I remember it like it was yesterday. The calendar was about to turn to September and I was 18 years old about to turn another year older. I was shopping for a new laptop for college in a big box electronic store with my mom when we got the call.
My parents divorced when I was very young—too young to really remember. For as long as I could remember it was just me and my mom—Dad would poke his head in a couple times a year, stick around for a few days then be gone again just as quickly as he came. As the years passed by his visits got less frequent and as I grew older, I developed a sense that he wasn’t going to be around for the big milestones in my life—not because I saw less and less of him but because I started to understand that the lifestyle he led would not in fact sustain his life unless he made a change.
Then came that warm August day and the phone call that would turn my gut feeling into reality. My dad had passed away.
At first I was able to carry on the normal function of my life. I started school and kept working—I remember going to work the day after I got the news and my boss pulled me aside giving me permission to take time off. “I’m okay” I told him and went about business as usual. The truth is, I was okay in those first few weeks—life as I knew it didn’t look any different. There wasn’t one less person in our house or clothes hanging in a closet that would never be worn again—I lacked the initial shock of “this person is gone” because I didn’t see him on a regular basis, in fact I hadn’t seen him in five years.
As the weeks wore on and summer turned into fall, I slowly started to succumb to the weight of the loss. At a glance—I dropped out of school, stayed in bed with the covers pulled over my head, sustained by not much more than donuts and sleep. By November I was sick. Cough, sore throat and runny nose for weeks—then there was a shift. One day the symptoms of the sickness outweighed the power of the sadness and all I wanted in that moment was to start feeling better. I went to the doctor to get on antibiotics—I toyed with the idea of asking for an anti-depressant but chickened out. As my body began to heal I started to feel relieved. I didn’t feel physically awful anymore and the next thing I knew I was ready to get out of bed.
Looking back on that time my memory is very foggy. The days and nights ran together—I remember the tears, the donuts and feeling completely void of desire to do anything but lay in that bed. I give whatever respiratory bug that inhabited by body that fall the credit for pulling me out of the darkness but in my heart of hearts I know it was divine grace.
This summer marks 10 years since that fateful day. Although I have been revived as a contributing member of society, the sadness still creeps in—never longer than a day or two. However, I find myself thinking about my dad a little more often around the last week in august and until the dark day passes.
To be completely honest, I don’t know if there will ever come a day
where I won’t feel a twinge of sadness when I think about my dad. My hope is for continued healing but my sense is that our parents are a part of us—regardless of how well you know them—so to lose a parent is to lose a little part of your soul. The only thing to expect with certainty after a parent dies is that life will be different. What that difference looks like is likely to change from year to year and decade to decade. The most important thing you can do for yourself is pay attention to what you need and graciously give yourself those things.
Whether you’ve lost a parent or just want to know some things about a healthy grieving process, here are a few insights I’ve picked up from my experience…
Feel what you feel. When grieving the loss of a loved one we all need to go through a season where we genuinely feel our emotions. We must put aside distractions and silence the voices that try to tell us how we “should” or “shouldn’t” be handling the situation and just sit with whatever emotions come up. In this time it is imperative that you remind yourself that you are loved and not alone—be gentle with yourself—you’ve experienced a great loss.
Take care of yourself physically. That’s right, I’m actually NOT recommending a diet of donuts and spending months on end lying in bed. If that happens it’s okay (see be gentle with yourself above) but when you start to hear that voice telling you it’s time to get up—listen to it!
Your mind and emotions are going through great stress, which can even turn into physical symptoms. Take care of yourself by eating well-balanced nutrient rich foods and by getting some exercise. Endorphins may be the only way to experience positive feelings during this time, so take a break from the sadness and let your body generate a little sweat.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. I may have chickened out of talking to my doctor about the grief I was experiencing at that time but looking back I regret not getting the help.
If you (or a friend you know) are experiencing any of the following symptoms please consider taking a courageous step and ask for professional help…
– Experiencing active suicidal ideation—meaning more than just wanting to see your loved one again but actually thinking about a way to die and contemplating carrying it out. Please do not hesitate and seek immediate help.
– Difficulty getting out of bed and/or taking care of hygiene for more than several weeks.
– Having difficulty “moving on with life” after many months or even years.
-The grief is interfering in relationships and the ability to allow yourself to love another or to be loved. This feeling can be very isolating during a time when you need to know that you are not alone.
– Turning to substances, sex, food and/or other compulsive behaviors to manage the pain of the loss or to numb out.
– Feeling guilt that dictates your behavior over still being alive after a tragic event when others close may have died in the event.
– Pervasive emotional numbness that is interfering with your enjoyment of life, connecting with others, or self many months or years after the death.
– Neglecting children who need you during the grief. Children are dependent upon adults so it is important to get support quickly for their benefit to help them manage the loss and not create another loss in their lives by becoming emotionally absent to them.
– If someone has suggested seeking the help of a professional.
Coping with the loss of a parent is something that most of us will experience in our lifetime—some earlier on than others. If you’ve yet to experience this loss but are currently walking with someone who has remember that hugs have healing power, listening ears can relieve burdens and moments of laughter can lift even the heaviest of spirits. We are all in this together.
Image via Modern Hepburn