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By Angela Astrup

Donald A. Balas and Angela Astrup

As we all navigated the year 2020, I remember thinking to myself that at least there could never be a time more awful than that one. I sighed with relief thinking that we had made it through relatively intact; the absolute worst year ever was behind us. I was wrong, though. The following year brought a surprise cancer diagnosis for my absolutely amazing dad, and his very unfair, untimely passing from it. To say I was blindsided would be an understatement. I still shake my head trying to figure out what in the world happened.

I could write an entire book about how perfect my dad was at being my dad. It could be a manual for every father on how to do the job right, and I’d never run out of good things to say. He was simply the best at it. He never missed a thing, and I never – not even once – doubted how much I was loved. I know exactly how lucky I was to have him and to be his.

When I was asked to write about navigating grief and maintaining my faith in the midst of it, I thought it was one of the most preposterous things imaginable. My head filled with self-doubt. I stared at my blank writing page and sighed. What on earth could I say about grief and faith that would be helpful to someone else? I’m not an expert in this. I haven’t mastered grief. I look to the heavens and ask “Why?” almost all day long. I’m pretty darn mad about this whole thing. I’m fairly young – someone who has experienced more loss should be asked to write about this. Maybe they have it figured out.

In my heart, though, I know they don’t have it anymore figured out than I do. They’ve just had more time to sit with it. I think the longer you do so, the less daunting it feels. You find a peace with things, and you spend less time being angry and more time being thankful for what you had. You notice more what you still do have, and you become fiercely proud and protective of it.

It’s coming up on a year now without my dad. I’ve done all the things they tell you to do when you lose someone, and then some. I’m reading a ton of books. Some are very helpful; some read like the author has never lost so much as a goldfish. I seek out people who have been there. I let myself be sad when I’m sad. I look everywhere for signs of my dad checking in on me. (Every butterfly in the sky and every cardinal on a tree branch is my dad saying hello. Be sure to give him a smile!) I’ve found that what feels the most healing to me are the things my heart naturally leads me to do, and I do those things often. Maybe they’ll help you navigate this time, too, if you’ve also found yourself in the middle of it.

Lean on friends and family, and the people who show up for you. The friends who have helped me the most aren’t who I thought they’d be. The friends who I thought would certainly be around? A lot of them haven’t been. I try hard to let that go. I’m trusting that who is there for me now, is who should be.

Go outside. I likely could’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail with the number of miles I’ve walked around my neighborhood this year. My dad’s cure for almost everything was to, “Look at the birds. Look at the trees.” He was right. I have not felt better after a walk.

Say no. As someone who chronically says yes to everything, I’ve felt a lot of happiness in letting myself off the hook a bit. I have only said yes to things that give me something to look forward to.

Be okay with things not being perfect. If there is ever a time for grace, I think this is it. Some days are going to be better than others.

When you experience loss, you’re welcomed into a club you didn’t really want to be a part of. You’ll be enormously grateful, though, for the people who held the door open and kept a seat warm for you at the table. I’m figuring this all out as I go. But I know I’m not alone in that and know that you aren’t either.

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