Grieving a Parent (or Any Family Member) Never Really Stops
This article contains descriptions of death and grief over the loss of a parent. If these topics are triggering for you, please text a Crisis Counselor at 741741 or use the mobile click to text button. We’re here for you.
My dad died in July 2017. His health was fragile. He had a rare blood cancer called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). He did every treatment possible before we were finally faced with the last treatment possible: a bone marrow transplant. This treatment is vigorous and takes a huge toll on the immune system. My dad was a trooper. He kept his sense of humor alive through the whole process and then after.
About 7 months post-transplant, my dad became ill. His immune system was compromised because of the transplant, and so he had a hard time fighting off the illness. What started as a cold turned into pneumonia. He was suffering. He was on a ventilator and couldn’t breathe on his own. Eventually, my dad succumbed to his illness.
Losing my dad has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. The roller coaster of emotions has been intense. I’m so grateful for a great support system that helps me through my bad days. Learning about the stages of grief and grieving process has helped me to understand everything I’m feeling. All of those changes day to day - those feelings are normal and okay.
My Stages of Grief
Denial + Bargaining
When my dad died, I remember being in complete shock. I was there when he took his last breath, but in some part of my brain, it didn’t seem real. After we got home, I was sure my dad was still at the hospital. The denial was strong. I thought I could call him and he would come home. I remember making the funeral arrangements with my family, then leaving and completely rearranging all the furniture in my house. I felt like I had to move my body in order to cope and not sit in sadness. If I kept life going, his death wouldn’t be real.
But, it was. It was very real. After his wake and service, the cards kept coming. The flowers piled up on my doorstep. People kept sending us food. It was like life was at a complete standstill. Going to the mailbox every day made my heart sink into my stomach. I even thought, “If I don’t go to the mailbox today, there won’t be any cards and this will all be a nightmare. I’ll wake up and dad will be here.”
I began to make bargains with myself. I thought of every way to try and bring my dad home. If I clean, he’ll come home. If I cook his favorite meal, I can call him and he’ll pick up. If I ate coconut ice cream, he’d for sure re-appear because he’d want some too. Even a year and a couple months later, I still find myself making these little bargains.
Anger and Depression
When my bargaining didn’t work, I’d find myself back in denial, or more recently, anger. I get so mad when something extraordinary happens and I want to pick up the phone to tell my dad. I still haven’t deleted him from my emergency contacts or speed dial. I get angry at him for all the things that happened: “Why didn’t he fight harder?” Then I get angry at myself and my family: “Did we make the right choice to take him off the ventilator?” And I get angry with my higher power: “Why would you take such an amazing man who had so much life left to live away from me?”
I know these questions can’t be answered. When I finally come to the realization that my questions can’t be answered, I slip into depression. I get extremely sad for myself, for my dad, for my family. For the grandchildren he will never meet here on Earth (who don’t even exist yet).
I cry a lot. I also write to my dad a lot. I write him letters and write down memories that we shared. I talk to him too. Out loud, as if he were sitting in the same room as me. I have full on conversations with him. I ask for advice. I tell him about that extraordinary thing going on in my life. I envision my last hug with him, which I remember clearly because it was on my birthday. These are all ways that I have found that help me to cope with my loss.
Struggling with the loss of a loved one this holiday season? Text a Crisis Counselor at 741741or use the mobile click to text button below. You don’t have to suffer alone
I haven’t quite accepted that my dad is gone forever. It’s only been a year and I’m not ready to accept his absence. Yet, I know that’s okay. I think acceptance will come with time, lots of therapy, and grieving. Grieving isn’t a linear process. I know that even as I grow, I will fall back into any of the other stages at any time. The trick will be finding my way back to acceptance.
Dealing with Grief
The grieving process can take anywhere from 2 to 7 or more years. Everyone is different. You’ll see that I never go through my stages in “order”. Grief is like sitting in a room full of mirrors. You throw a ping pong ball and it bounces off all these mirrors. Eventually, when a mirror breaks, you never know which stage of grief will be behind it or what you’ll be faced with. You just get swallowed up in that stage for however long it needs to take residence in you before you go back and throw the ball again. I imagine that eventually; the mirrors stop breaking. After you lose someone, they say it gets better with time. I don’t believe that. I don’t think it gets better. Your life just gets different. It’s a complete reinvention of how you do things and go about your day. You have a new view on things and do things differently. You just...keep going.
Sarah has been a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line for 2 years. She enjoys spending time with her family and cats. In her spare time, Sarah taps into her creative side through singing in a community choir and crafting.