‘Fifteen days after this picture was taken, this sweet girl’s dad – her best friend, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She would only have him 18 more months.’

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End Of Innocence

“What you see in this picture, and what I see in this picture, are two very different things. You might see a little girl in a hotel room, preparing for a gymnastics meet in Las Vegas, looking out on the world from a tenth floor hotel room. You might see her curious and enthralled with the view. You might see her fearless as she looks out, not afraid she will fall. You might see that she’s calm. You might see how relaxed she looks. You might wonder what she’s thinking. Is she thinking anything at all? Is she just taken by whatever it is she sees below?

Yes, what you see in this picture, and what I see in this picture, are two very different things. Because, what I see in this picture – is the end of innocence.

Young girl sitting on floor of hotel room looking out window
Courtesy of Diana Register

Fifteen days after this picture was taken, this sweet girl’s dad – her best friend, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She would only have him 18 more months. A year and a half. Longer than some, I suppose. We are grateful for the time we had. But what she needed was a lifetime.

She needed him at all of her gymnastics competitions. She needed him on her first day of high school. She needed him when she got her first boyfriend. She needs him to drive her to Prom. She needs him to send her off to college. She needs him to walk her down the aisle and to meet her own child for the first time. She needs him to shoulder her stress when she’s trying to navigate life, and she needs him to pick up the phone when she just wants to talk.

But, what she needs and what she has, are two different things, because he is gone now. And now, I wonder what she sees when she looks out on the world. How has it changed?  Is it still wonderment and beauty, or is it fear? Is it loneliness? Is it sadness? Does she ask herself the tortuous question, ‘why?’

My life, my story – is very public. Hers, not so much. Even though we are cut from the same cloth, we grieve differently. I am a wordsmith. I write, I talk. She does not. She is just like him, more apt to hold it in and figure it out on her own.

Different Ways Of Grieving

The differences between us got me thinking recently about how people do this grief process so polar opposite, even when they’re cycling through the same emotions. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there such a thing? I don’t think so. I don’t think any of us are doing it wrong. I think that however you grieve, whatever you do that’s right for you – is right for you.

I also think that most of us know it’s ok to grieve in our own way. And, I am not just talking about grieving a death. We can mourn during a divorce, a break-up, losing a job, change, the loss of the idea of what we thought something was – pretty much anything that affects us. We go through the same cycle. We feel the same emotions. Not one loss is bigger than the others. What we feel is what we feel, and there is no hierarchy to grief. But, even though we know it’s our own personal process, I still hear people say all the time things like, ‘I should be over it by now,’ or ‘So-and-so is surviving just fine, so I should, too.’ I’m here to tell you, friends, there are no rules to this, and you need to give yourself a break.

I’ve said it a million times. It is ok to not be ok. You don’t want to find yourself not being ok all the time, but it is ok to give yourself some grace. It is ok to still cry. It is ok to feel it all. It is ok to give yourself a day off. It is ok to hate it. And, it is ok to heal. It is ok to feel good. It is ok to be happy again.

It is ok for you to do whatever healthy thing you need to do, for you.

Loss is a big, huge, catastrophic event in your life. It has created an irreversible change. You are allowed to process that however you see fit.

When my husband died, I am sure I felt every, single one of the ‘five stages of grief.’ But, for me, they were not in order. They were random. They were all over the place, up and down. And when one went and another one came, it didn’t mean I wouldn’t go backwards. I was angry through all of them. Sometimes, I still am. And, while I thought that if I could just get through the stages, then I would be healed, I realize now it’s not that easy. I have realized now that grief doesn’t ever go away. You don’t ever ‘get over it.’ It doesn’t stop. You might relapse. There’s nothing predictable about it. But, what I do know is that you can, and you will, learn how to let your grief walk alongside you in your life. You will learn how to put it in a box, take it out when you need it and put it away when you don’t. I know how impossible this sounds, but it will happen. It’s not that getting over grief ‘takes time,’ it’s that knowing you are going to be ok in spite of your grief, all the time.

I look at my little girl every day in amazement. Of course, she’s struggled. Of course, it’s been hard. But, the loss she experienced when she was 13, was a kind of loss that nobody should ever have to know. She did it with grace, with dignity, and with courage. She stayed with him when he died and told him it was ok to go, even as her heart shattered. She has sat quietly over the past three years listening to people offer their condolences to me, when really, they should have been rallying around her. But because she was quieter about it, I think people thought she didn’t need it.

She needs it. I need it. The person who is crying needs it. The person who is not crying needs it. The person who is forging ahead with their life still needs it. The person who is stuck in their grief needs it. We all need it. One way or another, we all need something.

If you are reading this and you are the grieving person, I would implore you to reach out to people to tell them what you need. If you are the supporter of the grieving person – show up. Show up with a phone call, with a text, at the door, but just show up. Be there. Sit quietly. Talk if they want to talk. Don’t if they don’t. One of the best things anybody said to me after my husband died was, ‘I’m coming over on Tuesday to do your laundry, what’s your garage code?’

The point is, everybody is doing this differently, in their own way. Nobody is wrong. But everybody needs somebody they can rely on. Everybody needs somebody who they can vent to. Everybody needs something. Everybody needs somebody to show up.

Yes, I wonder what she thinks now of the world. I wonder all the time. She may not want to tell me, but I do know what I am going to do. I am not going to pressure her to talk. I am not going to ask questions. I am not going to demand she heal. But, I am going to tell her stories. I am going to try to make her laugh. I am going to carefully monitor her tears. I am going to keep helping her navigate this muddy trail. And I am, yes I am, going to keep showing up.

I hope you do, too.”


This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “My Kid Is an Asshole, and So Is My Dog” are now available in print and kindle. You can follow her work on her author Facebook page

‘What is wrong? Is something wrong?’ He didn’t answer me. ‘Chad, seriously, tell me what’s wrong.’ He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and leaned in.’

‘This year, I did a thing. A great, big, huge, beautiful thing. I put my wedding ring back on.’

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