October 21, 2018

A Letter to my Younger Self: I know you’re Suffering after Dad Died.

My father died 10 days after my 14th birthday.

That was 15 years ago. I thought I was over it. I went to therapy, journaled, wrote sappy poems, and cried a lot. But it wasn’t enough.

Grief does not decay as quickly as our bodies do. It’s sticky—like the gum you can’t get off your shoe. It arrives unannounced and ambushes you from behind, like a rear-ender when you’re already late.

If you’re lucky, you let yourself sob to a stranger on the street—mascara smeared under your eyes for a raccoon surprise.

Feel the feels, my friend. Feel them now, so they don’t get stuck inside you and get all sticky.

Below is a letter I wrote to my adolescent self of what I wish I had known when my father died, but that I am finally figuring out now.

Dearest 14-year-old Barrett,

I am so sorry you lost your father so young. I am sorry you feel abandoned, unsafe, and completely off-kilter. But you don’t have to stay in that pain. The catch is—in order to move past the grief and guilt you must sit it the discomfort of its dark shadow.

Cry. And then cry some more. When someone asks, “How are you?” you are allowed to say, “Not so great today.”

You will not help your cause by numbing the pain with alcohol, drugs, overexercising, anorexia, or drowning yourself in homework. When you are 21 (or younger and more rebellious), please remember there is a difference between enjoying a glass of wine with a friend and downing six shots of gin on an empty stomach because you can no longer bear the sadness.

Wounds just want to be acknowledged—they’re like crying babies. Usually, they are crying for love and gentle touch. And even when you heal from this deep grief, you will still experience sadness. There is no magic potion to fast-forward.

But you are magic, my dear.

Don’t become morbid and obsess over how things could have been. Don’t fall into feeling sorry for yourself. And don’t numb with escapist activities when the pain is exquisite.

Instead, use your magic. Use this sadness to fuel the fire of creativityHow can you express and let the sad anger move through you?bfreibert

Dance, write, cry, scream, run, savor nature, write a letter to Dad with the things you wish you could have said to him, and serve others who have similar experiences.

Remember when you were on the verge of nervous tears before swimming the 500 freestyle (20 laps)? Or before going on a three-week backpacking adventure camping trip? Dad would always say, “The ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what they are made for.”

As he hugged you tight and said, “Go get ’em, sweetheart,” the smell of his Brooks Brothers cologne, the softness of his blue cashmere sweater, and those words transformed those anxious butterflies into powerful ones. That’s the magic—knowing that nothing good ever comes from anything easy. And when we are scared, it means we must push forward even more. 

Feel the sorrow—when it bubbles up your throat, don’t choke it in. Let that bad boy rip and weep. Weep loudly. Even though it may scare you and your neighbors. Let it move through and out of you. Like a virus, you must ride it out.

It’s a long ride, but it’s worth it.

Unstick yourself from being stuck by sailing into the dark harbor and “go get ’em, sweetheart.”



author: Barrett Freibert

Image: Author's own

Editor: Naomi Boshari

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Barrett Alizabeth Oct 25, 2018 4:53am

Stephanie, AMEN sister. An exercise I like to do is type conversational questions to my dad at my computer and then compose his responses. It's almost like he talks through me.. Stole this exercise from Elizabeth Gilbert. <3 Sending you love and healing! B

Barrett Alizabeth Oct 25, 2018 4:51am

Meagan, Thank you for sharing! My heart goes out to you. <3 I was sick with lyme disease and chronic insomnia for three years and am just now at the tail end of healing. I think much of my illnesses stemmed from emotions I bottled up unknowingly for years. So happy to hear this article resonated with you! My life's work is to help others heal. Sending you love and healing! And if you need to punch a pillow or scream in the car, more power to you sister! Barrett

Stephanie Steele Oct 23, 2018 3:47pm

It's only been a year since I lost my dad, but I still want to call him I have the simplest question about anything. Writing does help me with my grief.and I'm not afraid to let out my tears either. So thank you for this.

Meagan Davey Oct 23, 2018 1:57pm

Hey there, great article. I lost my dad in 2011 (when i was 24) and I wish I knew all of this back then...at the time i was also quite sick with my crohn's disease flare up and I internalised my grief and did everything to distract myself - including gardening (randomly just got into it) and drinking too much. The most destructive thing that came with internalising was that I became a permanently angry person for the best part of my 20s, I punched alot of walls and had angry outbursts alot. I felt like i hated everyone and didn't have faith in anyone. So it's quite relevant you saying let the grief pass through you so it doesn't get stuck. Perhaps I still have to work through it because I get that feeling of not being able to get over things/ that stuck feeling alot - especially with break ups. Thanks again.

Barrett Alizabeth Oct 22, 2018 3:55pm

Thank YOU Kristin Schmidt! This is one of the many reasons I love to write is to connect and heal with others! To remember we are never alone. Look forward to listening to that podcast. Sending love and healing! XO, B

Kristin Schmidt Oct 21, 2018 8:33pm

Thank you for this! It has been 30 years plus since I lost my father. I was the same age as you when I lost my dad. I listened to the armchair expert podcast with Jason Ritter and he discusses the pain of the loss and how it sneaks up on you when you think you have processed it! I continue to process it! Much love!

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Barrett Freibert

Barrett Freibert is a flow coach, poet, and yoga instructor. She helps others get “unstuck” through flow rituals and spiritual healing. Her life’s work is empowering people to let go of blockages and realign with the ebb and flow of life. She has healed herself from past traumas and illnesses; most recently, chronic insomnia and Lyme disease. Barrett feels most at home 60 minutes into a Vinyasa yoga class, writing prose and poetry, sipping coffee outdoors drinking in the wonders of the world, and laughing too loudly with friends. You can connect with her at her website or on Instagram.