Grief is not a checklist

By Emily Steinhardt 

Emily Steinhardt and her father, Chris Steinhardt posing together when Emily was a toddler. Photo courtesy of Emily Steinhardt

I lost my dad in the beginning of March and the grieving process has been a lot different from what I expected.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in November 2016, I expected my reaction to be like those that happen in the movies. I expected there to be tears and lots of feelings of denial. Instead, I responded with, “Ok, so how do we go from here?”

My parents raised me to be an independent individual. I have been doing my own laundry since I was 12. We are also very busy people; my life always seems to be moving. When I have downtime, I usually never know what to do with it.

So when my dad was diagnosed with stage four signet cell colon cancer, life didn’t stop.

I am transferring from DCCC in the fall to study musical theatre. To get into these programs, I needed to audition. I completed all 12 of my school auditions while my dad was on the couch at home, too sick to move.

Before the audition for my dream school, my dad was rushed to the hospital.

My parents signed hospice paperwork the night before my last audition.

He died the next week.

Throughout this entire process I haven’t been responding in the way society taught me I should. And that has been worrying me.

Is there something wrong with me? Am I insensitive? Did I not truly love my dad since I haven’t been a complete mess since he died?

The answer to all of these questions is “no,” but that doesn’t mean I feel any better about how I’ve been responding to all that’s happened.

I have been living with the reality that my dad was going to die for 18 months. I looked up the survival statistics for his type of cancer as soon as he was diagnosed. He passed much quicker than anybody expected, but at least I knew it was coming.

I have come to understand that there is no one proper way to grieve. Everyone grieves in a different way and many people acknowledge this when talking to someone who is going through the process, yet I’ve noticed that even though friends have said this to me, it still feels like they expect me to go through some sort of checklist of feelings.

For me, this process is not about big moments, it’s about little moments.

When I bought clothes from where I will be going to school next year it sucked seeing the “DAD” shirts. Move in day, when everyone’s mom and dad are helping them, will definitely be difficult.

So will graduating from college, when I hopefully make my broadway debut, and walking down the aisle on my wedding day. All the little moments are going to suck.

Humans are complicated. Loss is complicated. Grief is complicated.

People going through that process should not be held accountable to society’s checklist.

Contact Emily Steinhardt at

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