7 Things That Happen When You Lose Your Parents Way Too Young

There’s no instruction manual, cheat sheet, or ‘how-to guide’ on how to cope with losing your parents, and the experience will be different for everyone. As much as you know the day will one day come, there’s a feeling of total loss of control as you realize there’s next to nothing you can do to prepare for it. In the weeks after my mother died from her sharp and severe battle with stomach cancer, the sadness that ensued at times left me breathless, doubled over in an almost physical pain, and riding out a full gamut of emotions – many I had never felt at such an intense level.

You become more of an adult than ever before

After the passing of my only remaining parent, I was suddenly the last generation of my immediate family. Here I was, an adult orphan at the ripe old age of 29. The only problem was I still felt like a child, wondering who was going to be there to offer advice, to comfort me, to be a safe house to go to when everything else would fall apart.

The interesting thing was however, that by organizing estates, funeral arrangements, delivering the eulogy and comforting others, is I was suddenly ‘adulting’ in a way that I never had before. Even though it didn’t minimize the huge sense of loss, there was the realization that somehow I was getting through something this tough without the backing of my parents. With that I realized I was now a ‘grown up’ and that if I could get through this, I’d be ready to take on almost anything.

Others didn’t always understand my grief, and it can be isolating

I expected that people wouldn’t know what to say, but I wasn’t prepared for how isolating grief could at times feel. Despite friends and acquaintances only trying to help, being told by people to ‘keep busy’ and to be ‘thankful for the times you did have’ only seemed to make me feel like I shouldn’t be indulging in grief for too long, and only seemed to widen the chasm of separation I felt from others and what I was going through.

The truth is that unless others have gone through the death of an immediate family member themselves, especially the loss of a parent, they likely won’t understand – how could they? After all, I didn’t. For me it was important to communicate this rollercoaster of emotions, so I spoke to my brothers in the exact same situation as me, and friends who had lost a parent. I’ve still got the number of a counsellor at the ready for whenever I need the expertise of someone trained to deal with the negative emotions, including feeling of withdrawal, and even resenting those with families fully in tact. The truth is that not many people are yet to face death, only reading about it in the news or through friends. Everyone someday will however, and I like to think I’ll be able to pay it forward and be as emotionally available as I can for others in their time of need.

You will discover what you really want to do in life

In the days after the death of my mother, discussions about trivial matters like workplaces, gossip about mutual friends, and everything else that would have been of interest a few weeks earlier suddenly became so insignificant.

There’s nothing like death to make you realize how short life is and to get you thinking about the future. Due to this recognition of how quickly it can all be taken away, I became much more philosophical and even spiritual about life’s meaning, vowing to follow my heart and rejecting anything that didn’t offer nourishment for my soul. I drank lots of tea, I immersed myself in nature, and I focused on planning a future that was true to myself and which focused on what I loved. This path of self realization will likely be different for everyone, but for me, keeping up with the Joneses suddenly seemed a disgusting waste of energy, and saying goodbye to my mother became a catalyst to make the most of what time I did have. I’d heard pearls of wisdom to “follow your dreams” and “do what you love” many times before, and understood their truth, but they had never resonated in quite the same way. When I considered it was some of the exact same advice my mum would offer, it became even more poignant.

Some people will be unbelievably kind, others will disappoint you

I found that opening up to people and letting people be there during the immediate aftermath of my mothers passing one of the most important ways to heal, and I was positively overwhelmed with messages of condolences. After hearing the sad news, many people I had never expected, or who I didn’t know particularly well, sent messages of support, flowers and cards. The outpouring of support was a great comfort and a reminder of how many people cared enough to sympathise with the immense sadness. Some of the most amazing people were those who seemed to understand that support shouldn’t just be contained to the initial weeks after the death. Even though I didn’t always have much to say, and people likely didn’t know what to say themselves, it was a great comfort having people check in the weeks and months after the funeral, acknowledging that I was still learning to live in my ‘new normal.’

The other side of this was that some of the people that I had most expected to be supported by stayed deafeningly silent. Some even seemed to avoid me, and the topic altogether. I came to the conclusion it was likely not that they didn’t care, but that didn’t know how to care, or even what to say. I did conclude for people that stayed completely off the radar, grief was a way to crystalize who was really there for me, and there support or lack thereof, was a way to help assess relationships that were worth my time and energy maintaining.

You will see what really matters

As mum was dying, she told me that at the end of life, all that matters is not the job you had, the car you drove or the amount of money in your bank account, only the kind of person you were and after death everything else fades away, leaving only your character. From speaking to others, I came to realize her most important legacy was the effect she had on others – especially me. Because of her generosity, listening, patience, and strength she inspired so many others and it became important to me that the things I admired most about her character would live on. So I vowed to aim towards an existence filled with as much virtue as hers was. Her inspirational character was her most important parting gift, and made me resolve to live life practicing what she had taught me – all of the other that are people use to assess their self worth were no longer important.

You will channel your loved one’s advice for years to come

After losing my mother who was the core of my support network and part of very own life story and identity, life instantly seemed lesser. Instead of her being on the other end of text message or phone call there was be silence, and I grieved at how I’d never hear her opinion, advice, and her take on any given situation.

What I learned was that even after losing my mother, I could almost hear her voice, or at the least imagine what she’d say about almost anything I would talk to her about. It wasn’t the same as her being always available, but I took incredible comfort that in my heart I knew how she’d see things. I learned that I now don’t need to look far when I need guidance and a voice of reason. Because of her engaging personality, and the fact she gave so much of herself to others, she left a vault of comforting memories that everyone that knew and loved her could always draw upon.

You will appreciate the little things in life

Despite the sleepless nights, the foggy days and feeling tired far too often than I could have ever imagined, eventually I started get back to some semblance of normality. At first I felt guilty about this, feeling as if I was almost betraying her memory. I soon learned however, that these moments of peace and normality were a blessing, and an important part of letting myself heal.

Life went on and in time the pain lessened and I found new things to be grateful for. These were often the small things, small glimmers of happiness throughout the day such as a fresh breeze, a plant in full bloom or a scented candle. Despite facing what seemed like immense feeling of unfairness of someone being taken away, I learned a newfound appreciation for life, and honored and appreciated my mother in ways I didn’t when she was alive. I learned I was stronger than I first thought, and despite the hurt and sadness, death really didn’t take away as much as I had first thought.

After losing both of parents at 29, I also learned that life is stronger than death, and the love of someone so cherished will always live on. TC mark

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