It’s been 11 years’ since I lost my dad aged 13 and I can honestly say that the journey of grief is one hell of a rollercoaster. When you lose a parent at any age you learn some pretty tough life lessons but when you lose a parent as a child/teenager, you learn things that you never imagined you would need to.
I may have only had 13 years with Dad but I would take those 13 years with him over a lifetime with someone else any day of the week.
To mark the 11th anniversary of Dad’s death, I’ve reflected on what I’ve learnt since that fateful day.
- It takes a long time to sink in
When I was first told my dad had died I screamed, the most blood curdling scream you will ever hear. But then there was nothing, of course I was upset and scared but it didn’t really sink in. It was like being stuck in a bad dream that you just cannot wake up from and for that first year I was just on autopilot. I did whatever it took to not acknowledge the fact I was never going to see my dad again. Things did eventually catch up with me and I began to feel less numb but it took a good 12 months.
It’s terrifying to accept and confront the pain that losing a parent leaves but in order to grieve you have to do it.
- It’s okay to show your grief
When dad first died, I tried my hardest to be strong and not let any of my family or friends see how much I was suffering inside. My mum was already heartbroken and I didn’t want to add to her heartbreak by breaking down in front of her.
I remember that my paternal Grandmother came to take care of us and in that moment I made a conscious decision not to show my grief to anyone. Now this might seem strange but I had never let my Grandmother see me cry and I didn’t want her or anyone else to think I was weak. So, I sat in my room for weeks on end writing poetry about grief to trick people into thinking I was coping. When in actual fact, I was sat at my desk crying my eyes out so that I could go back downstairs with a smile on my face. It’s only now that I realise if I had just opened up and shown my emotions, my journey through grief may have been a hell of a lot easier.
- You will emphasise their best qualities and refute any negative story
Something I never realised before I was chucked onto this journey of grief is that when you lose someone close to you, you tend to idolise them. Why this is I still don’t really know but for me I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone criticising my dad when he couldn’t defend himself. I also didn’t want anyone who didn’t know him to think there was anything bad about him. 11 years on and I now know this is ridiculous, of course my dad had his faults, we all do – no one is perfect. He particularly struggled with DIY, not matter how hard he tried it just was not his strong point. Remember, it is only natural to want to remember the positive things first and foremost but it’s just as important to remember that it is okay to have negative memories too.
- You’ll probably feel guilty at times but you need to forgive yourself
I’ve gone through all of the moments with my dad a thousand times and beaten myself up for not being a perfect daughter. The times I laughed at him for being dramatic when he was in pain or the times I told him I didn’t want to speak to him when he told me off but I now know there’s no need to feel guilty because he knew exactly how much I loved him and I know how much he loved me.
When you’re feeling guilty, just take a step back and focus on a time you made your loved one happy.
- Memories fade and that’s okay
I still remember the day I woke up and suddenly realised that I could no longer remember the smell of dad’s cologne or how he sounded. In that moment my heart broke into a million pieces all over again as it felt as if he was slipping away from me. The memories fade slightly more with every year that passes. But even though some memories will fade, the most important ones will stay with you forever. I can still remember all the times dad would kiss me goodnight and tell me he loved me, I still remember jumping into his arms for a hug as soon as he walked through the door and I still remember all the times he stuck up for me when I had no one else in my corner. These are the memories that you will cherish forever, the ones that made you who you are today.
- Milestones come with a unique pain that never goes away
When you lose your parent, every day is a challenge for the first year or so and then as time goes on you will settle into your new normal. That is of course until milestones appear, big birthdays, exam results, big life decisions etc.
It still breaks my heart to think that my dad never saw me learn to drive a car, turn 18, 21 or graduate from University and when I think about the fact that my dad will continue to miss out on all of the important milestones in my life, it’s hard to cope.
It’s been over a decade now and on the whole, I’m okay – I’ve come to accept that this is my new normal but when a milestone appears the pain comes flooding back.
There are ways to keep your parent involved in your milestones however. For example, at Christmas I have a bauble with a photo of Dad in that I hang at the top of our tree every year so that he is always involved. I have his graduation certificate hung up next to mine and my brother’s so that he can be part of our achievements and I have a charm with dad on my bracelet so that he comes with me wherever I go.
- The person you have lost is still with you
It took me a while but I eventually realised that although he’s not physically here, my dad is with me every moment of every day. I know he’s there when I feel completely alone and suddenly a memory of him pops into my head. Most crucially I know he’s with me when I look in the mirror and see his chocolate brown eyes and his smile reflecting back at me
- You will think about your loss every single day
Unlike some difficult moments we go through that become part of our past losing a loved one stays just as prevalent in our present and future. Every day something happens that I wish I could tell Dad about. I want to tell him about my day at work. I want to call him and tell him about my weekend plans. And just recently after injuring myself in a car accident, I wanted to curl up on his lap as I did when I was little and have him tell me that everything will be okay.
- Life is short, make the most of it
It sounds cheesy but it’s true and too often we don’t realise this until we lose someone we love. Whether it’s booking that holiday you’ve been dreaming of, buying that dress that makes you smile, calling your grandparents for a chat about your day. Take time to do what makes you smile – these are the memories you will look back on in years to come.
- Your parents are people too
As a child, my dad was the ultimate snuggler, the greatest bedtime story reader, the one I went to when I wanted yet another cuddly toy.
What I didn’t realise was that he was his own person too, he had fears and aspirations just as I do.
It’s only as I’ve grown older that I’ve learnt who my dad really was behind the mask of “Daddy” and it’s because of what I’ve learnt that I have an even bigger appreciation for everything he did for us. There were countless bedtime stories and pleas for him to do his funny voices when he should have been preparing an important report for work. Long bike rides in the summer sunshine when all he wanted to do was relax on the sofa. Playing tennis and badminton in the garden to help improve my hand-eye coordination even when he was tired. All these little things that at the time seemed so insignificant, all done by a man who was desperately trying to make his little girl smile.
Now I can see that even with his own personal struggles, all Dad wanted to be was a good father and I wish more than anything I could tell him how much I appreciate everything he did for us and tell him just what an amazing father he was.
- Tell your loved ones you love them like your life depends on it
As a family we would always say “I love you” to each other before bed but I never really understood the importance of this until we lost Dad. Now I treasure the memories of kissing him goodnight and telling him I loved him and hearing those words “I love you more” as I settled into bed. In the darkest moments of grief, I have been able to look back on those moments and remember that Dad knew exactly how much I loved him.