We’ve all been affected by one way or another by loss. Whether the loss of a loved one or the loss of a distant relation. And if you haven’t yet experienced it, you someday will. It’s easy to let depression and self-pity take over during this time of loss. I choose to look at what I can learn and how I can continue to find happiness, even during the dark days.
1. It will always get worse before it gets better.
Because I was so young when my dad passed, I was numb to the reality of what I had lost. It wasn’t until my teenage years I truly grasped the cold, hard truth. A particular instance I remember was during my junior year of high school. I was facing the choices of colleges, dating and figuring out who and what I wanted to be. The thought of these big changes happening without my dad weighed on me. I don’t think I’ve ever cried like I did that night. It was as if the 9 years without my dad had all been compacting until this breaking moment. It was a night I spent alone, in my room. Although unknown to others, this was a defining moment for me. I remember crying out asking the universe why it had to be so hard. As I got older, not only did I more clearly understand the loss of my father, but I was now going through things I needed him most for. Since that time, there have been moments that made my dad’s death seem harder, but there have also been moments where the pain has gotten better.
2. The people you lose are still with you.
My dad is still here with me every day. I feel him when passing a construction site with a crane, because he used to wear this goofy yellow ball cap with a crane on it. I see him when I look into someone’s blue eyes and remember his. I know he’s there in the moments when I feel totally alone. Most importantly, I know he’s there when I look in the mirror. From the dirty blonde hair that is his, to his smile that reflects back at me.
3. You’ll think about it every day.
Sometimes we go through hard times and they become a part of our past. But losing someone is just as prevalent in the past, present and future. Something happens every day that I wish I could tell him about. Like the other day when I ate chicken fingers and I wanted to tell him how it reminded me of that grill he took us to as kids. I want to call him and tell him about the job interview I just walked out of and how horribly awkward I was during it. I want to tell him about the amazing guy that asked me on a date and how I really feel like there’s something special about him. All the little things that happen every day keep the memory of my dad alive.
4. No one can fill the void.
Losing someone, especially someone as close to you as a parent is, leaves a hole in your heart. It starts as an emptiness that fills every aspect of your life. There may be many people or things you try to fill that emptiness with, but the reality is that you need it. You need to find the beauty in it. The beauty is having someone you loved so much, that no one and nothing will ever replace them. It’s how lucky I was to have been my daddy’s buckaroo for his time here. To have had such an incredibly loving and close relationship with him that losing him has left such a void in my life. Queen Elizabeth II said “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Nothing will ever fill the hole left in your heart and in your life by the loss of someone close to you, but the love you have for them makes it worth it.
5. You can keep their memory alive, but don’t dwell in the loss.
A balance is needed between remembering them and being able to move on from the loss. We cannot dwell on the tragedy of losing someone and forget the wonderful life that is still around us. This includes feeling sorry for ourselves and letting bitterness fill our lives. No, it’s not fair that my dad died. And yes, I am still sad about it every day. But I have been able to live such a wonderful life in tribute to him. There is no better way to remember my dad than to take this life he gave me and make the most out of it.
6. Family should be first.
The absolute best moments in my life have been shared with my family. They are a gift and we have to treat them as such. Without my family, I would be nowhere. And the loss of my father has only taught me to love them harder and cherish them more. To have the support of my family through life and through the loss of my father, has been truly the greatest blessing. Through any and every thing, family is there. Take advantage of the time given with them and love with no regrets.
7. You have to live your life to the fullest.
I know, cheesy, cliché, but true. We never know when it may be our last day or someone else’s. Use each day to its fullest capacity. Whether that be reading one more chapter, calling your mom (even though she always talks your ear off), reaching out to an old friend or running one more mile. Take life for what it’s worth. More time is virtually the only thing we can’t buy these days. Treasure that and maximize it. Learn to prioritize. We all get busy with the logistics of being human, but let’s get busier about simply enjoying life.
8. Parents are people too.
When I was 8, my dad was Snuggler Extraordinaire, the man to talk to when I wanted yet another kitten, and (among many other things) a professional goof ball. Sometimes we don’t realize that our parents are people too. They aren’t perfect, they have struggles, they have dreams and aspirations just like us. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned more about who my dad actually was. He wasn’t just a dad. He was his own person too. So when I look back on the things he did for me and the good memories I have of him, I gain a greater appreciation for all those little things. They were dance parties to Bare Naked Ladies in the morning when he should’ve been preparing a report for work. It was letters to his mom about how he wanted to be a good father. Or notes left for his silly little girl when he was already late getting to the airport for a business trip. All these struggles and sacrifices were made by a man to bring a smile to an 8-year-old’s face despite all the responsibilities and obligations outside the home. That’s what made my dad who he truly was, a person who through all of his own personal struggles, wanted to be a good father.
9. The value of handwritten letters or notes is priceless.
My dad was away for business and personal reasons a lot. But when he left, there would be a note waiting for me. These little letters, cards and notes handwritten by my dad are my greatest treasure. Not only was it important to him to let me know he loved me, but it was important for me to have memory of that. Text messages get deleted, phone calls go forgotten. But the collection of reminders from my dad that he loved me, are something I can and do read anytime, any day. Through them, his love is not forgotten.
10. You should say ‘I love you’ like it’s your job.
It’s the “I love you” as you’re getting off the phone with your mom when you’re hanging with the bros. It’s the “Thank you for always being there for me” to your brother as he saves your butt from a party you shouldn’t have been at. All these things we often leave unsaid. We need more of the mushy, heartfelt proclamations. There are a million and one things I’d love to say to my dad if I could get one more chance. But that’s not how life works. Say it. Say it now. Say it without holding back. Whatever it is you would want them to know if today was their last day, say it.
I continue today, 12 years after my dad’s passing, remembering him and letting my life be a tribute to him. Despite the sadness felt from my loss, I find happiness in the beauty of what still remains of him in my life. That’s the lesson and story I aim to share with all of you. May you find strength on the difficult days, and let the life of the person you loved live on forever in your heart, and in the light you spread to others.