Grief will vary from person to person, though there are certain emotions and circumstances that many of us will experience. It can often be a source of comfort to hear from someone who has experienced the emotional rollercoaster of losing a loved one and has come out on the other side. With this in mind, we present this guest post from Kiri Nowak, who blogs over at The Content Wolf. Kiri shares her experience of bereavement after losing a parent, and some things she’s learned along the way.
It’s hard to even put how it feels to lose a parent into words, but the key thing to keep in mind is there is no normal way of reacting. I haven’t just felt one emotion since my father passed, my experience has been more like travelling the world. Each stage of your journey will be completely different, and as you wander through your grief, emotions will come and go.
It’s been nearly 11 years since my father died (I was 18 when it happened), so I think I can safely say I’ve been through it all; the shock, the sadness, the anger, the guilt, and, eventually, the acceptance. There’s no universal manual to help you deal with the loss of a parent, so when it does happen, a lot of feelings, occurrences and interactions with other people can take you by surprise.
From my personal experience, I’ve put together some things which I experienced that you might not have thought about or expected to happen. As soon as you lose a parent it feels like your life has fallen apart and you are caught up in a whirlwind, but you do eventually get your feet back on the ground, I promise. The pain doesn’t go away, you just learn how to accept it, channel it and use it as a way of cherishing the person who was so cruelly taken from you.
Here are ten things nobody tells you about losing a parent.
It doesn’t sink in for a while
Initially you might not feel anything. It may even seem like you are stuck in a dream, and everything that is going on isn’t really happening. I definitely went through the first month, if not the first year on autopilot, but eventually everything does catch up with you and you start to feel less numb.
It’s particularly hard when you lose a parent because initially you just can’t face the prospect of living your life without them, and the only way for some people to cope is to pretend like it’s not really happening. Confronting and accepting that the pain is there is scary, but you need to do it to start the grieving process.
You don’t have to be strong all the time
When my father died, I tried so hard to be strong for my mum and little sister, and show everybody how resilient and tough I was. But just remember you can only put on an act for so long. Pushing the pain below the surface so no one can see it is exhausting. It’s OK to lose your composure, to have an outburst of emotion in public or privately at home or to completely fall apart. We take a lot of strength from our parents, so when you lose one of them, it’s crushing.
You will remember their best bits
One thing I’ve noticed is that you tend to idolise the parent you’ve lost. Why? Well, firstly, because they were your parent who you respected and loved, but also because you can’t bear to criticise them in any way when they aren’t around to defend themselves. It feels like the easiest way to remember them is in the best possible light. However, it’s important to keep in mind not everyone’s perfect, and it’s OK to have negative memories as well as positive ones.
You will probably feel guilty in some way, but you need to let it go
I’ve gone through the day my father died a thousand times and thought about what I could have done differently. I wasn’t at home the last night he was alive, when he was in pain, for reasons I won’t go into. This kills me. But I can’t change it. I know if my dad was around he wouldn’t hold it against me.
I’ve also gone back and punished myself mentally for all the times that I wasn’t the perfect daughter, or when I was mean to my dad. My mum, sister and I used to gang up on him occasionally, because he was the only man in the house, but that’s nothing unusual and he took it in his stride. It’s not a reason for me to feel bad, because he knew exactly how much I loved him.
This isn’t helpful, and you are just being unnecessarily cruel to yourself. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do or times where you messed up, remember the times you made your parent proud or happy.
How lost you will feel
Your parents cared for you from the moment you entered this world, they nurtured you and showed you the way. So when you find yourself without one of your parents, you immediately feel lost. I think the hardest times for me have been when I’ve really needed to talk to my dad for advice.
When life has been tough, and I’ve needed his strength and his guidance, I’ve felt so lost and alone. But slowly I’ve learned to live with my father’s spirit inside me, and if I’m completely honest, I usually know what he would say or want me to do even though he’s not here to say it.
Childhood memories fade faster than expected
My sister seems to have a much better memory than me, but one thing we both agree on is how hard it is to recall memories. It feels like he’s slipping out my fingers, and as the years pass, the memories fade a little more. However, the important, wonderful, powerful memories never leave you, they stay with you forever.
Like the time when he cried when we made him a photo memory book for Christmas, when his voice boomed at me when he cheered me on at races, and when we sang Bruce Springsteen Glory Days until our lungs gave out on car journeys to Spain. Don’t worry, even if you forget things over time, the best memories will never leave you.
After a year or so, other people won’t really care
People forget you are grieving. They offer their condolences in the first few weeks, sure, but not too long after that, they just get on with their lives, and it hurts. But don’t take it to heart too much, it’s just the way people are. It doesn’t take away from what you are experiencing at all.
Just remember there are others going through the same as you, and they will be much more likely to understand. They will be the only people who truly, wholeheartedly get what you are going through.
For other people life goes on, which is cruel and thoughtless and it will no doubt make you angry. But it shouldn’t, because they just don’t understand. They haven’t been through such a devastating loss. 11 years after my father’s death I still suffer, but my close friends don’t really see it. They can’t relate to the fact that on some days, the pain I feel is still as raw as the day it happened.
How painful important milestones are
When you lose a parent, it’s the big milestones that really test you. The big birthdays, the achievements, the weddings and the thought of potentially having your own kids who will never know their grandad. However, there are ways to include your late parent in these milestones, and as time goes on, you see them as a chance to remember and celebrate their part in your life rather than simply suffering through these events all the time. For example, I’m getting married in eight months, and I’ve found some wonderfully touching and creative ways to make my father a part of the wedding, and these little things will no doubt help me get through the day and remember him with pride.
How hard it is when you are unexpectedly reminded of your loss
Sometimes, you will be doing OK and managing your grief, when something catches you off guard. And then suddenly a surge of powerful emotion hits you like a tidal wave. For me I think the most challenging times have been when something has reminded me of my dad. When I watch a film and someone’s dad dies, or when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of him, or most recently, when I was at a wedding and the bride unexpectedly called for a father daughter dance. Ouch. That hurts, especially as my wedding is coming up. But these moments, even though they are hard, sometimes they are the perfect way to let go of some of that emotion you’ve tried so hard to keep from bursting, and after you’ve had a little cry, you feel a little bit better.
How you eventually come to view your grief with love and appreciation
I’m not going to lie, like I mentioned, at times, the pain is just as raw as it’s ever been. But generally, I’ve entered a new stage of my grief. When I’m reminded of my dad, I use it as an opportunity to cherish his memory, and to dedicate a minute or two of my day to him, and someday, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you will be able to do the same. Now I live every day and my father is there no matter what I’m doing, and I’m grateful he touched my life in such a powerful and beautiful way.