Traveling Through Grief, One Day At A Time

Kim with Dad, Easter 1962

by Kim Keller

Karen and I receive so many messages from people all over the country who are grieving the loss of a loved one. We are always asked if the awful pain will ever go away. And the answer is yes. Yes, the pain will eventually subside and fade into the distance.

It wasn’t so long ago that Karen and I were overwhelmed with our own grief. Our dad died in the summer of 2006, after a long and painful health ordeal, and we were both heartbroken.

I still remember that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. You know that aching pain you think will never go away. I continued to go through the motions of my life, of course, but everything seemed dimmer. Joy was out of my reach. I couldn’t laugh. I could barely smile. I became forgetful, and I labored to concentrate. The heartache was just too much.

There is no one thing that I can credit as helping me through the grief. In fact, I worried the whole time that I would never recover. But throughout my life I’ve had this one “anchor story” that has truly helped me weather difficult times. It’s a story my cousin Valerie shared with me a long, long time ago. It resonated with me then, and it’s been my companion ever since.

It’s a simple story: When Valerie was dealing with her first serious teenage break-up, she was devastated. Her father, my Uncle Ron, put his arm around her and consoled her by saying, “Honey, every day you’re going to get 1% better. And in 100 days, you’ll be 100% better.”

The sheer, guileless wisdom of it made me laugh. It’s true: With time, we do heal.

That story is dear to me. Over the years, I have held onto it. It gives me perspective, and it’s always helped me persevere.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that this wonderful story didn’t work so magically well after losing my father. In fact, as the reality of my loss set in, each day was 1% worse, 1% more difficult. Each first without my dad — my parents’ anniversary, each of their birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas — they were all agonizing.

I had drawn on Uncle Ronnie’s words of wisdom throughout the entire year that followed my dad’s death, even though the 100-day rule was clearly eluding me. But the story’s inherent truth still gave me a sense of stability and hope.

The turning point was the first anniversary of my dad’s death. I felt like I’d been holding my breath for that entire year, and once the day passed, I was slowly able to breath again. I remember thinking, “Now I’m ready! Each day now, I can get 1% better.”

And it worked.

I am better now. I still think about my father every single day. I miss him terribly, but that awful aching pain, for the most part, has shrunk inside me. It doesn’t ever fully go away, of course, but I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve let joy back into my life. I can laugh again. And think about my dad with an open and welcome heart, rather than a broken one.

Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad.  She lives and works in New York City.



6 Responses to “Traveling Through Grief, One Day At A Time”

  1. Rebeka says:

    What a beautiful piece. Again, this touched home with me. I especially can relate to the part about the anniversary of your Dad’s death as being the turning point for you. I have been thinking the same thing this past month and marvelling at how it is getting easier. I think that as children into adulthood we are constantly striving to do our best to make our parents proud. When my Dad died, I felt like it wasn’t worth it to strive for anything anymore because Dad wouldn’t be there to see it. Now a year later, my eyes still well with tears when I think of him and oh my how I miss him so, but you’re right it is 1% better then it was. And I have faith that someday I will be 100% again. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Leah Mattison says:

    It is true…we never forget our loss, but we can begin to remember all the good
    times and the love we shared. The good memories begin to become greater
    than the sorrow, and we are nore and more thankful for the having been blessed
    by their lives.

  3. Barbara says:

    i liked this , i just lost my husband and we would have been married 55 years this July, i am still in a state of shock i love & miss him so much,! Thank you for sharing!

  4. barbara konieczny says:

    It took me eight months to come out of a “coma” or deep sleep where all I wanted to do after my mom died in my arms on Mother’s Day 2012 was read, drink wine and get dinner on the table…some cleaning included but basically I shut down. Thankful for a good husband! It does get better with TIME and I say that again with time. It has been over a year and I am now drawing, cleaning!!!, and getting dinners with gusto! Time does heal. Please be patient with yourself and give yourself the time to get the healing flowing through your emotions.

  5. Donna says:

    The last 2 years of my Mom and Dad’s lives were incredibly difficult for everyone. They were both in and out of hospitals and rehabs. Sometimes separately, sometimes together. They lived with me. The days were very hard. Juggling work and home and doctor appointments. Their needs always before mine. My Dad will be gone 2 years in June. So many things I still needed to ask him. I would have traded my soul for another day. He died 3 months shy of their 60th anniversary. After my Dad’s death, my Mom decided she was too sad to live. So while grieving for my Dad, I watched my Mom give up on life. Sadness and anger filled my days. My parents loved Christmas, so I dreaded the first one without my beloved Dad. As fate would have it, my Mom passed 2 days before Christmas. I thought I’d never climb out of the black hole I slipped into. Not a day goes by that I don’t think or talk to them. I don’t cry everyday, but there is hole in my heart I’m not sure will ever go away. I go on with life. I’m getting through it, but will never get over it. Thoughts and prayers for everyone going through it.

  6. SUSHMA NARAYAN says:

    Thank you, Its nice to know that what I am going through is normal, I lost my dad on 7/28/14, he had Alzheimers for 6 yrs. I was very close to him typical daddys girl and towards to end of his illness he would sometimes think I was his mom so I feel I lost my dad and my child. The pain is unbearable at times and I cry everyday. I know in my heart he is no longer suffering and at peace. I just miss him dearly.

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