I am going to be honest with you, I teared up reading this post. I remember this event, it was a few days after I had received my mission call and I was on my way to class. I had texted my brother Mitch a picture of something stupid I had caught on camera… Instead of texting me, he called me and said “Clare, Uncle Royce died, can you come over?” I told Mitch that was a cruel joke, and he reassured me that it had happened. I didn’t get off the bus for class, but road it back to my house, got in my car and headed to my cousin’s house. This story is written by my cousin, who is going to go by Miss McRae. She is the most well-rounded individual I have ever met. She is 4.0 student, Irish dancer, and heart-throb amongst boys. After she lost her dad, it was amazing to see how helpful she was to her mother and fellow siblings. She may be young, but she is wise. If you don’t, follow her blog! She is going to be America’s next best seller.
Here is Her Unknown Story:
When I was thirteen, I lost my dad to an aortic dissection. It was a sudden, unexpected, and tragic event that changed my life forever and continues to affect my family and friends today. My story is only one side of the experience—I lost my dad, but the people around me lost a husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, and bishop. My voice is only one of many that grieve the loss of my dad. However, no one person experiences grief the same way as another, so I will only relay my experience.
The day that my life changed forever began as a cool morning in October, normal as ever. My brother and I were at an early morning piano lesson. I was looking forward to school, thinking about the boy I currently had a crush on and getting excited to join the new girls’ rugby team after school with one of my best friends. When my grandpa pulled up to take us home, I didn’t think much of it and my brother and I clambered into the car.
Grandpa was quieter than I had ever seen him, almost nervous.
The first thing he said was, “Your dad died last night.”
I was shocked, to say the least. A chilled stupor ran over my whole body, a kind of numbness I find hard to put into words. The ride home felt like a downward spiral of tears and uncertainties as my life as I knew it ended. I tried to form questions in my mind as I faced my mom and my other siblings. But it was too confusing to think. My world was falling apart around me and I had no idea what to do.
We were blessed to have so many supportive people around us to help us process what was happening. Friends and family began to arrive to comfort and help us function. As can be imagined, various foods in different colored Tupperware containers began to pile up on the counter tops. Over the next few days, flowers arrived in bulk as well, a welcome reminder of the beauty still around us.
At first I tried to put up a strong front, to be a positive ray of sunshine and make everyone feel better. I was going to make everything okay and restore the status quo RIGHT NOW. After making breakfast, opening the blinds to let in the light, and putting my younger siblings in front of mindless but comforting television I was exhausted. Even though I thought I was ready to be okay again, I realized I couldn’t skip the grieving process. And later I would further realize that that was completely okay and even healthy!
The answers came later. My dad, who had been hunting with friends in Wyoming, had suddenly collapsed and died immediately by way of an aortic dissection. Only much later would I learn of his extraordinary last day in this life. He had spent the day before climbing a mountain and enjoying the majestic scenery around him. The day of his death was spent serving others as he completely ignored his own hunting endeavors to help a complete stranger locate, shoot, and pack out his first deer. These actions themselves explain what kind of a person my dad was: always willing to lovingly help and see to others needs and always looking for an adventure.
Knowing what had happened provided some closure. I never really questioned why this had happened to me; all my life I had been taught that trials were given to us to make us stronger. I’ve come to accept that while I hate that my dad passed away, I’ve been able to better understand the Plan of Salvation, help others cope with loss, and come closer to Christ. I hope that someday I will be able to look back and identify even more lessons learned throughout my life.
Of course, at the time it was not so easy to see the good. I needed time to cry and to be heartbroken. Watching my mom try to plan a funeral and grieve at the same time seemed so final and so miserable. I hated that I had to find something to wear to my dad’s funeral. I couldn’t stand the sight of hideous floral tissue boxes that invited more tears to come. Nighttime was the hardest for me to face; I couldn’t sleep even though exhaustion from crying and constant numbness had drained me during the day. One night I watched TV until five in the morning. Even when I was so done with crying that I was sick to my stomach, there were still more tears to let out. I am grateful now that I kept none of that bottled up. I am also grateful to the people around me who cried with me or who were simply just there.
There were fun moments as well. I soon figured out it isn’t a crime to have fun when something sad is going on. My dad loved to have fun and I am sure he still does! I never felt like I was insulting his memory or his passing by being happy. Memories weren’t hard to hear; I loved hearing stories about my dad’s rambunctious childhood from my aunts and uncles. I remember looking through scrapbooks one night and laughing at pictures and good times in my parents’ dating and newlywed years. One night I watched Uncle Buck with one of my cousins and a delicious hamburger and the movie’s dumbness set us off for a few hours. I even set out for a haunted corn maze to celebrate a friend’s birthday, scared to death that I would be the center of attention and under the scrutiny of my friends. I was so wrong! For a few hours it was if nothing had changed at all, and being surrounded by my giggly, boy crazy best friends provided me with a lot of peace.
The viewing was difficult for me. I was afraid to look inside the casket and see my dad, to have a final and unsettling image of him that would stay with me always. But the calm and peaceful look on his face didn’t disturb me like I thought it would; rather it was a reminder that someday my dad’s spirit and body would be reunited in the Resurrection. I was reminded of the Plan of Salvation and the importance of mortal life. I knew that the spirit that had been occupying the still body before me was busily serving Heavenly Father and living on in Spirit Paradise. I also knew that my dad was never far away, always looking out for my mom and us kids and anyone else who needed him. I know he continues to do that today. As people began to enter the mortuary, I was amazed at how many people my dad had influenced during his time on earth. In my restlessness I decided to see how long the line really was. The line wound around through the massive room of the mortuary, out the door and curved around the building. I was so grateful at that moment for the life my dad had lived; I decided to try to be a good influence like him right then and there.
On the day of the funeral our stake center was equally packed with people. A cousin escorted me into the chapel and our family sat in the front for the program. My cousin showed me how to make good use of the tissues that came in those ugly floral boxes—by scrunching them up. So that’s what I did as I listened to the talks and musical numbers. The dedication of the grave was moving. Afterward I gathered my favorite flowers from the various arrangements around the casket and made a bouquet to dry. I am happy that I have no regrets about that day or any experiences with my dad—knowing I can always think of him with a smile brings me peace. As we drove away from the cemetery that day, it was hard to not worry about the future. But I knew that Heavenly Father would never put more on my shoulders than I could carry, so I tried to be brave.
Through all of this, I encountered a lot of different people, some I had never met before, that were a part of my dad’s life. One cousin and I were horrified to watch someone taking pictures at the cemetery and the luncheon afterward. We never said anything and nothing good or bad ever came of it. The lesson I learned there was that people cope with tragedy in different ways. Some like to be alone, some like to cry, some hate floral tissue boxes and hide them from other people so they don’t have to look at them, and apparently some people take pictures. I’m not offended that the person took pictures—I hope it made them feel better. That experience made me sensitive to the different types of people that we all need to be thoughtful of and respect.
For many people, their direct experience with my dad’s death ended with the funeral. But for my family, healing took a lot longer than that, and in some ways I think that the process still continues even now. We had to return to school, church, our hobbies—LIFE in general without my dad. As much as we wanted to have my dad with us, the fact was that he wasn’t there. And the world around us kept turning. And somehow we had to jump back in it.
The first year of trying to create a “new normal” was definitely the hardest. So many things changed. We had to learn to do a lot of the things that my dad would have done for us—from yard work to getting smart about cars and packing for scout camp.
For me personally, I had a rough start to my new year. I began to struggle with anxiety. I constantly worried about my health and an early death. I also felt the need to know where my family members were around the clock. Life was dark, I was scared, and I exhausted myself trying to keep up to everyone and myself.
Over time, however, I learned to cope. I turned to my Heavenly Father in prayer, begging for peace and solace. I made a constant habit of reading my scriptures and writing in my journal every day. I asked my grandpa for priesthood blessings. I listened to music for comfort, from hymns, EFY tunes, and Enya to Simon and Garfunkel. That summer I turned to writing, escaping to my own world of short stories to make my family and friends smile. I’m also not ashamed to say that I attended therapy for a while. My therapist helped me to understand my anxiety and how better to combat it.
I found that as I did my part, Heavenly Father and the Savior helped to heal me. It wasn’t an overnight event (as much as I would have liked it to be), but as I turned to Them and let go of my fears with faith, I gained a better understanding of my identity as a daughter of God and what I needed to do: go forward with life. The Savior truly knows each one of us and what we go through.
I’m reminded of Mosiah 16: 7-9:
7 And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
This dark time in my life really gave way to new light that I have thrived on ever since. The Savior has taken the sting out of death and has helped me to heal, and every day I gain strength from looking to Him for light. Because of what the Savior did for us, there is ALWAYS hope.
Nearly four years later, my family is happy and living to the fullest. We are all busy and well taken care of. We haven’t forgotten, and never will forget, my dad and his life. I love how open my family is about him. We celebrate the life he lived because we love him. We look forward with faith to the day when we will all be together again. And we still miss him. There are still good days and bad days—and that’s okay.
It makes me sad to think that my dad can’t physically be there for my high school years, talks in church, dance competitions, and cross-country meets. I hate that he has to miss birthdays, Christmases, soccer games, dance recitals, family reunions, first dates, and hunting trips. I hate knowing that he won’t see me get married or see my kids grow up. I know that he would’ve loved to be there for all of those moments.
But “what if” is a dangerous game to play. I don’t let myself think of what could have been, only what is and what will be. I know that my dad passed away and that I will always deal with that loss. But I know that he wants me to go on and make something of myself so that someday when I see him again he can be proud of the life I’ve lived as his daughter. When we visit his headstone in the cemetery as a family, I see the words of one of his favorite mottos, something he lived every day: “I will go. I will do.” I’ve determined that is what I must do with my life. And as I go on and try to do good things, I always remember to smile and laugh and to have fun, because I want my life to be one full of joy!
Soon after my dad’s funeral, I received a Facebook message from a complete stranger. It was a letter from a girl who had lost her mom a few years earlier from cancer. She told me about her own experience and then encouraged me to move forward with faith. I’ve kept the note in my nightstand ever since. My hope is that as I share this part of my own story, I can help someone else like a complete stranger helped me.
Losing my dad is the hardest thing I have ever experienced and continue to experience. But if I’ve learned anything from this defining event in my story, I know that God is in our lives. He loves us and wants us to be happy. All things are possible, even healing and moving forward after tragedy strikes, with Him.
Follow Miss McRae’s blog HERE.
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