You are never really ready.
Nature tells us that losing a parent is the order of life events. We have been engrained with this fact from the beginning of time, and somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that day will come. You think you have all the time in the world – and then suddenly, you don’t.
Time is a precious little thing, and facing loss head on really teaches us that. You may be fortunate enough to have a prognosis, or you may be unlucky and have a parent taken from you in a random freak accident. But no matter how much time you have to prepare, a minute or six years, you are never really ready.
There is a difference between death and loss. Death happens all the time without inflicting pain; loss always inflicts pain. You may have experience with death and never have felt loss. You may have felt loss, but in a way much different than death. When you experience loss as a result of death, it is debilitatingly painful. You wake up every morning and still put on your make up, but you walk out of your apartment with a new rhythm in your step, or perhaps no rhythm at all.
That is what it is like. Some days you are okay – you smile a real smile and actually feel the laughs with your friends go all the way to your belly. Other days, you are mad and have no idea why. You may be happy one moment and irrationally annoyed the next.
That is okay.
What you feel is okay.
It may take some time to understand that you do not need to explain your feelings. You do not need to have a reason or justification for every decision you make or words you say, and even your closest friends may not understand your mood swings. Throughout that though, as hard as it may be, you must hold on to the good things: relationships, food, Buzzfeed, friends, Taylor Swift albums, the anniversary sale at Nordstrom, making the Dean’s list, your hopes and dreams to travel the world. Wherever you find happiness, whether in material items or a casual hello with strangers, hold onto it as tightly as you guard your broken heart.
Loss – a forever loss – does that to us. It teaches you to hold on to every ounce of happiness in the world and to find it in the smallest moments. Relationships become stronger and you learn that love is the most important thing. Remaining positive is the most difficult challenge you will ever be faced with in the wake of tragedy, but you suddenly start to understand why people find Hemingway quotes so inspiring (and I think Hemingway is overrated), why people pray, and why we need love to survive. Loss is a result of love. And when you feel deep loss, you learn deep love.
The phrase, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” is horrifyingly true. You do not know deep love until you do not have it anymore, and it is something we take for granted everyday. But by losing a parent, it just clicks: unconditional love, whether between a parent a child, spouses, best friends, or with your favorite book, is where you find your solace. And this unconditional love does not die when you feel loss. It is strengthened.
Your father cannot walk you down the aisle. He cannot see you graduate from college, help you build a crib for your baby, or rescue you when you get into a car accident. But you will feel him in ways you never felt possible, and in ways that only you will understand in time.
Beauty grows from the saddest struggles. After experiencing loss, it is difficult to open your heart for the fear that it may happen again. You may never be ready for loss, but you will be ready for love, and it will be a love you cannot imagine or describe. The incapacitating pain may take a while to dissipate, and it will end in time. For now, hold on to the small moments of happiness. Find the strength in your vulnerability. Wear your heart on your sleeve, and do not be afraid to let love in. Invest your life in love.