To the young adults out there who have lost a parent, this one is for you.
You experienced a great loss and you’re still so young with so much life ahead of you. You often wonder how you can make it through the rest of your life without the parent who is no longer here. I see you struggling. On the outside, you hold it together. You keep a smile and hold your head up high; you want to take on the world and embrace life. You meet new people and want to tell them your story, because maybe they understand. Maybe they know what it feels like. You keep a smile on your face.
Every day is a good day until a memory strikes you. And it happens so fast.
You could be having a normal day until something happens. Something triggers your memory. It could be a song. It could be a picture. It could be a moment; a quick glimmer of a memory that stops you dead in your tracks and leaves you breathless. You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember the memory. Because that is all you have now—memories.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning of it all, tears roll down your face. And then those tiny tears can turn into a few minutes of sobbing. Now, you have to sit down, because the memories, your emotions, are simply too much for you to keep you on your feet. You wonder when it will get easier. You wonder when a Tom Petty song or a white Ford pickup won’t leave your heart aching. You wonder if it will ever get easier.
Because you’ve heard that it does get easier. You’ve heard that the deep heartbreak will turn into a dull ache. It won’t be so sad. It won’t be so bad. It gets better. Someday . . .
People have told you the memories won’t always make you want to cry, won’t always make you feel so sad. One day, it will make you smile instead of weep. Yet, you still experience the heartbreak and the daily reminder that your parent is no longer here on Earth. And it just hits you. It could be that you go to pick up your phone to give them a call, and the sudden realization that you can’t isn’t fair. Or, you may want to share some amazing news like you bought a house or that you’re pregnant—but you can’t, and again, it’s not fair.
It’s not fair that all of these new and exciting events going on in your life also make you feel sadness in your heart. You feel sadness because they aren’t here to see it. They aren’t here to talk about it, to live it with you. Maybe it’s seeing you walk across the graduation stage or to hold their first grandbaby; whatever it may be, they aren’t here, and the bitterness that you feel about that sometimes overwhelms and consumes you.
You try as hard as you can to live your best life, because people keep telling you, “That is what they would want.” But it’s hard. I know that this is so hard. You don’t understand why these people even say this because normally, it’s those people who have no clue to what it feels like.
No. When you’re young and lose a parent, it’s a loss like no other. It’s not like losing a grandparent who lived a long and beautiful life. It’s a bitter loss. An unfair loss. You are still so young, you still need your parents. It’s a loss that takes you for all you have and leaves you blinded by pain. It’s a loss that leaves you doubting life, doubting things that you could have, should have, done. I should have called more. I should have visited more. I wish I was different. I could have helped. It’s a loss that leaves you thinking these thoughts. They are cruel thoughts; constantly reeling through your brain like a hamster on a wheel. It can eat you up if you let it.
Don’t let it.
It’s a loss that not everyone understands until they go through it. Meeting someone else who has lost a parent feels soothing, almost like you can open the floodgates and talk for hours about feelings, memories, and the past. You may know a few of these people and you keep them close to you. You, unfortunately, are now a member of an unspoken club and we have to stick together.
And then the birthdays happen. You spend the whole day wishing you could call them on their birthday. You spend time wishing that you called all those previous years. You spend the whole day thinking about them. You may visit their grave or a place they loved to be at while here on Earth. You may look at pictures, listen to old voicemails, or do something kind for a stranger in their honor. Whatever it may be, this day is hard for you. Their birthday is another constant reminder that they aren’t here with you.
And then comes the anniversary of their death. It never gets easier. It may be one year, it may be 10 years. It’s still hard. Instead of making it a sad day, you want to smile, so maybe you do something kind for a stranger. Maybe you plant some flowers, visit with a friend, or just sit on your sofa and cry. That is perfectly alright, too. You can cry today. Just cry. You can still grieve, it doesn’t have to be a fresh loss, you can grieve for as long as you need to.
That leaves me with one last thought, my friend: you don’t have a time limit on your grief. You can take this process for as long as you need to. It takes time. You may never get over it. It’s been a little over two years for me and I am still grieving. I’m not crying every day, but I am still grieving in my own way. And that’s fine. There may always be a piece of your heart broken from this loss. I want you to know that it’s OK. I hope you find something that repairs that broken piece. I truly believe that my sons were placed on this Earth to fill my broken piece. My loss still hurts. I grieve in my own way, and you can, too. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.
So I’m closing this letter with a final goodbye. I want to tell you, my friend, that I know what it’s like. All of it. The heartbreak, gut-wrenching sadness, grief, what-ifs, and blame. I know it all too well. You are never alone in this. And I wish that I could tell you that it gets better, but I’m still waiting for that myself.
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