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Walking with Grief, Living with Purpose

Recently, while walking in my neighborhood, I realized how alive and present my father’s spirit is in my life. He was an avid gardener and life-long admirer of nature, and I feel his presence reflected in the beauty and wonder of the outdoors, the sounds and sights of the changing seasons. He was a daily walker and I feel extra close to him when I am walking. With each step, I recall memories of the times we shared and “converse” with him on a heart level about new topics and issues that arise in my life. In life, I talked with him about any number of inconsequential and important things. And now, almost ten years after his death, I envision him listening as I consider each new crossroads. I feel his enthusiastic encouragement, unconditional acceptance of my choices, and the comfort of his loving presence. It took some time for me to get here, but I have learned how to walk with my grief.

In 2012, I was at my dad’s bedside as he died, never imagining then how this event would shape my life going forward. He courageously prepared my family members by talking with each one about his eternal love and unique appreciation for our presence in his life. He was ready to go when the time came. My family celebrated his life with a special and uplifting event of spontaneous participation and remembrance. I felt the love and support of many as I moved forward into the following days and weeks. But my dad was really and truly gone. His voice on the phone, his warm hugs and silly noises, his joyful smile and guiding presence, all were no longer accessible in a real and physical sense.

I wrote some, cried some, reread, and cried some more each time I returned to write the story.

After a few weeks, the buoying support ebbed, and I began to feel some strong and surprising feelings: Anger. Despair. Desertion. A whooshing, jumbled tumult of grief washed over me and knocked me down. What could I do now? How could I go forward and surmount the emotions that I felt? And then I remembered: In his last few days of life, Daddy (as I always called him) suggested that I write. So, I began to journal a little bit every few days, recording my current state of emotions and recounting to myself his end-of-life story. I wrote some, cried some, reread, and cried some more each time I returned to write the story. I took my time to get from the beginning to the end, and along the way, I began to accept and integrate my father’s physical absence. Releasing my tears helped me feel better, and in the weeks and months that followed, I began to feel much improved. I was walking a new walk, transforming my grief into words on a page.

In 2013, I published our story as a short book called Daddy, This Is It: Being-with My Dying Dad and began a whole new journey of grief-inspired purpose. In 2020, I revised some of the resources I shared in the book and republished it, including as an audiobook.

Daddy is no longer here, and I can’t change that fact. What I can do is choose my response to the prevailing sorrow that I feel. My choices create new purpose in my life, as I reach out each day to introduce my book to grief and bereavement support professionals, chaplains in hospice and palliative care settings, and counselors of those who care for their dying loved ones.

Sometimes I receive affirming reviews, notes of gratitude, and requests for articles and blog posts. Some readers send me their own stories, trusting me to share their grief and loss. I am filled with awe and gratitude for these developments.

This response to my intimate little story inspires me to write more on the topic of grief and loss, to help others learn to communicate around death, dying, and the end of life.

Now I feel connected to a vast community of grieving individuals and support workers. My loss increasingly becomes an integrated, accepted, and motivating part of me. I do not strive to “get over it” or “move on” from my father’s death. Instead, I awaken each morning confident that Daddy is walking with me into each new adventure I face. I celebrate the love, approval, and joy we shared in life by acting on the grief-inspired purpose that is alive and well in me.

In 2017, Victoria Brewster, MSW, and I co-authored and published a compilation of many and varied perspectives on death and dying called Journey’s End: Death, Dying, and the End of Life. Its length, over 550 pages, inspired us to divide the chapters into two parts and those are currently being republished as Journey’s End, Part 1: Heartfelt Stories of the Dying and Journey’s End, Part 2: An Educational Guide to Death and Dying.

My personal losses and griefs grow in number as each year passes. They continue to guide me toward the goal of bringing death and dying into greater acceptance and increasing comfort with conversations on this topic. As I walk with grief and live with purpose, I invite you to consider how you may do the same in your own circles of personal and professional influence.


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Julie Nierenberg
Julie Nierenberghttps://juliesaegernierenberg.com/
Julie Saeger Nierenberg is a freelance writer and editor, lifelong educator, and artist. A proud parent and "grand-partner," Julie grew up in Northeastern Oklahoma and now lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she has worked as a freelancer since 2006. Inspired by the experience of her father’s dying and death, Julie published a short memoir about her family’s grief and loss. Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad (2013) launched a true journey of connection and transformation, as Julie reached out to share it with those who assist the dying and bereaved. It has been called a “how-to book for conscious dying” by several reviewers who work in dying and bereavement support roles. Following its publication, Julie received numerous end-of-life perspectives from others, many of which are available in Journey's End: Death, Dying and the End of Life (published in 2017) and soon to be republished by Stratton Press). Writing and publishing in this heart-led direction, Julie hopes to contribute to a cultural shift in how we prepare and support others in the final chapter of life. In recent months, she completed her training and certification in end-of-life planning using the Before I Go Solutions method. She is in the process of launching her education and pre-planning business, End-of-Life Matters, to provide online coaching for individuals, couples, and small groups. In 2018, Julie published a journal memoir about her experience discovering that she has a benign but seriously located brain tumor. It Is What It Is: Learning to Live with My Brain Tumor chronicles her journey through finding out all she could about treatment options, discerning which would be best, and then finally choosing and receiving treatment. The book has some light and funny parts despite the serious nature of the topic. Julie also enjoys editing legacy writing, fiction, and nonfiction works; she feels privileged to help other writers succeed. Her other creative pursuit is making watercolor and acrylic paintings, primarily of landscapes. She does commissioned work, such as custom portraits and favorite landscape scenes, when requested. Julie is never at a loss for something to do next.

2 CONVERSATIONS

  1. I am sorry for your loss, Julie, and happy that you have succeeded at turning it into something meaningful not just for you but for people in their hardest times. Your father must have known you well to suggest that you write your way through, if not “to the other side of grief” then to a good foothold.
    Like you, I feel my father beside me when I am in the nature I have shared with him. It is a little harder to find that nature as I live on a different continent from where I grew up.

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