Coping with a Grief Anniversary

Today is the most difficult, emotionally weird day of the year for me: the anniversary of my Dad’s death. I still find the whole series of events really difficult to talk about so instead I want to talk about getting through a grief anniversary and maybe even making something of it.

I’d never thought of us as a family that couldn’t talk about things but for some reason, it always felt really difficult to talk about Dad. No one person made it that way; I think it was just because the emotions were so big, no one knew how to navigate them, especially around other people. And because Dad didn’t live with us, it was relatively easy to slide straight back into normal routines because while there was this huge emotional hole, there wasn’t a physical one. So it just became easier to avoid the subject than engage with it. And after a while, it somehow became the new normal, something that I kind of hate when I look back at that time. I wish we hadn’t let that happen, even if I don’t know how it would’ve been possible to cope any other way.

For a while, we tried to do things on the 16th May. On the first anniversary, we went up onto the South Downs and played frisbee as a family – nothing intense or overly emotional, just something that we did together. But the tradition didn’t last very long. We were all very aware of the date and what it meant but I think it just hurt all of us too much to actually do anything about it; just surviving it was hard enough.

For a long time I just couldn’t even think about him because it hurt too much but at some point, he started creeping back into my consciousness, in more than a fleeting-painful-thought kind of way, even though it was still painful. But slowly it was more than just painful and I guess I stopped pushing it away as fast as possible. Because even though it hurt and made me sad, there came a point when I needed to think about him. It was important.

Almost everyday, there’s something that makes me think of my Dad, of a memory we made together or a memory we could’ve made had we had the opportunity: a TV show that he would’ve liked; something superhero related; when I FaceTime each of my parents, I wonder what it would have been like to have him to FaceTime too; seeing girls with their dads at concerts; something animal related or space related because he used to give us books on them and we’d look at all the pictures together; something wolf related because they were my favourite animal and he used to draw them for me… And then there’s the constant wondering because I know so little about him. I was only thirteen when he died and I wasn’t thinking about how long I had with him, how I only had a limited time to learn everything I could about him. Why would I have been?

A lot has changed over time and the family dynamics have obviously changed since we’ve moved into different houses, even different cities. Recently, my Mum and I have tentatively started doing something each year on the anniversary of his death, even if it’s something small. For example, on the first anniversary after we moved into the new house, we bought some wisteria plants for the garden, the flowers of which we both get great joy from. We liked the idea of having reminders of him around us, even if it was in indirect ways. Only one plant has survived but it’s growing well and that feels really special.

Last year, I ordered a poster of the Justice League that I found on Etsy. Justice League was a TV show we (my Dad, my brother, and I) watched obsessively together and he’s the one who got me into superheroes, something I’ve avoided for a long time but came back to fairly recently because they make me feel close to him, rather than just making me feel painfully aware of his absence. Superheroes and the surrounding stories and mythologies are now somewhat of a common thread in my life, in my writing, and in my view of the world and that’s something I got from him. That is his legacy to me so the poster felt like an appropriate purchase to make on that day.

We’re creating positive memories – or we’re trying to, at least – to associate with him, even if he isn’t here anymore to be a part of them.

I haven’t decided what to do this year, not yet. Life has been fairly chaotic and my brain has been very full: of last semester’s work, of the upcoming semester’s work, the migraine that swallowed up almost a week of my life… So I’m not sure how I’m going to commemorate the day this year but I’ll figure it out. With all the research into him and his family history, I feel like it should be something to do with that but I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet. I feel like there’s this weird pressure to get it ‘right.’

Ultimately we all deal with grief in our own way. I’ve read a lot about grief, about the five stages of grief, about the seven stages of grief… And in the context of those, I don’t really know where I am. Most of the time, I still feel frozen on that day, like I haven’t dealt with it at all. There was never really any anger or bargaining and yes, there’s been depression but that’s an incredibly complex issue for me and one I’m pretty sure can’t just be attributed to processing grief. Having said all of that, sometimes I do feel like I’m moving forward: I write songs about him, superhero stuff is a big part of my life, me and Mum have been talking to anyone we can to find out more about him before all of those stories get lost in time. I want to know who he was. I want to know where I came from. And, although it’s probably not super healthy to dwell on, I want to know what my life might have been like had I had him for longer. I can’t help thinking about it, at least from time to time.

Grief is so complicated, possibly the most complicated emotional process that we can experience as human beings. It takes on so many different forms, is attached to so many different circumstances, and even when the situation is the same, two people rarely feel it the same way. But that’s a discussion for another day. I just wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about grief anniversaries and my experience and… I don’t know… talk about all of this in a way that felt… okay. I don’t know. I don’t really know what I’m doing here today but I needed to write something and this is what I wrote.

A Tribute To Daisy Johnson

For a long time, I avoided all things superhero because they reminded me of my Dad who died suddenly in 2008, when I was thirteen years old. He loved superheroes and passed that love on to me: we’d spend Saturdays watching Justice League and Teen Titans, drawing the characters and designing our own heroes and villains. It was something really special that we shared but when he died, they just became a painful reminder of what I’d lost. So I avoided anything related to superheroes for a long time.

But then, at some point in 2015, I stumbled upon Agents of SHIELD and instead of the hollow ache that I’d come to associate with anything superhero related, something just pulled me in. I loved the characters, I loved the relationships, I loved the stories and the different aspects of sci-fi and drama and action that they explored. I also loved how they didn’t take themselves too seriously, but how they also let the heavier moments rest and breathe. I can’t really explain it but for the first time I felt comforted by the superhero world, rather than saddened by it.

I instantly loved Daisy Johnson. Now, I could write a thesis on her (I’ll try not to, I promise). She’s smart and funny and tough; she also feels her emotions deeply and is incredibly driven, often by those deep emotions and her sense of what’s right and wrong. Over the seasons, we see her go from a foster kid turned hacktivist, trying to find information on her parents to a loyal, dedicated agent and superpowered hero. Of course, she grows up and goes through a lot in that time: she’s betrayed by people she trusts; she develops powers that allow her to manipulate vibrations, to the extent that she causes earthquakes while unable to control her abilities (or emotions); she discovers that she’s a descendant of an ancient race that call themselves Inhumans and finally meets her biological parents, only to be caught in a war between the Inhumans and SHIELD; she guides new Inhumans as more and more gain their abilities (a result of the war); she becomes a leader; she loses more loved ones than anyone should; she isolates herself after she’s brainwashed, unable to forgive herself for the harm she causes; she struggles with trust and guilt and how dangerous her powers make her; she finds herself in a virtual reality, in a dystopian future, far out in distant space, in an alternate timeline… But through all of that, she finds family in her team and a place to belong in SHIELD, two things she’s spent her whole life searching for.

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She’s not perfect, of course – she makes her fair share of mistakes and bad decisions. Sometimes she hurts the people she loves. But while every blunder becomes a part of her, she doesn’t allow them to define her. She’s defined by the future, by what she does next. She inspires me to be the same. And above all else, her motivation is to help people and that’s something that’s never changed; it’s something that’s at the very core of her and I find that really inspiring too.

The show ended a few months ago and if I’m honest, I’m still trying to get my head around that. How can my favourite show be over? But if it had to end, they couldn’t have done a better job. The last two episodes of the season are some of the best they’ve ever done (although I’m not sure anything could surpass the legendary time-loop episode) and the final scenes are as heart-warming as they are heart breaking.

*Major spoiler alert* The season (and the show) end with the team meeting (bizarrely enough, through an ultra sci-fi version of Zoom) for the first time in a year. They catch up for a few minutes before leaving one by one, giving us the opportunity to see what adventures they’re in the midst of now. Eventually the only two left are Daisy and Phil Coulson (“It was so special to have that moment with Clark [Gregg].” Chloe Bennet says), without whom the show would never have existed. It’s kind of funny: the show would never have existed without Coulson and neither would Daisy, had he not pulled her out of her van and onto the SHIELD plane. From that moment on, there’s something really special about their relationship. Every relationship in the team is unique and special but there’s just something about Coulson and Daisy’s relationship that has always felt bigger than words. There’s definitely elements of student-teacher, best friends, partners in crime, and father-daughter (the last comes up throughout the show), but again, it seems to transcend all of those. The actors seem to agree, and both have spoken about how similar that relationship is to their relationship in real life.

“It’s such a dynamic friendship in a way that you don’t really see that often in life, let alone on TV. He is a coworker, and people say father figure, but he’s so much more than that. He’s a friend, a mentor, he’s hilarious. I just feel so special to have such a unique, dynamic relationship with this person. And obviously that shows up on camera and it’s nice. It’s really special.” (x)

“From the first interrogation scene with Skye, after we pulled her out of her van, there was just something different about Chloe Bennet. And the way she has a realness and a fire to her as a performer. There are a lot of great actors to work with on that show but the through line of that relationship, that friendship, that family-type relationship… people say father/daughter, and it definitely has that in it, but I think, like my relationship with Chloe, it has so many permutations and it isn’t that simple. Where she’s helping and teaching and rescuing me as much as I’m doing that for her. For me, it was that part of the show where I grew the most as an actor and as a human,” says Clark Gregg. (x)

This relationship has always been one of my favourites on the show and one that’s felt very close to my heart. Maybe that’s due to the loss of my own father and watching a character I love and relate to find that relationship, I don’t know. But I’m grateful that we got one last moment between the two of them. The atmosphere is warm and supportive, and they exchange a few meaningful words before parting. Daisy tells Coulson that he’s still needed out in the world, finding new recruits for SHIELD, commenting on one final thing that has come full circle in this final episode: Coulson was the first person to believe in her, which ultimately led to who she is today and now she is following in his footsteps, the first to believe in her sister (discovered in the alternate timeline) and guiding her on the road to becoming a SHIELD agent. It’s a very emotional moment, even as the actors carry it off effortlessly.

Coulson leaves and Daisy takes a moment to look around at all of the empty chairs. But it’s not the end. She evidently has ongoing secret communications with Simmons and they’ve promised to meet up as a team at the same time and place every year (although, in my head, they meet in various combinations between those full team gatherings). Then she removes her communications device and we discover that she’s on a spaceship – the commander of said spaceship – with Daniel Sousa (her new, taking-it-slow-but-utterly-head-over-heels-for boyfriend) and her sister, Kora. And the last we see of her is the three of them staring out at a stunning nebula.

(Apparently the nebula was never officially named but Jed Whedon, writer of the episode, left it as: “The three look out at the Nebula, an otherworldly multicolored cloud of space dust. A new family.” (x) That made me super emotional: the show began with Daisy searching for her family, finding a completely unexpected family in SHIELD, and the show ends with her building a family, or an extension of her existing family. So that quote felt very special.)

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In these final scenes, there’s something different about Daisy. Yes, she’s still Daisy – there’s always been something incredibly consistent about her as a character, right from the beginning – but there’s also something we haven’t really seen before. There’s a sense of calm, a sense of peace. She knows who she is, she has complete faith in herself and her abilities, and she’s surrounded (physically and emotionally) by people who love her and support her. As Chloe Bennet says, “There’s a lot more groundedness within her.” She’s grown into someone her season one self could never have imagined and it’s incredible. I found it more inspiring than I can put into words, considering how much of myself I see in her as a character. Her ‘ending’ gives me hope.

I got caught up with season seven a few days before the finale. It was clear the finale was going to be incredible and I just felt that I wanted to do something to commemorate how much the show and how much Daisy meant to me, how much of an effect they’ve had on my life. I thought about it and decided that I wanted to get a daisy tattoo: to remind me how much this show and this character have meant to me and helped me through hard times; to remind me of Daisy and all of the things about her that inspire me, like her determination, her strength, her resolve to help people, and so on; to honour the love of superheroes I share with my Dad and that connection we will always have.

At some point between that moment and the finale, Chloe Bennet posted on Instagram, asking for suggestions as to what she should do with all the stuff she’s collected from her time on the show. I replied with some ideas but I also thanked her for all the show and Daisy have done for me, as well as my plan to get a daisy tattoo. And then – on the day of the finale, a plan she’d apparently had for a while – she posted a couple of photos on Instagram… of herself getting a daisy tattoo.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It put the biggest grin on my face. I loved the idea that we’d both had the same thought process over commemorating Daisy, although obviously Chloe Bennet’s relationship to Daisy is on an entirely different level to mine. In one interview, she said: “I definitely would [play her again]. I mean, I have such a soft spot for her. I started shooting the show when I was 20, and then I finished when I was 27. To get this time right now, in isolation, to kind of contemplate the past seven years and how much it’s meant to me – it hasn’t really hit me yet that the show is over, so it doesn’t really feel like I’m done playing her yet.” And in another, she said something similar: “I don’t feel like I’m done playing her. I feel like there’s room in the Marvel Universe for more Quake. So hopefully you’ll see that happen!”

When this fan-made trailer appeared, at least half the internet fell for it, believing that a Daisy centric show was in the works. You’ll see why when you watch it.

It’s stunning, a perfect summation of Daisy’s story so far and an exciting look at how her story could continue. As much as I’d love a show about Daisy, or really just any extra Daisy content, the idea does make me a little nervous. She’s been so beautifully developed as a character that I’m not sure I’d trust her with anyone but Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (the main showrunners of the series from the start). But knowing how much Chloe loves Daisy, I doubt there’s any reason to worry; Daisy couldn’t be in safer hands. I love Chloe Bennet and find her hugely inspiring too but I think I’ll save that for another post, otherwise we could be here forever…

And as I said, I probably wouldn’t have had any of this without Dad. And while the loss of him – that scar, that hole – will always be there, having this thing that he loved so much – this love that he passed on to me – back in my life has been a healing experience. The characters, the stories, and the lessons they teach us are his legacy to me and I’m grateful for whatever it was about Agents of Shield that made me feel able to engage with these worlds again.

Today would’ve been his birthday and while I have no way of knowing what life with him in it would have looked like, I like to imagine that we would’ve spent the day together: swimming in the morning (another thing we often did together) and then spending the afternoon and evening curled up on the sofa, taking turns choosing episodes of our favourite superhero shows. And I have no doubt that a great deal of them would’ve been from Agents of Shield.

Father’s Day Without A Father

I’ve made multiple attempts and spent a lot of time trying to write about my Dad – how he died when I was thirteen and how overwhelming the grief still is twelve years later – but I’ve never been able to post anything. However I approach it, I always end up finding it too painful to finish and end up abandoning it.

In my experience, Father’s Day (and any day connected to my Dad) usually feels very heavy and emotional. It just makes me feel so acutely aware of his absence, even more so than usual. But despite this, I’ve finally reached a place where I also want to remember and celebrate him on these days.

I don’t know about you but I’ve often felt that our culture is constantly trying to simplify our emotions, telling us that we can only feel one thing at once. But that’s just not true. As human beings, we’re inherently complicated and so are our emotions. We can feel more than one at a time, even conflicting ones. So if you want to celebrate your father on Father’s Day despite how sad the day makes you feel, that’s okay to do. All that matters is finding a way to remember him and feel connected to him in a way that feels personal and special.

There’s no rush though. You don’t have to do this now. You don’t have to do this ever if you don’t want to. Grief is such a different experience for everyone and there’s nothing that says you have to process it in a specific way. There’s nothing that says you have to do anything that you’re not comfortable doing. But if you do want to celebrate Father’s Day, then here are some ideas that you might like to think about…


  1. Look at photos – It’s scary to feel that our memories aren’t objective, that they change shape or fade over time, so looking at photos is a really good way of solidifying your memories of your Dad. For some people, it can be painful to have photos around all of the time but sometimes it’s good to just take a moment to flick through them and just remember.
  2. Talk to or spend time with family – We all have our own relationships and memories with a person and it can be really cathartic to simply sit and share some of that together. But if it feels too hard to talk about him, then just arranging to be together on a difficult day can be good for everyone. These emotions are so big and complicated that talking about them can be overwhelming but just knowing that you’re all feeling them can be comforting and strengthening.
  3. Do something he liked – I’ve always found a good way to feel connected to my Dad is to engage in things he liked or things we liked to do together. Not only does it remind me of good times with him, it makes me feel like I’m continuing his legacy. For example, we’d go swimming or draw or watch superhero stuff together so doing  one or some of these things can be really good for my soul.
  4. Do something that reminds you of him – Even if it wasn’t something you did regularly or something you actually did together at all, if it reminds you of him, that’s all that matters. It’s the connection that’s important, not where you find it.
  5. Write him a card or a letter – Sometimes saying the words out loud can be really hard. Too hard. Putting them down on paper or in a word document instead is a perfectly good alternative. And if writing directly to him brings you more comfort than just writing about him, then all the better. As I’ve already said, it’s the connection that matters, not where you get the connection from.
  6. Buy flowers – Simply having flowers around can be a gentle reminder of the day, of your Dad, without being too obtrusive or upsetting. It’s just a little something to differentiate the day from others if that’s what you want to do.
  7. Visit his grave or a place dedicated to him* – If there’s a place that makes you feel closer to your Dad, you might want to visit. You can take flowers, you can talk, or you can simply sit and think about him. Whatever you believe in, there’s a way to feel close to him. It may just take some experimenting to find the way that’s best for you.
  8. Make a toast or take a moment to think of him – Dedicating a moment to your Dad can feel really important but sometimes making a specific moment can be too much. You raise a glass or spend a minute thinking of him; both are just as good as the other. It’s whatever makes you feel comfortable, whatever creates a positive moment, that’s important.
  9. Create a memory box/scrapbook/photo album – Having a specific activity or task to complete on a difficult day can be a really positive experience and if that is something that makes you feel close to your Dad then that can be really healing. Having all of your memories of him in one place can be really comforting because it’s like storing all of those important moments in a safe place. You don’t have to actively carry them. They’re safe to tuck away for when you want or need them.
  10. Share something about him with someone who didn’t know him – Sometimes it  can be a lot of pressure to talk about your loss with another person who also went through that devastating experience because you’re both bringing in some incredibly powerful emotions so talking to someone who didn’t know him can be much easier. It can also feel good to know that one more person in the world knows about him, that he’s being remembered by more people rather than less: the loss of a loved, important person is a hugely personal thing and I know that every time someone has shared something that emotional with me, I’ve held that lost loved one close and vowed never to forget them because what a disservice that would be to them and the person who had shared their story with me.

*Not advisable during lockdown.

As I said, there are no rules that say you have to do any of these things – this year, next year, or ever. Even having made the list, I’m not sure I’ll feel up to doing any of them. We’ll have wait and see.

I hope this list has been helpful. And I hope that, if Father’s Day is a difficult day for you, you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel and do whatever you need to do to get through it. I’ll be thinking of you.

If you do anything not included on this list that you think might be helpful to others, please let me know in the comments…