As university students, many of us may feel mature as we work towards shaping our futures and start living independently.
But what happens when suddenly this world we’re building for ourselves crumbles around us? When it feels like the earth has shattered into a thousand pieces and you cannot put it back together? When you can’t breathe or think and nothing makes sense anymore? This is a feeling I discovered recently, as I gathered with my family around a hospital bed as my world slipped away in front of my eyes when my Dad passed away.
Because that’s how it felt: the life drained out of me and I fell to the floor in pieces. Everyone will experience grief and loss at some point, and though people have different ways of coping, it’s never easy. I wanted to share my experiences with grief to try to connect with anyone else that may be facing a similar situation. Bereavement leaflets and various Google searches produce streams of information on ‘coping’ and how to ‘deal with grief’, yet I found little related to myself, as a young adult. It’s understandable; it’s uncommon to lose a parent at my age. I never dreamt I’d carry my Dad down a church aisle at the age of 20 – it’s supposed to be the other way round. There are so many things that nobody tells you or prepares you for when faced with a parent’s passing. Not that it’d have helped, because regardless of your age and whether it was due to a long illness or a freak accident, I believe nothing can ever prepare you for the devastation that follows.
For anyone else in this situation, the first thing you need to know – and I’m still reconciling myself with – is that there’s no ‘right’ way to grieve. The first few weeks after my dad passed were a blur. I’d get up, cry, reply to the masses of condolences I was receiving, cry some more, attempt to eat and lay in bed. Although mentally and emotionally exhausted, a full night’s sleep wasn’t on the horizon for a while, as images of my Dad flashed in a constant reel through my mind. The night it happened, I lay awake all night and all I could think to do was to write his eulogy, as emotions poured out, like a waterfall. Reading the eulogy wasn’t something I could have prepared myself for; it was the hardest speech I’ve ever had to give, but also one I’m immensely proud of and know my Dad would be too. I can only imagine how difficult it was for my 16 year-old sister as she read her tribute through stifled sobs. There’s no age where losing a parent will be easy, but it feels like the younger you are, the less fair it is.
A typical piece of advice I’ve been given so far is to ‘distract yourself’ – don’t. When you lose someone they become the only thing your mind can focus on and you feel constantly suffocated by all thoughts of them. If, even briefly you find yourself distracted from this, everything comes flooding back like a tidal wave and there’s this irrational guilt and hurt that you were thinking about something else. I personally hate being distracted, because I miss Dad so much that I want to remember him constantly. I’m not sure why, but the idea of being distracted seems like an insult to his memory, and those that keep telling me to carry on as normal don’t seem to comprehend how exhausting that is. There’s no ‘normal’ anymore, and that’s okay. Of course, everyone’s different, and this certainly isn’t a guide on ‘how to grieve’, so if you need a distraction, then go get it. You absolutely have to put yourself and your family first at this time. Don’t feel like you have to return to your life before this, there’s no rush and no definitive timeline for grief. For now, I know it’s ok for me to just mope.
If you find that moping isn’t for you, there’s a good chance anger will be. I personally tend to flit between the two. Never having been an angry person, the irrational anger that builds up in me scares me somewhat. I’m angry at my Dad for having to go, and then angry at myself for ever thinking I could be angry at Dad. Then I’m angry at his doctor for not telling us just how serious his condition was. In the few weeks between diagnosis and death, although we spent much time together as I was at home alot, there’s so much more we could have done and said if we’d known those were our final weeks. However, I find that the hardest anger to deal with stems from the trivial and seemingly pathetic ‘problems’ that everyone else faces in their day-to-day lives. I know it isn’t fair for me to think like this, as I’ve had these trivial problems myself before, but it’s hard to care about someone’s broken nail or relationship problems when your whole world’s come crashing down. Let yourself be angry, take time out of life even, if that’s needed.
With emotions running high and everything still so raw, this hasn’t been easy to write. I hope it may help others to realise that you’re not alone, you’re not grieving in the ‘wrong’ way, and you certainly don’t have to be ‘okay’ for as long as it takes. Do whatever you need to do, you should never feel like you need to ‘get over it’, but hopefully (and it may be a long way off for me yet), there’ll be a day where you wake up and feel ready to take on the world with only happy memories of the person you’ve lost. For those lucky enough not to relate, if you know someone facing loss, remember there are no ‘right’ words or phrases. Sometimes a hug and a silent cry is all we need. We may be erratic and distant, but we just want to know you’re there whenever we feel ready to break the silence.