Disclaimer- The following article discusses my personal experience with the grief accompanied with losing someone I love. I felt it was important to share my take on this, since speaking about death is often taboo in our society. I initially didn’t know how to feel or how to deal with my life being so dramatically different, so the points I make in this article are just a few of the major things I've learned while facing this incredible challenge. My hope, is that someone out there on the internet can find some sort of comfort knowing that they are not alone in their distraught feelings, and to finally break the silence on a topic that is extremely important, whether you have been through it or not.
1. It’s not something you ever anticipate.
You don’t wake up one day and just suddenly grow concerned about losing someone close to you. We all go about our days, with rational and irrational fears and concerns, but until the situation is presented to you, it isn't a thought people tend to spend time dwelling on. I certainly, like many people, never wanted to think about a time where one or both of my parents were no longer around. I try my best to be positive and not let any negative thoughts populate my mind. It’s honestly unfathomable to imagine a world without someone that makes up such a huge part of your life. That’s why, when one year ago, I was living the life of an average college freshman, I never could have anticipated what the following year would hold for me and my family. I was focused on attending classes, expanding my social circle, and learning what it’s like to be away from home for the first time.
2. Once you know it’s going to happen, life just doesn’t feel the same
During winter break of my freshman year, my father was diagnosed with cancer. I’m not going to go through great detail, but for months while he was being treated, our family was under the impression that he was doing well and going to make a full recovery back to health. Unfortunately, on June 29 2017, my father relayed the news to our family that more cancer was found in his body, and this time, it was very serious. From that terrible summer day, till his passing on October 15 2017, there were no easy days. Our family was filled with sadness and fear, and of course, hope. Even though most people did not know what my family was going through, I went on with my daily life, even though no day really felt 100% anymore. When someone asked me how I was, or when I got back to school and people asked me how my summer had been, I never really knew how to reply. I wanted to say, “I’m not so great and it was the worst summer I’ve had yet.” Instead, I would just say “ It was okay, nothing special”... every time. No matter how badly I wanted to wake up the next day and just have an overall good day, it always felt like there was a cloud hovering over me. That cloud would often give me rain showers, and other times just hold as a reminder that everyday unfortunately was tinted a little more gray.
3. You are allowed and you should continue living your life before it happens
Of course, losing my father has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. No one ever expects to lose their parent in such a tragic way. Throughout the 3 horrible months that my father was really suffering, I tried my best to not let his illness and our situation take over my life. I went to school, went to parties, did things that brought me happiness and made my days feel lighter. Even though at times I felt guilty for continuing to live my life, I also reminded myself I was there for him every step of the way, whether I was there physically or figuratively. Looking back, not telling most people about the situation and going on with my life as if things were okay was the best decision I ever made. I was able to live my life and not let the sadness completely overwhelm me. I may not have been truly in the mood to go out every time or have a smile on my face, but when I did, I felt some sanity and normalcy after spending so much time in hospitals and taking part in difficult conversations.
4. And especially after
Eventually, you will need to take a step forward. Im still in the early stages of this. I haven’t necessarily grasped this concept yet. I want to continue to live my life, but like grieving, moving forward doesn’t look the same in everyone. To some it may be beginning to go back to the gym to release some stress, to others it may be finally going to a party, not necessarily staying for long, but just getting out of the house. The world keeps on moving, and so should you. This may be the most difficult part of the entire situation, considering you now have to live a life without the person you love. Its certainly not easy, but it is possible, for everyone. Not only is it possible, but it is necessary that you are aware that some day you will have to get up the courage to start living your life again. It takes baby steps, and you should take the time you need to do so, as long as you plan on eventually moving forward. This is for your sanity, and overall wellbeing.
5. The odd things no one ever talks about
So, the pain and sadness really kicked in, full force, the day of the funeral. I had actually thought to myself, a few months prior, how lucky I was to have never attended a funeral. So of course, my fathers was my first, and instead of me thinking about how much I missed him already, I was so fixated on the fact that I was witnessing his body be buried under the ground. I couldn’t help but think about his physical body being beneath me. I found it terrifying and unsettling to say the least. I realize that I had no experience with death before this, but I also found that people rarely ever talk about how weird it is to know that the person you lost is physically on this earth, just buried under us. It’s unbelievable. How come no one ever told me how strange of a feeling it is to watch someone you love be buried? How come no one ever tells you how hard it is to start talking about that person in past tense? I started feeling all of these emotions and having all of these thoughts that I never had before, and I didn’t know if they were at all normal or appropriate. How come whenever someone passes away, we say our condolences and say we are there for that person no matter what, but don’t ever actually expect that person to really reach out to us in need of a favor if we aren't really close to them? Why do people get uncomfortable when I bring up my dad in a story, and it's not even one having to do with him being sick? It's because speaking about death in our culture is rare and causes unwanted feelings of sadness.
6. Support really makes a difference
If I didn’t have my friends at school who have held my hand through out this experience and have been my shoulders to cry on while away from home, I would not be able to go back to school. If I didn’t have my home friends, who flew out to be with me while I was mourning, I would have felt alone. The people I have been blessed with in my life have truly carried me along through out this experience. It is important to have a support system. You may be one to hold in your emotions and not feel comfortable leaning on others, but this is the time for that. You are not bothering anyone. You are not a burden. If you consider someone a good friend, they will be able to lend an ear, a hug, and if you’re lucky, some wisdom. My family has never been closer, and I didn't even think that could be possible. We are so lucky we have each other to vent, cry, love, and everything in between. No one can truly take the pain away, or make you feel less empty, but they can make you feel loved and comforted. My friends and family have lifted me up during this dark time, and have shown me how truly special it is to have people who care in times like this.
7. Nothing anyone says will ever sound comforting or make the situation better
Maybe this is a given, or maybe you expect that when the time comes, people will know what to say to help take the pain away. Unfortunately, no matter how much love and support you have, whether you have an army of people calling and checking in on you everyday or just a few close friends who are there, it makes no difference when it comes to missing the person you lose or accepting the undeniable fate. Love and support helps move you along and slowly return back to “normal” life, but no words can help you not feel sadness when you look at an old photo of the two of you. No book can suddenly fill that void that that person left you with. No phone call can take away that heartbreaking feeling when you go to make a phone call to that person you miss, and then suddenly remember that you can’t. No one is going to pick up. No one is going to call you back. You’re going to wish and pray that someone can just magically take the pain away, but the truth is, that doesn’t happen.
8. Everything you feel is valid
You are allowed to get angry. You are allowed to be sensitive. You are supposed to feel sadness. Confusion. Emptiness. Anxious. Stressed. All of the above. Most important thing to know, is that is initially comes all at once, but with time, I promise, it starts to break up into waves, and it becomes easier and easier to handle. The feeling is still there, but there will be a time where it doesn’t feel overwhelming. There will be a time where you will come up from under the water, and breathe again. May not be today, tomorrow, or the day after that, but the day will come. You are allowed to be scared. Scared of the future without that person. Scared of the milestones you will have and the sadness you will feel knowing they won’t be there. Everything you feel is valid. Grief is real and as hard as it is to accept it when its happening, it helps us heal. You deserve to be healed, and the person you lost wouldn’t want you to be hurting forever.
Of course, this is all still fresh to me. I’m not going to pretend like I know the answer to dealing with pain. I couldn't tell you how I have gotten through this time, but I can tell you that if I can move forward with my life, so can you. There will be good days and there will be bad days. You are strong and capable of coming out of this an even more capable person than you were before. I know that it is hard to make sense of everything, but nothing like this ever makes sense. It's up to you to take this experience and grow from it. Everyday that you wake up is another chance given to you to live your best life, especially in honor of the person that is no longer there to be by your side.