Remembering Doria

One Father's Journey after the Death of his Daughter


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Can You Measure Victory?

I was surprised today. Tuesday each week is devoted entirely to my dissertation research, and the last couple of weeks have seen all kinds of dramatic finds. Often, the Tuesday are amazing, dramatic wins, and the other days end up with a lot of professional victory in this, too.

Then came today. I got off to a slow start, then took my microfiche to the scanners to capture some images. Good enough, but the images weren’t clear enough to use, so it was kind of worthless. I figured that I’d do what I’ve been doing and move along to find things digitally, i.e. something where someone else already did that part and I can benefit from it. I was looking for another knockout victory, and I didn’t get it, at least not yet.

With that, I tried some other avenues for digging things up, and I was striking out. I might have found some useful things, but time will tell on that. All in all, it was not the dramatic victory I was planning on. But there were some wins yet to come.

We’ve had some nasty weather here lately which really derailed my nice new running habit. Since the ice is gone, I went back out there, and that gave a nice chance for a win as well as a nice chance to think about what winning is. I remembered when I started this fitness journey again a few months ago, today’s 3.5 mile run (with some pauses in the 2-3.5 mile sections) would have been a really funny and impossible idea. Today it worked out really well, because I kept moving forward through some really hard workouts and really hard times.

It made me think about the journey we live in this life after loss world. I remembered the day (2.5 years ago on the 17th) when we found out Doria was dead. The only future was to help my wife walk across the street, check into our specially-marked hospital room, and get ready to make those phone calls to tell people that our sweet little baby died. Then the future was to see her for that one time, then to bury her, then to stumble back into work, and so on.

I remembered the days 2 years ago when I couldn’t read a book anymore, and the guy that helped me through that. I remembered the stumbles along the way that kept moving my exam goal further back, and I remembered passing those exams, too. All that to say this: Every day isn’t supposed to be a dramatic success. Every day is supposed to be another step along the journey, and the journey will turn into a successful one, for us and the people we help along the way.

It occurs to me that this workday I had without a real measurable victory so far isn’t a problem. It’s just another step along the way, the same way that we all keep stepping forward through this process of grieving and living. Wherever you’re at on that journey today, maybe this can help a little bit. I just finished a runner’s high, so I might be carried away…….

If you’re brand new to this whole world of loss that you never wanted to be part of, keep living. Keep taking those impossible baby steps that are so hard. Find one of us to help. We’re all over the place, and we know how hard it is.

If you’re a few months in, and you’re in those spots that none of us see coming, keep living. Keep taking those steps that seem harder and maybe more ridiculous now that you’re “supposed to be over it.” Keep moving forward, even when that looks like it doesn’t get you anywhere.

If you’re considering that living isn’t worth it anymore, and you’d rather just get death over with, keep living instead. It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to be worth it. I remember providing a lot of crisis suicide counseling in the Guard, and all those people would agree. It really is worth it to keep on living.

The biggest thing here: Don’t get defeated by the days that don’t look as successful as you want them to be. Don’t hurt yourself even more than the loss already has. Keep living. Keep up the fight. It doesn’t feel like it yet, but you’re going to win the fight if you don’t give up. Whether you see it right now or not, you’re already winning.

Every day doesn’t have to be spectacular. Every day just has to be another step on the way.


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Bouncing Back

It has been a long time since I sat down to write, because it has been crazy here. The nice part about that is that it’s the best part of crazy, because it involves more ways of bouncing back from losing Doria, or maybe to say it better, bouncing forward.

I took some time during this last week of winter break preparing for an amazing spring semester class, and some time thinking back on all the steps to build this life after loss.

I remembered thankfully the time when I could get some help and get back that ability to read that a grad student in history needs. I remember getting past those times of worry and panic, and getting some stability back. I remember getting the ability to go full speed for a while, too. and what a blessing that was.

Towards the end of summer, there was one more step to bouncing back ahead. Every time I would make real progress towards my doctoral exams, another setback would happen. I rescheduled them twice, but at the end of summer, I found that I just had to ramp up one more time to get it done.

There was a problem there, and it was one that I never faced before. I didn’t want to. The wild ways that the brain can work was combining memories of loss with the bother of repeated setbacks to convince me that it couldn’t be done, so maybe I should just go ahead and quit. Since I hate quitting and I hate losing, that didn’t sound good. Since I really love and respect the people I study with, I really didn’t want to face them and say “I’m done. I just can’t ramp up again.” Most of all, I didn’t want my part of Doria’s story to be a failure story, too. There was no point putting myself through all that just to quit, and spend the rest of my life thinking it all would have worked if Doria had just lived.

So I remembered back to when I started grad school, when I didn’t have the grief weight and I had all the energy in the world. I decided that this all worked better when I was in shape and under control, and it was time to do that. Through a weird (really, it was weird) series of things, I looked up a program in town that combines kickboxing and resistance training, and declared to Becky that I was in. So far, it’s been a phenomenal few weeks, the energy is back, the doctoral exams are passed, and I can keep up all day with a toddler who doesn’t stop. On the other hand, it led to the words “unhinged enthusiasm” appearing on my student evaluations this semester, which may or may not be concerning. The main point, though, is that getting things under control this way helped me to bounce back and bounce ahead.

The whole point: If you’re a few months away from the immediate moment of loss, a couple years, or even more, and still suffering setbacks, that’s as normal as can be. The good news to it is that there are ways to bounce back and bounce on ahead. Just don’t give up!