5 Years of Grieving: What I’ve Learned So Far After Losing A Parent

Everyone has a different journey through grief. For me, I can’t believe that my dad’s been gone for 5 years. In some ways, it feels like longer. But in other ways, it feels like yesterday.

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Mentally, I’m okay. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am today. It took a lot of therapy, reflection, music sessions, support groups, crying, guilt, and so much more to get here. Honestly, I remember sitting in my college advisor’s office after he passed and just talking to her about everything under the moon. She told me that it was going to take about five years to feel okay. I didn’t believe her. Until now.

It’s been a long road, but I’ve learned a lot and changed a lot since January 8th, 2016.

Grief taught me…

Grief creates gratitude. 
This was the hardest concept for me to accept.  You might not be able to see beyond the difficulty of your loss, but grief can help you to appreciate the love you were lucky to experience, as well as what you still have in front of you. It is a time to reflect, and try to understand how life moves forward and pushes us to our limits.  It’s easy to take things for granted. Grief is a profound way to learn to be more grateful, but the opportunity is only there if you are open to it.

Sadness and happiness can coexist.
For the longest time, I felt guilty and angry when I had a moment of happiness. I remember thinking to myself, “how can you be happy when that person you love so much isn’t here anymore?” It took a while for me to accept the fact that I can enjoy life, but also miss someone at the same time. The heart is a complex piece of machinery and capable of more than one feeling at once.

When you mourn the loss of a loved one, you also mourn who you once were.
Losing someone changes you. It chips away at you and hardens your skin. But that chip is next to the million other chips and tears that you have collected over your time on this Earth. Everything you experience changes you and makes you who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You are the only thing in your life that you can control.
I really do feel like this is the main theme I discovered in therapy. (You’re welcome, I’m sharing a secret I paid a lot of money to grasp.) I’ve definitely learned how to work through issues a lot quicker now. I still get upset about things, but at the end of the day, I remember that some things are out of my control. Be upset, accept it, and move on quicker.

To let nothing go unsaid.
One of the biggest regrets of those who lose somebody to death is that they never said what they needed to say when they had the chance. Whether you are angry at the person that you love, have unresolved issues, need their forgiveness or forget to tell them exactly how much you love them, make sure you say it today. You never know when you may lose the opportunity to do so.

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To be kind and compassionate.
Others are hurting. All. The. Time. I have a new appreciation for when I encounter a grumpy person. What has their day been like? Did they get bad news? Are they fighting with a spouse? Facing a divorce? Losing a friend? Grieving a loved one? I just stop and think a little bit more now. I am not so quick to judge when others seem less than pleasant.

To not sweat the small stuff.
After dealing with great heartache, it’s not easy to be petty. The small things become even smaller. The important things become more important. 

People who say they know what you’re going through really don’t.
I know, because I’ve said it before and I was wrong. Someone might be able to relate to your pain or understand how you feel, but they’ll never truly feel your loss the same because all relationships are different and very personal. No two people will ever experience a loss the same, and no one’s loss is worse than the other.

To be true to yourself.
A life of no regrets is one that was lived in alignment with your true self. Sometimes, when somebody in our life dies it serves as the reminder that we need that some things just do not matter. For example, the opinions of the people around us, especially on social media. A death can remind us that our happiness and being true to ourselves is what is most important of all.

Time does not actually heal all wounds.
We just learn how to live with the pain easier over time. After all these years, I still feel an emptiness inside me. A hole that can never be filled. But I’ve come to love that hole and live with it because it represents a person and experience that shaped my life and made me who I am. That hole honors its place in my life forever.

I am resilient, and I am strong.
It’s amazing what the human mind and body can withstand. When I reflect on the good and bad over the past five years, I can’t help but remember that I got through that. There were times where I didn’t think I would, but here I am.

If you’re at the beginning of your grief journey, I wish I could tell you that your wounds are going to heal. I wish I could tell you that the pain stops, and the pings of missing your loved one stop coming. They don’t. But I can leave you with one of my favorites quotes – it’s the best way I can describe how the past five years have been:

“As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

So, while I will always miss my dad and will always feel the pain of my loss, I will also always keep him close by living my life in a manner that would make him proud. My grief will always be a part of me, so I decided to make friends with it, accept it and be grateful for it.

Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you know that you are not alone. Believe in your strength and take one day at a time. You will get through this. xoxo

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