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