January 1, 2016

4 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me After My Dad Died.

Flickr/jeronimo sanz

I can tell a lot about a person from the way that they ride a train.

The way that they look out of windows without really seeing anything at all. The way that they stare down at their hands or the way that their face gently shifts into involuntary smiles at thoughts that I’ll never be privy to. On my train ride home after work today, I sat staring out of a window listening to an entire Beatles album on repeat all while crying profusely.

What does that say about me?

It’s been seven years since my dad died. Sometimes it feels like seven years, but on days like these, it feels like it’s only been seven days. I was 15 years old when my dad passed away. Fifteen years old and insecure. Fifteen years old and easily embarrassed. Fifteen years old and unprepared. Fifteen years old and unsure of everything that made me who I was. Losing such an influential guiding force during such a crucially developmental part of my life catapulted me into a whirlwind of struggling to discover myself, while simultaneously dealing with a critical absence in my life.

Here are four things that I wish someone could have told me when I was 15 years old and completely, utterly, painfully lost:

1. Continuing doesn’t mean forgetting.

I know that you feel selfish to enjoy the things in your life that mark pivotal moments. Your high school graduation. Your first dance performance. Moving into your first dorm. Graduating college. Because he can’t enjoy experiencing these moments in your life, you feel like you can’t either. But you have the right to change. To grow. To explore and to experience.

It’s easy to feel guilty for continuing, but the only direction you can go is straight ahead. Yes, press pause a few times. Press rewind and fast forward, but the reality is that you can’t stay stagnant forever. Press play, because regardless of how often you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, you deserve to.

2. Loss can act as a catalyst for inspiration.

Pour your soul into what it is that you love. Let your heartbreak bleed into your art. Let your pain inspire you to love harder. Let your anger inspire you to really breathe. Let your sadness provoke empathy within you for others. Allow your loss to break you so that you can go deep within yourself to find the pieces that will take you years to put back together. Let your loss teach you gratitude, humility and acceptance. Let your loss teach you what love really means.

3. Feeling what you’re feeling is okay.

The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can journey towards healing. Stop trying to fight the hurt. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time. It’s okay to have relapses, to fall into extended periods of depression, to feel hopeless, empty and alone. It’s all a part of the process. Don’t rush your healing. Learn to appreciate every morning that you wake up with a broken heart, and every night that you fall asleep crying. This will guide you into the mornings in which you wake feeling a little stronger and the nights in which you fall asleep in peace. Regardless of how impossible it might seem, embrace your pain and trust the process.

4. The people who are throwing out safety nets while you fall and fall and fall—keep those people in your life.

Show your gratitude by truly cherishing them. They are a constant reminder that a strong support group can help you get through this. They are a constant reminder that regardless of how alone you feel, you never really are. Learn to accept the help that the people surrounding you are so graciously offering. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t believe the lies in your heart that tell you that love will always end in a crushing loss like this one. Understand that there are people in your life who really love you and who really appreciate you. Don’t push them away.

It took me a long time to understand that I didn’t have to punish myself for continuing my life. It also took me a long time to understand that without the loss that I experienced, I wouldn’t have been able to access the parts of me that would have otherwise been inaccessible.

I would give every piece of my soul to have my dad back in my life, but I have finally learnt how to embrace losing him. Without my loss, I wouldn’t have found a liberating passion in dance. Without my loss, I wouldn’t have learned how to truly love, respect and appreciate the people in my life. Without my loss, I would have never learnt that healing is a journey that anyone can take. And that the first step on that journey is coming to the realization that you deserve to take it.

Without my loss, I would have never known what real heartbreak feels like, and that seven years later, I could still feel pangs of it on my train ride home.



Life After Death—Of a Loved One. ~ Yazim Valles


Author: Kelisha Gardeen

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Jem Yoshioka/Flickrjeronimo sanz/Flickr 

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Brittney Mar 20, 2016 4:02pm

My dad died when I was 15 too. This year marks 10 without him. Thank you for writing these words.

Janet Mar 11, 2016 3:46pm

Thank you for sharing about your pain and your growth.

Grace Mar 10, 2016 2:44pm

Thank you for writing this article. I was 11 years old when my dad died and that was 25 years ago later this year. I never had any grief counseling although I did have family support. I only recently began therapy to address some of the things you mentioned. I have been able to move on with life without too much guilt but there is still much sadness about what my dad missed out on, especially those major life milestones including high school and college graduations and marriage. It is reassuring to know that it is ok to feel that sadness, even so many years later.

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Kelisha Gardeen

Kelisha Gardeen is a recipient of the Carol Anne Hawes award for Excellence in Performance from San José State University where she recently received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. She has studied modern, ballet, and jazz under the artistic guidance and instruction of Gary Masters, Fred Mathews, Heather Cooper, Mark Foehringer, John Beasant III, Jill Yager, and Dominique Lomuljo. Ms. Gardeen has been a part of SJSU’s University Dance Theatre for three years, under the artistic directorship of Gary Masters. As a part of UDT, she has had the pleasure of performing work by Rogelio Lopez, Heather Cooper, Robert Dekkers, Hsiang Hsui, Jill Yager, and Nhan Ho. She has also had the fortune of attending the American Dance Festival at Duke University where she studied with Mark Haim, Elizabeth Corbette, Amanda Miller, and Stewart Singer. Kelisha plans to continue exploring and discovering her own voice in dance.

Feel free to contact her at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.