This year marks the second Father’s Day without my dad. I lost my dad on April 12th, 2019, unexpectantly, two days before my 21st birthday. For a small backstory, my dad had surgery on his ankle about 8 months before he passed. It had been healing very well all the way up to January of 2019. That’s when his ankle started to get worse and not heal as well as it had been. However, nobody in my family knew that it had been getting worse. Fast forward to the week of April 12th, he began not feeling well. We all thought it was the flu, including him. Therefore, he still went to work but took it easy.
On the morning of April 12th, I woke up early to leave for my 5 am workout class that I used to teach each week at my gym. He asked me where I was going and I told him I was going to go teach. I didn’t say goodbye or anything since I figured I’d see him in about 2 hours or so and since he was pretty out of it, I figured he wouldn’t really hear me either as I was walking out the door. Little did I know that when I would be coming home 2 hours later after my class, I’d be met at the door with police officers telling me that my dad died. We later found out that he died of sepsis due to his ankle. He was also only 53-years-old.
It’s a difficult story to tell and one that still fills me with grief, guilt, and sadness every single day. Losing a parent is never an easy thing to understand or comprehend especially when it happens so suddenly and unexpectedly. And the old saying, “you never know what you have until it’s gone” had never been so pertinent in my life before.
When you lose your dad in your twenties or lose a parent in general, you really start to see what’s actually important in life and to not take life for granted. You learn many lessons throughout your grief, pain, and heartache as well as you try to move forward and grow through your grief. Therefore, for today’s post, and in honor of Father’s Day, I decided to compile a list of the 10 things I’ve learned after losing my dad in my twenties. Especially, now that it has been a little over a year since his death.
1. You really do find out who your true friends are
I’m honestly not sure if it’s because I was the first of my close circle of friends to lose a parent or if it’s because the didn’t know how to handle the situation. However, I really started to notice who my true friends weren’t and who my true friends were in the beginning right after my dad passed. To be honest, my personality never really changed, I still tried to be fun and enjoy each day, but I think the ‘not knowing what to say’ caused many of my friends to pull away. That, or maybe my situation kept reminding people of their loved ones’ dying in the future. Either way, I’ve come to get over the ones I have lost due to this tragedy in my life, and focus on the true ones’ that were there for me.
I’ve always been more of a quality over quantity person when it comes to friends anyway, and that friend’s who are loyal reveal themselves in time of need. But losing a parent in your early 20’s just means that this process had to happen a lot quicker for me. However, I do have many incredible friends who have been by my side the entire time. And I’m truly grateful for them! In fact, I’m now closer with some old friends of mine who I hadn’t spoken to in years before my dad passed. Those are the people who you know are genuine!
Of course, it sucks to lose your friends. Especially after you lost someone so important in your life. However, if they are willing to leave you during your time of heartache and loss, then good riddance! Let them go! They leave room for people who actually deserve to be there and actually want to help you through your loss. Hold onto those friends!
2. People will say the wrong things
I’m sure you are aware of those generic phrases that we have all been taught to say to someone when they’re grieving. Phrases such as, “They are in a better place,” or “At least they are not suffering anymore, or “Be strong,” etc. Many of these can be frustrating to hear. However, it is important to keep in mind that people who say these things really do mean well. Also, if someone close to you is grieving their parent, please don’t try to compare their situation and say that you know how they feel after your pet died.
With all due respect, I love animals, and the death of a pet is very sad. However, losing a parent, someone who has been with you every single day since your birth is on a whole other level of grief. Just like how a goldfish and a dog are different. A dog and dad are uncomparable as well. I only say this because I’ve had several people try to tell me they know how I feel because they lost their pet.
All in all, keep reminding yourself that these people have your best interest at heart. I sometimes think to myself – what would I have said to myself during that time? And still, to this day, I struggle to think of anything that truly helps. This is because there’s nothing you can really say to make someone feel better or more at peace after losing a parent. All people can do is let you know that they’re there for you, check in on you, and understand that you’ve been touched by something chronic. And it really does change you in a way that only time can really heal.
3. You will feel angry sometimes
Losing a parent sucks. There’s no other way to describe it. Losing a parent before they’ve had the chance to walk you down the aisle, see you graduate from college, meet your future husband and give him his blessing, meet your children, see your sibling graduate high school…fucking sucks. Not to mention, knowing that you will no longer experience Christmas, birthdays, holidays, and other life events, big or small, really, really sucks. And with all of that, you will feel angry.
Not only that, but there will also be times where you feel downright furious at the world and at those who don’t understand what you’re going through. You will feel ripped off and deprived of special moments and experiences that others sometimes take for granted. You will get angry when a friend, partner, or colleague of yours who complains about their parent or gets annoyed when their dad calls them. Because, it hits you at that moment, that you’ll never be able to experience little situations like that again.
And of course, you’ll get angry come Father’s Day when you see heartwarming commercials and get sent hundreds of happy emails about Father’s Day gift ideas for your dad. What I have come to find that truly helps is taking my anger or frustration out on being active and doing things that bring me happiness. I lift weights, run, box, sing in the car, scream, write how I’m feeling, etc. Honestly, whatever it takes. Losing a parent is an awful feeling, but it’s so important to let those feelings of anger out and deal with them in a healthy way. It’s not healthy to keep those feelings bottled in. Just remember that you have every right to feel angry and it’s perfectly normal.
4. My relationships with others have changed
One thing I’ve noticed more recently is that my relationship with other people in my life has definitely changed. Whether it’s good or bad. However, I’m going to talk about bad relationships first. All my life, I have been a people pleaser. And there have been way too many instances (too many to count) where I have put myself last for those who didn’t deserve to be put first. Since my dad died, I have noticed that I am more willing to let go of toxic people in my life.
Plus, my personality type is an INFJ, so when I decide to close the door on toxic people in my life, I slam it and lock it. I no longer put up with negative or toxic people nearly as much I used to before my dad died. Long story short, I no longer take anyone’s shit anymore.
The way that I have come to see it recently is that I’m at a point in my life where if you don’t want to be in my life and you want to walk out (like the not-so-real friends I mentioned in #1), then I am 100% okay with it. After my dad died, I finally began to see people for who they are much quicker and I don’t want to keep being a doormat to toxic people anymore.
Like I mentioned above, I really started to see what was important and who was important in my life after I lost my dad. Therefore, if you want to treat me like dirt or walk out of my life, then I will gladly say goodbye. In future relationships/friendships for example, if you are having mixed feelings and/or want to walk out of my life, then I will let you leave. I don’t give toxic people my energy, love, friendship, or care anymore. And honestly, it feels so good!
At this point, I don’t really care if people want to walk out of my life (toxic or not), because at just 22-years-old, I’ve lost a loved one that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to, and nothing hurts worse than that. So if you have a friend, colleague, or partner, who isn’t treating you right or who doesn’t want to be there for you in your time of need, let them go! Focus on the good and genuine ones!
5. I say I love you to the ones I love more often
Going off of #4, I now put all of my energy and love towards those who I know deserve it and for those who are with me through thick and thin. After my dad died, I felt (and still feel) an intense amount of guilt. All of these past memories hit me and I started to feel guilty that I should’ve shown my dad how much I appreciated him more often. I’m slowly coming to terms with it all now that it has been a year, but of course, those moments of sadness, guilt, and grief will still pop up at you. Grief is like a rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes those emotions are high and overpowering and sometimes they’re not as strong. However, this huge tragedy in my life has allowed me to focus on showing more appreciation and love towards the important people in my life.
I call relatives more often now, I spend more quality time with my siblings, and I say I love you more often to those I really do love. At the end of the day, you never know how much time you have left. All we are truly promised is right now. Therefore, I think it’s so important to let those you love know how much you love and appreciate them. You never know when it’s going to be the last time you say it.
6. You start to treat others with more kindness and compassion
I was raised to treat everyone with respect and kindness. For example, since I was in kindergarten, my mom had always told me to treat others the way that I wanted to be treated. And that little mantra has stuck with me forever. No one can go through life escaping tragedies, hardships, heartaches, stressors, etc. and you will never know when someone is going through one of their hardest times.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop crying, put on a brave face, or even force a smile just to continue with my day and show up for others, myself, and my responsibilities. However, to everyone else, I simply looked like a normal person just going about their day.
With this, small acts of kindness can go a long way! In fact, I feel like small acts of kindness are amplified whenever I’m going through a difficult time. Acts such as a person holding the door for you, the driver in front of you paying for your coffee, or someone simply offering if you need any help with anything do not go unnoticed and make people so beyond grateful. More than you may ever know.
Therefore, regardless of whether someone appears okay (but particularly if they don’t), never be the person to add additional pain, sadness, or stress to their already heavy hearts and burdened shoulders. Take the love you had for your loved one and spread it around to those you need it. Be the person who helps, calms, and brings joy to those you encounter.
7. I appreciate the big and the small moments
One of the biggest things I learned after losing my dad, was that we need to be reminded of just how precious and fragile life is. I learned to appreciate every moment with more sorrow but also with more gratefulness. When someone you love passes away, you start to notice how grateful you are for each moment big or small, and you remain present and savor each minute. Every night out with my friends, every movie night with my mom, every get-together with my older brother – each warms my heart and fills me with gratitude!
In every little or big moment, you begin to notice that you don’t want to be on your phone, distracted by other sources, or focused on anything other than the people around you. You start to appreciate the good people and the good times that are present in your life right now. You learn to live the one life you have.
8. I take better care of myself. Physically and mentally.
Sometimes when you’re struggling with grief, it can be difficult to concentrate on yourself and your needs. You may have other loved ones who are struggling just as hard, if not harder than you, and it can be very easy to drop everything for them and meet their needs instead. However, you need to help yourself and take care of yourself too! You need to be as strong and as healthy as you can, not just for yourself but for your loved ones as well.
With that, take some time to be alone, or go out with your friends, partner, or family members. Indulge in self-care and read a book, take a bath, binge your favorite Netflix shows, go out to your favorite restaurant, and/or take yourself shopping. On a larger scale, book a trip, or escape your current setting for a little bit. It really does help! All in all, do what is good for you, your soul, your path to healing, and your overall health. You are going through something horrible and tragic. Therefore, you deserve to treat yourself and help yourself heal in any way that you need.
9. I’ve accepted the fact that I never got closure
As I mentioned, my dad died unexpectantly and suddenly. I was the last to talk to him at 5 am that morning of his death. And I found out about his death 2 hours later. I never saw it coming. Selfishly, I wish I would’ve known ahead of time. I envy those who had a chance to say goodbye to their parents/loved ones and were able to tell them how much they meant to them before they passed away. However, in the course of a year, I have come to terms with the fact that I never got true closure. The type of closure that they glorify on TV and in movies when someone dies and their whole family was able to be there to say goodbye and give them one last, tight hug.
In reality, however, not everyone comes to terms with their loved one’s mortality. Some never get the chance to make their last moment when their dying loved one meaningful and rememberable. Life is messy, unpredictable, and lots of things will never be easy to handle or given to you in a carefully, packaged way. I needed to accept the fact that I would never get to say goodbye or tell my dad the things I always wanted to say, but just waited too long to say.
Nevertheless, I get a piece of closure by knowing that my dad is always with me through everything I experience. He is always going to be present in my life even though I won’t be able to physically share it with him. But I’ll know he’s there. He’s with me when I listen to our favorite songs and watch our favorite movies. And he will be with me in all of my future accomplishments and milestones as well!
10. Time is the only thing that can truly heal your broken heart
There will always be things you can do, places you can go visit, and people you can talk to, to help ease the pain in your heart – but nothing will permanently heal you the way that time can. The difficult and irritating thing is that we do not have the ability to control time. And although we may wish for time to stop so we can catch our breath or so that we can have time to catch up, we do have the ability to fill our time with as much joy, positivity, kindness, and peacefulness as we possibly can.
One major thing that I have come to find is that there is no timeline when it comes to grief. It comes and goes like waves, but the longer time goes on, we learn to cope and we learn to move forward with our grief and grow through it. The sadness dulls, our happiness comes back and we begin to feel okay to smile, to laugh, and to enjoy life again. That does not mean that we have moved on from our grief and forgotten. It just means that we are trying to move forward and continue living the way that our loved one would have wanted us to.
Grieving is a horrible and strenuous process. I’m am so sorry if you are currently struggling with grief and dealing with the loss of someone that was so incredibly important to you. It does get easier, despite not feeling like it ever will at first. And know that the way you are feeling right now is perfectly normal.
You may not see a light at the end of the dark tunnel, but it is there! Grieving is one of the hardest things that a person can go through. You’ll always have that empty feeling in your heart as though a piece of you has gone with them, but you have to take comfort in the fact that you had someone great to love. Cherish those memories!