Meghan McCain's Year of Heartache Since Her Dad's Death: Why She Speaks Out About Her Journey
"The more open, honest and transparent conversations we have about the albatross that is grief and our cultures reticence to address it, the better off we all will be"
Since the death of her father last year, Meghan McCain has been candid about the painful mourning she’s endured when coping with the loss of her “hero.”
Leading up to her recent 35th birthday — her second without her father, the late Sen. John McCain, after his August 2018 death — The View co-host praised Prince Harry for his recent testimony about the grief he still experiences over the loss of his mother, Princess Diana.
“I’ve actually never heard it described more accurately but Prince Harry is absolutely and utterly right – grief is a wound that festers,” Meghan wrote on Twitter on Oct. 20. “I applaud his openness and vulnerability on the loss of his magnificent mother. There should be more conversations on grief, not less.”
Meghan regularly shares her own journey on social media — the ache of her heart from its loss; the memories she holds close — in an effort to destigmatize a process, she says, too many people keep private.
Here is what she has said.
‘A nuclear bomb went off in my life’
Sen. McCain was first diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017, and the long-term prognosis was grim.
“I felt like a nuclear bomb went off in my life. I was a mess. I was barely functioning,” Meghan previously told PEOPLE.
Her dad launched into an immediate round of radiation and chemotherapy to treat a brain tumor, followed by a second round six weeks later, when doctors found another tumor had appeared in its place.
Meghan, who was two years into a relationship with Ben Domenech, co-founder of the conservative website The Federalist, said their bond as a couple only deepened during her dad’s health struggles.
“We were originally going to elope before everything happened with my dad, but obviously all these things have taken on new meaning,” she said.
Domenech previously told PEOPLE: “This brought into focus how important it was for Meghan to have her dad see her get married, and to have that happen while he was still fully there and fully able to participate. This was something that she needed.”
Meghan and Domenech wed in November 2017.
“We pushed everything up,” Meghan told PEOPLE, adding that although her father was doing well at the time, “it’s a deeply unpredictable cancer.”
“You’re really just living scan to scan,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that he was — that we were all — there. Why wait?”
‘I wake up every morning still instinctually trying and reaching to call you on the phone.’
Two months after her father died on Aug. 25, 2018, at age 81, Meghan posted one of her first updates on Instagram about the grief she was experiencing over the loss.
“66 days. I wake up every morning still instinctually trying and reaching to call you on the phone. I miss you so much Dad it physically hurts my heart,” she began her lengthy post last October.
“I miss your laugh, your voice, your dark sense of humor, the way you always made me feel safe in a world that seems to have lost its way.”
‘I don’t know how you go from talking to someone seven times a day to never.’
The next month, Meghan reminisced about her time with her dad: what they shared and what she missed.
“84 days without you,” she wrote on Instagram in November 2018. “We would eat on the porch and talk about life and politics while you read the newspaper and watched out for the hawks to fly by. I want to tell you about everything and get your opinion on everything – just like we used to do. I don’t know how you go from talking to someone seven times a day to never.”
“It is still so indescribably surreal to go through the motions of life without sharing all of it with you – like some awful parallel universe I fell into,” Meghan continued. “I fight on because that is what you told me I had to do and demanded of me.”
SHe went on to explain that sharing these posts about her dad was helping her cope, telling her followers that they could opt to unfollow her if they made people feel uncomfortable.
“To anyone else in my place or those who are not – I wish we wouldn’t put time limits or rules on grief, we all do it differently in different ways,” she wrote. “I shared my father on social media while he was here (and he loved it) and I choose to continue sharing him now that he is not.”
‘It still doesn’t feel real you aren’t here.’
As last Christmas began to approach, the ABC News contributor told her followers about breaking down while thinking about Sen. McCain and realizing she was “never going to see [him] rush downstairs again like [he] always used to do in the capitol.”
“You’re omnipresent in my life, heart and mind Dad and it still doesn’t feel real you aren’t here,” she wrote on Instagram on Dec. 17, 2018. “I try and remind myself that the intensity of the pain of missing you is important because it is a reminder of how my love for you was so incredibly strong.”
‘I still can’t go back home to Arizona.’
Eight months after the Vietnam War hero’s death, his daughter revealed that she has yet to return home, unable to come face-to-face with her father’s physical absence.
“241 days. I made you teach Ben how to grill your dry ribs because I knew at some point you wouldn’t be able to,” Meghan captioned an April Instagram video of her father grilling. “I miss you every. single. day. I still can’t go back home to Arizona.”
‘Grief is omnipresent and relentless.’
At the one-year anniversary of her father’s death in August, Meghan on Twitter described it as “the worst day of her life.”
“I lost my hero. I miss my father every single day, I will for the rest of my life,” she wrote alongside a photo of her holding her dad’s hand.
“Grief is omnipresent and relentless. For every single person who has sent prayers, love & support to my family, we are truly grateful,” she wrote.
In another tweet, the late politician’s daughter emotionally shared: “The memory of my father’s life continues to guide me today, as it always will. Remember to cherish your loved ones. I still can’t believe my heart didn’t stop when yours did, Dad.”
‘A universal experience’
Days after celebrating her birthday on Oct. 23, Meghan spoke at a Good Shepherd Community Care event in Massachusetts about “destigmatizing grief” and her mission to help others “grappling with the immense pain and trauma losing a loved one.”
“I continue to believe the more open, honest and transparent conversations we have about the albatross that is grief and our cultures reticence to address it, the better off we all will be,” she wrote on Instagram ahead of the Oct. 30 talk. “Dealing with my own grief I have been shocked at the lack of resources and conversation we readily have as Americans.”
At the event, she said, “Grief is a universal experience,” according to The Patriot Ledger. She said it felt “natural” for her to count the number of days since Sen. McCain had died, as a method of coping.
“I was in the bowels of the internet trying to figure out what it was going to look like when he died,” she said. “I just wish we would treat it the way we treat birth, as a celebration of life.”
• With CHARLOTTE TRIGGS