Grief is a part of life…and how you move through it will make or break your human experience. Grief goes beyond death and includes transitions. We are always transitioning in life and as a result, goodbyes are inevitable. I want to share with you my letter to my dad after he left treatment to go back into his addiction. This letter was inspired by a client of mine who went through a divorce and wrote a similar letter to his wife, who had an affair and left him for another man. I was in awe of his forgiving heart and decided to write my own therapeutic letter to express my grief. I was able to read this to my dad and it was a very healing experience for us both.

The question I pose to you is this: How do you say goodbye?

Does your goodbye make you bitter or does it make you better?

Dear dad,

The decision you have made to go back into your addiction, where it’s comfortable and familiar, is heartbreaking for me. I know that recovery is hard work and being a part of mine and Preston lives as well as your grandkids would take work, too. Living a life of recovery is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and scary. It hurts me that you say things like, “You made time for me in the beginning but then you got busy.” You occupy my mind and heart every day. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about you. And I did and would always make time for you. Preston and I desired to have you a core central part of our lives. And it hurts that you don’t have that same desire. You said that you preferred that “slow & simple” life but that’s not truly what it is. It’s your addiction speaking. And I know it was your addiction speaking when you left. 

Last night I taught a class on having “good” goodbyes. A class on grief and loss not just by death but relationships that aren’t what we hoped or dreamed of. How it’s easy to replace grief and pain with anger…and to discount all the pain you are in. To say goodbye, I hate you. And there are a lot of things I could say “I hate you for.” For breaking our family apart. For choosing drugs over your family. For abandoning me and leaving me alone to pick up the pieces. For not being there for me and protecting me from being abused and used. For not caring enough to know me. For denying and failing to understand how much your addiction has been trauma and pain in our lives. For never calling me on my birthday or being at any of my graduations/achievements. For putting grandma through what you have. For causing my brother such deep pain and having to witness it. For not taking the help available to you. For my shattered dreams of the father I want and need. For giving up on us and yourself. For being afraid of accountability and responsibility. For holding onto your anger, unforgiveness, and trauma. For not fighting for your freedom. 

But I am not going to make the choice of anger, dad. I am not going to feed my pain, at the expense of yours. You see, it causes you more pain when I am in pain. And I don’t want to do that to you, or myself. I love you too much. I love me, too. Instead, I thank you. For happy childhood memories of boating on the river. For making me laugh and telling 1000’s of jokes. For always saying “I love you more.” For leaving me notes in the morning and giving me extra lunch money when I was little. For racing with Preston and having me be part of the crew. For making me or giving me gifts sometimes in your addiction, even if they are from the dumpster. For loving my mom and giving me life. For teaching me compassion. For pushing me to become independent. For teaching me how to relate to people in pain and struggling with mental health/addiction. For giving treatment a try a few times. For trying this last time after you went years in your addiction…for 7 months of you being present in my life and getting to know each other. For never giving up on life, even when you are suffering and it can get so dark. For giving me an opportunity to heal and grow through adversity. For the opportunity to be fathered by another who stood in the gap and provided on every level. For pushing me into Jesus’s arms and because of that, my mom and brother came to Christ, too. For empowering me to find my calling and help people. For giving me a chance to learn how to love unconditionally and accept people the way they are. For forcing me to face my own issues, break strongholds, and heal. For showing me that I want to live a life full of meaningful relationships. For teaching me that addiction destroys lives. For teaching me forgiveness at the deepest level.

I forgive you dad. I am never going to give up hope of you living your best life. It’s never too late and I know God is in you. He did work on your mind and heart while you were here and I know He never leaves you. I saw glimpses of the real you. You are still in there. I can see you in all of your glory the way God created you to be. Completely healthy, healed, and whole. I truly can see you smiling your bright smile, attracting people to you with your charming and charismatic aura. Your humorous and kind eyes pulling people in. Your slightly unruly energy captivating people’s hearts. You being a pillar of strength and compassion for so many souls…selflessly helping and loving them, which you do now as much as you can. I told someone how I can see you like that and they told me that’s how they see me. So I guess in a way I am living in honor of those beautiful ways that I am like you. So thank you for that, too. I just pray I will get to see you as your best self here on earth and not just in Heaven…which I have faith you are going. Nevertheless, I will love you and have a relationship with you no matter what…just like I always have, just as you are. I love you unconditionally. Please don’t let your shame keep you from being present in my life in whatever way you can be.

I love you more, dad. Always and forever.

Love your daughter, ShaunaRae