How Do I Use A Belt Sander & Other Questions For My (Dead) Dad

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Litsa Williams

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You love someone who's died, right? I mean, if you read or follow What's Your Grief, that seems like a safe assumption. Whoever that person is who died—your mom, son, daughter, father, grandparent, friend, husband, wife... Don't you wish you could talk to them sometimes? Sure, you miss them every day and you often wish you could sit down with them for a beer and a card game (or whatever it is you liked to do), but some days don't you just especially want to talk to them so you could ask them a certain question, get their input, or talk to them about something really specific?

I know I do.

My dad died when I was a teenager, so the adult me often wonders about the adult advice he would give me if he were he still here. For example: I bought my first house—a big fixer-upper here in Baltimore—when I was 24. I planned to fix-up the place on my own, with no know-how and a next-to-nothing social work salary. At the time, I remember wondering, "Would my dad be excited for me or think I'm crazy?"  I vividly remember wanting nothing more than for him to see this house and to give it his seal of approval. I wanted him to say to me, "Well, you're a little crazy—but that's okay." And when the time came to do things like use a belt sander for the first time and change out the faucets, I wanted to pick up the phone and call him because, well, those are the moments that dads are for.

Fast forward a handful of years and now I'm in my 30s. I'm making different big decisions these days, but the longing I feel for my father's input and advice remains the same. For example, I quit my job on Friday. Well, technically I did the quitting part a few months ago but Friday was my last day. In the months before I made the final decision (and believe me, it was months!), I wanted so many times to talk to my dad. It was like the house all over again. I wanted to tell him all the reasons why this jump off a giant cliff into the vast unknown seemed like a good idea; then I wanted to ask him, "Do you think I'm crazy?; and then I wanted him to tell me once again: "Well you're a little crazy—but that's okay." 

The problem is, you can’t talk to dead people. Scratch that; I talk to my dad all the time. You actually can talk to dead people, but the problem is they can’t answer back. And, like I said, sometimes you just really really want them to answer back.

I guess now's a good time to fill you all in on my crazy leap. If you're a regular reader of WYG, you may have thought that Eleanor and I spend all our time making What's Your Grief happen. But nope. WYG started as a side-project-baby and, as babies do, it's grown into a side-project-toddler over the years. I have been a working-mom to this project-baby while working a very busy day job running a family services program for a non-profit that provides grief and bereavement support to families at the end of a loved one's life and in the years that follow. I was overseeing twenty-six people: amazing social workers, psychologists, thanatologists, and chaplains who provide outstanding grief services to families—plus an incredible volunteer coordinator, community educators and other outreach staff. In all objective ways, this should have been exactly where I wanted to work indefinitely: at an amazing organization with amazing people doing exceptional work; with incredible autonomy, great benefits, and an outstanding team, doing work that excited and inspired me.  

And still, I quit.

Why? Well, why does any working-mom quit her job? Because WYG is our toddler and I want to spend as much time nurturing it and helping it grow as I can. This job that I had was objectively amazing, but it took away from the time I wanted to focus here. Eleanor and I have so many ideas. So. Many. Ideas. And I just knew it would be impossible to do all we want to do without giving this community my full attention.

I’ll never know for sure what my dad would think about the many potentially crazy (but hopefully good) decisions I've made, but there are some things I do know: I know my dad wanted to start his own business for years and I know he waited longer than he wanted to because he had a stable, great paying job and kids and a family to take care of.  I know he finally did decide to start his own business and I know it was only a few years later that he got sick and died. So, while it's impossible to know what he would think now, I can imagine what he would say based on the man that I know he was, the way he lived his life, and the things he valued. I imagine if I could talk to him he would say: "Life is too short to wait, because you never know what will happen.You never know when an illness, an accident, or a random tragedy is going to change everything. You never know when it's going to be too late and you may regret letting fear hold you back." Okay, he might not use those exact, dramatic words... but you get the idea.

I wrote a post a while back about how grief changes your priorities. I know grief certainly changed my priorities after my dad died and it continues to influence them to this day. As much as I wish my father were here to talk to, I also realize that I wouldn’t be here if he were still alive. I would never have considered doing many of the very things that I now want his advice about; I wouldn’t have learned the lesson as a teenager that life is so short and, as a result, I wouldn't have made the decisions I've made. I wouldn’t have been inspired to go into grief work. Eleanor and I wouldn’t have met and wouldn’t have started What’s Your Grief. I wouldn’t be who I am.

We can’t ever know what our loved ones would say to us if they were here to watch us live our crazy-but-okay lives. All I know is that when we long for their wisdom, we often only need to remember who they were, to think about who we are, and to listen to our inner voices. Finding the answers is often easier than we imagined.

Who knows where What’s Your Grief will go and how it will grow. We can’t wait to do more; more trainings, more workshops, more courses, more articles, more resources, more happy hours, more conferences, more podcasts, more whatever. Maybe we’ll succeed. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we’re crazy. But as I stood back and looked at my wonderful job with a stable income and compared it to this What’s Your Grief toddler that generates barely enough income to sustain itself, I thought about my dad and the answer finally seemed clear. I could almost hear his voice telling me to go ahead, take the leap.

Has grief ever inspired you to take a huge leap? Leave a comment below.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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14 Comments on "How Do I Use A Belt Sander & Other Questions For My (Dead) Dad"

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  1. Bob  April 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm Reply

    Litsa – I know that he’s not your Dad, but Freebo has a song titled “If Not Now, When” that may help to validate your decision to follow your passion. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of him singing it:

  2. firaol  April 8, 2016 at 9:07 am Reply

    mazii my beautiful angel wife i lost her accidentally ,because of stroke one year after we get married and expecting our son on the way,God did his wish i completely lost every of my hope in life’ she is the best angel i could ever hoped to have and live with ‘ RIP MY ANGEL

  3. Paula  April 7, 2016 at 8:35 pm Reply

    My late partner, who died from two types of cancer on March 10, 2014, talks to me all the time. To quote Mitch Albom, “Life ends; love doesn’t have to.” She is the best guardian angel I could ever hope to have.

  4. kimberly hochrein  April 7, 2016 at 1:27 pm Reply

    I continue to read all that you post. There IS healing in sharing our hurts. Best wishes as you take a leap of faith toasts being a,stay at home mom with your “toddler” of course you know there is no such thing. I was just that and ended up “working” countless hours as a caregiver with no income to i use. .except my experiences and compassion that i earned. At the loss of so many with a,21 yr old son in depression and the very recent loss of my mom. . I KNOW that nothing in life is ever a misstatements and that EVERY choice. .EVERY path leafs is to where we are. Your choice to step out of your box gives great encouragement to do many who you have already formed a connection with. ..the grieving. Good bless you on all your endeavors. !!

  5. Karenne Turner  April 7, 2016 at 7:26 am Reply

    I love your site, I found it at the beginning of last year and It has been such a great resource to help me get through some tough times after a period in less than a year that I had so many losses I don’t know how I coped in hindsight. I was working in the Community as a Palliative Care nurse (my passion). I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, my Mum was dying in another country. I had a 2week period after radiotherapy planning and before starting treatment to go be with her. I was there 3weeks when she died. Had to fly straight back into radical combined chemo radiation for 6 weeks. 5 wks after Mum died, my best friend who was having treatment for breast cancer suddenly went into a coma and died from brain mets, undiagnosed, at 45. Several wks later my younger brother was diagnosed with kidney cancer, had surgery, despite complications, is doing well now. Then a friend here was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was dead in 8 wks. Then my relationship broke up after I found out my partner had been having an affair for several months….I had a break for several months as I fought to deal with my grief and recover from side effects of cancer treatment. Reading your posts, sending them to family members and friends of our deceased loved ones, which helped them immensely. Then my very close friend in my home country died suddenly aged 51. He had been my rock through all of this, available on Skype, email, as he was also going through health problems himself related to his end stage muscular dystrophy. We talked a lot about death, dying and what ” the afterlife may hold”. Funnily enough, my journey into nursing, pall care and grief work was started at age 30, when my then partner committed suicide… The shock and horror of that started me on a journey to want to understand what is death? What is this grief? How to grieve in a society that gives 3 days bereavement leave, then it’s business as usual. I went into nursing, worked in Mental Health for some years, but was called by my passion for palliative care nursing, looking after people in their homes. Educating the families so they could look after their loved ones, with our support. I was very privileged and humbled to be present at some good deaths. As I feel you only have one chance to do a good job when the outcome is going to show every member of that family/community that a good death is possible. I am so grateful to you for this site, I enjoy reading all of your posts and as I said being able to pass them on to others, who say they were helped by reading them. Unfortunately I have just found out my cancer is back and has spread to kidneys and brain. I’m due to have radiotherapy to brain next week, one of the tumours is affecting my eyesight. I just wanted to let you know how valuable your site is, while I can. Also to say how grateful I am and to keep up the great work. Thank you so much? PS, I have also been fortunate to have attended a workshop this year by Stephen Jenkinson of ” Orphan Wisdom” in North America, who travelled to Australia and was in a small rural town near my home! I had been following his work for some years and was reading his latest book ” DieWise”. Coincidence or not, I feel that what ever my outcome is I’m ready to die wise, for my family and friends to see that it is part of life… something we all have to do. As Stephen says, “dying is not something that happens to you, dying is something you do…” Our domin ant culture Western world, with its death phobic, death defying society and lack of community to assist people who are grieving, who don’t know how to grieve because it’s done individually behind closed doors… Or are living with a life limiting or terminal illness, that the health professionals will prolong at all costs, and don’t want to talk about dying. That’s also why your site is so important as a resource in this day and age.?

  6. Kelly  April 6, 2016 at 6:13 pm Reply

    Best wishes and much success with your leap of faith!!! You have been an invaluable resource, the best out there, as far as I’m concerned, as I have navigated my losses. I hope you know what a huge difference you make in people’s lives. I want to just take the opportunity to thank you for everything you have done to be a support to me and countless others. Happy Leap!!!

  7. Dave Boswell  April 6, 2016 at 5:22 pm Reply

    My dad died when I was 20 – we never got to the “adult-to-adult” relationship that I now cherish with my 40 yr old son. I wish I could sit down with both of them and introduce my dad to his namesake, a police Sergeant. He’d be proud beyond words, I’m sure! I’d buy the beers and burgers.

  8. Martha Saucedo  April 6, 2016 at 4:42 pm Reply

    Thank you for this. Thank you for sharing and for your leap of faith! All day today I’ve been hearing/reading things that have been jumping up at me like NOW is the time.
    I lost my dad 2 1/2 years ago and as I read your post I was bawling, even though I lost my dad when I was 30, I completely understand that I wish I could call or see him! I Was Also 6 Months prego w/ my last of 3…We always talked and I miss his advice,jokes, laugh. I grieve for the future/present he didn’t get to see. I am def thankful for the time we did have but the pain is doesn’t feel like it goes away b/c I just miss him. I also lost my mother a year after my dad passed, I was most closest to my dad but my mom was still a huge part of my life u fortunately mental illness didn’t let our relationship bloom, nonetheless I was/am a grieving mess at times.

    Anyway, I took a leap of faith from my own job due to daycare for my smallest 4 months ago, I loved where I was at but I knew somehow it would be ok, plus I knew I would eventually need to leave this job to go back to school. I had been a forever student getting my pre reqs done to apply for a BSN program (having babies n losing both my parents); Well I finished those classes while my dad was sick then he passed and boom I had a baby too and just stopped. Today I’ve been getting these subtle messages about never giving up on your passion ( to be a nurse to help n give back to others in this way), even a photo contest for scholarship money for the university I am planning on attending then Reading your blog was that cherry on top like yes, Scoop your poop and get moving toward this.Somehow someway don’t give up and take this leap. Even though I’m letting my fear of failure & the pain of grief hold me back I can’t accomplish my goals without pressing forward *sigh* sorry for my huge story but I needed to share how you can impact people by just sharing your own story & leap of faith thank you again.

  9. Jennifer  April 6, 2016 at 4:05 pm Reply

    Good for you and congratulations! It is brave of you to honor your personal growth plus WYG has been soooooo incredibly helpful in helping me navigate my own grief after my dad died. The death of my dad 2 years ago definitely taught me that life is too short to wait and there are no guarantees. He had always looked forward to retirement, working a uninspiring job for decades in order to provide for his family. Sadly he died at age 64 and never got to enjoy the retirement he had looked so forward to and worked so hard to pay in to. Like you, I also wish I could have a conversation with him. The first thing I said to my brother when he woke up from a successful liver transplant this fall was, “I wonder what Dad would think of this”.

  10. Adrian  April 6, 2016 at 3:55 pm Reply

    Hell yes grief has lead me to do crazy things. I am also a social worker (masters) and after my step mom- dad, and grandma died within 6 months of each other I went to grad school. I was offered and accepted a well paying job at my internship. I quit my job 3 months in to move across the country. Why? Because I grew up here and feel my dad all around me. Reminds me of the good times and I feel like I belong. I bought a house close to our old neighborhood somewhat on a whim. I often think of what he would say to me and if he would approve. I am focusing on what we call “self care” something I pushed aside when I focused on my education through the hard times and still processing this grief. Risk/reward, you’ve got to take the risk. Life is too short. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. I support this group and will continue to recommend it. I know this is your baby but if you ever need any help I would be interested.

  11. Gina  April 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm Reply


    My son passed away 2 years ago at the age of 24. WYG has truly been a gift & helps me navigate this horrible grief journey. Thank God for you & Eleanor. Wishing you every success as you go forward.

  12. Suzy  April 6, 2016 at 3:05 pm Reply

    You go girl and we benefit from more time invested in this website
    My beautiful son Kevin passed away on January 22, 2016 not even 3 months ago
    I read you blog during my lunch break and it has been so helpful. You and Eleanor are wonderful writers and make such great sense. I am heartbroken, but I can see healing on the horizon…thank you from the bottom of my heart

  13. Stephanie  April 6, 2016 at 3:02 pm Reply

    Good for you! It’s a brave decision and authentic to who you are. Having lost my Mom recently, I know it has made me hyper-aware that my safe, secure, well-paying job with a pension is absolutely sucking my soul dry…I wish I had your courage. I talked to my mom about this before she died, and she definitely understood the need I had to do some self-exploration…so I know if and when I decide to make a change, she would have approved. This website has been a lifeline, so I am glad to hear you will be developing these kind of resources for people like me. Good luck!

  14. Sandy Frankel  April 6, 2016 at 2:50 pm Reply

    Thank you-a million thank you for every post. I am 2 years into this after losing my son, and I tell ya-I read each and every one of your posts. So-let us know how we can help. This is appreciated and valued. This is worthwhile,this is needed. Keep growing-I know I am trying.

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