Losing a parent

Losing a parent at a young age

Today is Father’s Day and it seems everyone is acknowledging it in one way or another and I felt that it was the right time to share this post. I want to discuss dealing with the death of a parent and for those who are new to my blog or don’t know me personally, my dad sadly passed away in September 2012, when I was 20 years old.

Losing a parent when you’re young is pretty unusual and because of that, there doesn’t seem to be much out there written about what it’s like. It’s not often you’ll have a friend who’s been in the same position as you and that can feel pretty isolating, so I wanted to share the things which are ‘OK’ to do when you lose a parent. I know it’s not one that a lot of my readers (thankfully) will relate to but if sadly you have been in this position or know someone who has, I hope it helps.

*Braces self and takes a deep breath*

It’s OK to feel suffocated.
In the immediate stages of grief, everyone rallies round and that’s great. It shows that they care. But whilst it’s lovely that everyone is pulling together to support your family, having a full house and constant stream of visitors can be so over-bearing it hurts. That doesn’t make you ungrateful that these people are trying to help. I personally was back at university less than a week after my dad passed away simply because it was too much to be around so many people.

It’s OK to talk when you know people don’t know what to say.
Your friends will feel awkward, they’ll walk on eggshells and sometimes it will stop you wanting to discuss your grieving process as you feel like you’re burdening them with the stress of dealing with you. Trust me, you’re not. Your friends would rather they felt at a bit of a loss at what to say than know you were bottling it up.

It’s OK to laugh when you’re grieving.
When you’re surrounded by people in the midst of grief and tears and silence, it’s difficult not to feel guilty for feeling happy about something else. I remember being torn and thinking I should be sad 100% of the time, just like how the kid on Love Actually describes it, when he says that he should be sad about his mum dying but can’t help that he’s fallen in love with Joanna. I still remember the first time I properly laughed. My best friend’s sister sent me a message to tell me she was there for me if I ever got bored of my best friend talking to me about cats and old people (my BFF has a cat obsession and was working in a care-home alongside uni). I laughed so much it hurt and it was the first time I’d done that since before he died.

It’s OK to look after yourself.
So many people will say to the child who has lost a parent ‘look after your mum’ or ‘look after your dad’ or ‘take care of your sister’ or ‘make sure your brother is OK’. This is so wrong. This is the time where your extended family and friends step up to do the looking after, not time for you to be responsible for the well-being of your other parent. I only realised this when a friend of my mum’s took me aside at the funeral and said to me ‘people will tell you to look after your mum but that’s what everyone else is for. You need to look after yourself and not abandon your degree’. Words cannot describe how much I needed to hear this and if you ever find yourself in the position of supporting a friend through the loss of a parent, please tell them this. And if you find yourself losing a parent – remember this.

It’s OK to mark it in whichever way you like.
Who the hell knows what the etiquette is around anniversaries, birthdays and the like? Making it up as you go along apparently seems the best way forward. It’s OK if you want to book the day off work if you think you’ll be an emotional wreck. It’s OK to get your mates out for a drink to raise a glass in memory. On my dad’s birthday, a couple of months after he died, I set off fire lanterns with a couple of friends from university to mark it. One of them hit a car, another caught fire and landed in a tree. Whilst it wasn’t quite how I saw that night ending, I like to think my dad would have laughed at us and our efforts.  

It’s OK to mention them in passing.
At my age, as I tend to discuss plans with my mum and sister, it’s assumed that my parents are divorced but it’s OK to mention someone who’s passed away. Aside from my dad providing a bank of hilarious anecdotes from my lifetime, when it’s new friends who haven’t known me long enough to know better, I’d rather they knew. Some people might feel uncomfortable to mention it, but it’s OK if you do want to.

It’s OK not to feel better straight away.
People may tell you that time is a great healer, to get on with it, to go do something fun to distract yourself and that life goes on. None of this is helpful and it’s OK for things to feel like shit. Deal with things how you want to and if you don’t start feeling better? Seek help. Help is provided to those who are grieving because people need it so never be ashamed to ask for it. (There are links at the bottom of this post).

I know this has been a long one and if you’ve made it to the end, you deserve a medal. This isn’t a comfortable topic to discuss and I do feel like I’ve put a lot of very personal stuff out there so go easy on me in the comments, but I felt like this needed to be shared. These are the things I’ve learnt from personal experience but I think if someone had told me these things at the time, I’d have appreciated it at the time.

If you are going through grief right now and need someone to talk to, here are some contact details of charities who will be able to help:

For adults - Cruse Bereavement Care - 0808 808 1677

For children and teens - Grief Encounter - 020 8371 8455

1 comment

  1. As much as you were nervous to write this, which you shouldn't of been but I can appreciate why, I'm nervous to comment, but feel like I should.
    You've touched a subject that I have ummed and ahhed over writing about for 2 years.
    A really lovely post though Lizi, so well written and I applaud you for having the bravery to write it. I hope in some way that it gives a little closure to you, though, I honestly believe that you'll never not grieve. And that's OK.
    I think in regards to the comment about looking after yourself, it's so true. And from a personal point for me, it's taken a while for me to think for myself. Sometimes I'd always question what mum or dad would do. Or, I need to do this for mum or dad. When really, I know, if they could, they'd be telling me to do what I want. Not what I think they'd want.
    We definitely all deal differently. I'm really open about my situation. Though, it's not something I tell everyone, as I don't want pitty, but it's something that all my friends know about and they know I'm OK with it all. :)

    Thinking of you today.x