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An Ode to Celebrating your Way Through Grief

Our founder, Ria Kalsi, reflects on losing her father and how to celebrate him as his birthday and Father's Day approach.

I remember the day after our Dad passed away. It was a chaotic, snotty, terrifying mess. The rug, the ground, the whole earth had crumbled beneath us. We were completely bewildered, consoling others on the phone, running through boxes of tissues and crying with every other word we spoke. I was getting message after message from those I was closest to, and people I hadn’t heard from in years. I remember a particular message from a slightly more distant friendship that said at the end:

“You are a testament to your father.”

And this, from a person I expected not a lot from, seemed to send me over the edge.

Just 24 hours before, I was talking to Dad on FaceTime and hurried him off the phone. All he wanted to do was show me his lunch and I couldn’t spare him 5 minutes.

"I've said before that telling people who grieve to 'not have regrets' is salt in the deepest of wounds and I still live by this."

You are bound to have regrets and my god do I wish I treasured that seemingly irrelevant moment, which was, unbeknownst to me, the last time I’d ever speak to him.

But the cruellest irony of this unpredictable twist in our fate was that that day, the day after, we received in the post the Father’s Day cards we had ordered in advance.

You see, Dad died the week of Father’s Day. So there we were, with cards and gifts but with Dad no longer there to receive them. This feeling continues into his birthday, Christmas and the anniversary of his death.

This year, the universe has, once again, gifted my family the cruel irony of placing the 3rd anniversary of my Dad’s death on Saturday 17th June with Father’s Day on Sunday 18th June. The ultimate double whammy. The definition of double trouble. Okay, done with the dead parent humour. But you can understand, perhaps, why I told my therapist last week that June was a slightly daunting month because of this absolute trigger of a weekend. But she reframed it as an opportunity to celebrate Dad. This was already something my family strives to do, but having it reaffirmed is always useful.

A few days later, I got a message from another grieving friend, another grieving daughter in her first year of the experience. She asked for advice on how we celebrate Dad’s birthday. I thought this was a great question but I also felt so unbelievably glad someone asked me something about my grief. It had been a while and any opportunity I have to utilise this weird grief knowledge I have I count as a blessing. I recounted what we had done the past few years, the memorable things, the good parts, the bad parts. But it really got me thinking about celebrating people that we’ve lost.

As an externally labelled eternal optimist, my go-to is always to celebrate people in any way I can and I think the need for this grows with grief. Grief is this huge beast of an experience. It’s dark. Death is dark. And I suppose you can use the ‘dementor’/’expecto patronum’ concept from Harry Potter here. Celebrating seems to be the expecto patronum to death’s dementor. It’s a way to produce light and dispel some of this darkness from such a frightening experience. Whether it makes you feel like your person is still there, or it would make them happy or it makes you happy, I recommend shamelessly celebrating whoever you’ve lost. And not just on their birthdays or anniversaries or Father’s and Mother’s days! But literally whenever the FUCK you want. Your loss matters and if celebrating them in some way will get you through the day or the week or the year, that is just as valuable and important as any other grief catharsis you have.

It’s true that those that love us never really leave us. I have found it hard to attach to the concept of ‘feeling’ that the people who have gone are still somehow around us. But again, thank you to my therapist, for reframing it as Dad still being present within us. In our hearts, our smiles, our laughter, our habits, our accents, our mannerisms, our scents, our conversations, our ideas, our thoughts and memories. Dad is absolutely embedded in all of us and that’s his legacy. That’s worth celebrating to me.

So sure, this weekend is a behemoth and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with it. But I know one thing -- the weekend will not pass without a pint raised for Nab Kalsi.


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