On losing a parent
I’ve been remembering my dad a lot lately. More than I normally do, which is not a lot. I have photos of him around my house. His paintings on my walls. I even have a tiny shrine. You could say he’s all around me, with his smiles and his brush strokes. But he doesn’t fill my thoughts that much. Not anymore. I get terribly sad if I think about him too much. I’ve learned to live without him but I still find incredibly unfair and heartbreaking that I will never get the opportunity to have him by my side anymore. Not for any celebration, not for any fall, not even for a Sunday lunch. That I’ll have to accept 14 years worth of memories and that’s it. That’s where my mind wanders to when I think about him too much and that is precisely what makes me fall apart.
I fell apart yesterday as I was falling asleep, and I didn’t remember until today that yesterday was precisely 14 years since the day my dad died. I have lived the same amount of years with my dad as those I’ve lived without him. I also fell apart a little writing these lines.
I’ve been thinking more about him lately because a couple of close friends and someone I recently met have been dealing with the loss of a parent for a while. I remember that grief very vividly and my heart breaks and grows every time I see them struggle. I see my teenage self, trying to be strong, trying to keep enjoying life, while having to deal with the most extreme form of desolation I’ve ever felt in my life.
My instinct is to offer the biggest hug I can give and just be there, making space for those feelings, and responding with compassion and warmth. But I’m so grateful for that vulnerability, and having gone through it, I feel like I can offer more. I struggle with saying these things in person. I want to be respectful and not make them feel uncomfortable talking about things they might not be ready to talk about. I know I wasn’t for a while. So I’m going to write them here instead hoping they will offer comfort to these people in my life.
The truth is that words don’t really matter much. I can’t remember any advice or words of comfort I received back then. I only remember a couple of vivid images, lots of feelings, who was there, and who wasn’t. Who let me express my grief and for whom I felt the need to hide it.
I want to tell you that you don’t need to hide your grief from me, ever.
That I understand it and will never think less of you for shedding a tear (or a bunch). That you will learn what it feels like to miss someone your entire life and to make peace with that. That it will have unforeseeable consequences on your character and the way you choose to live. That most of those changes will be for the better and some will be for the worse, and you’ll have to learn to be aware of them. It’s taken me a while. That you’ll begin to feel an immediate connection to people that have gone through the same as if we were part of a creepy club. That you’ll be made aware of your loss in the most unexpected moments, with a newsletter for Mother’s day or watching a fictional mother dying on TV. But you will also smell their perfume on a stranger when you least expect it and it will make your day. That you’ll eventually forget details, like the sound of their voices or what their presence felt like. And at the same time, the strongest memories of them will start to define you. Why do you think I love hugs so much? That you must live your grief for as long and as strongly as you need to. Don’t hide it, don’t ignore it. It won’t go away. And if you don’t go through it now, you will go through it later. Trust me. That your grief can suddenly transform into a new and stronger appreciation of life. That this will definitely get easier with time but will always, always, suck.
But more importantly that, in many ways, she and her love for you lives on in you.