Written by Lizzie
Dealing with the loss of a parent at any age is dreadful but losing one when you’re young can be earth-shattering. I had always known that I was going to lose my dad too soon. He passed away when I was 18. He was 75. There was a 30-year age gap between my mum and dad, which was something I’d always been conscious of. Even as a young child, I noticed that my dad was much older than the other dads at the school gate. His mortality was constantly on my mind but despite worrying so much, I still wasn’t prepared to actually lose him.
I had just started university. I had all the usual worries about life at that age – will I ever have a boyfriend? Is this the right degree for me? Can I survive on super noodles all week? I definitely wasn’t ready to grieve and had no idea how to live my life while dealing with the loss of my favourite person in the world (apologies for the cliche).
Next year will mark 10 years since my dad passed away. Over the past decade, I’ve learnt a few things that I wish I’d known at 18 and I’m happy to be sharing them here with you. So, let’s kick off with a tough but necessary lesson:
Crying is good
Although it can be really painful, it’s important to let it out. Grief gets trapped otherwise. Screaming into a pillow can help too even though you feel a bit mad at first. Feeling our emotions is the healthiest way to process and move on. You might find that crying feels primal or even animalistic at times. Grief brings out a whole new brand of crying and that’s something nobody warns you about. I learnt that pain could be both emotional and physical at the same time.
My initial coping mechanism was ignoring my grief and trying to keep myself busy to avoid dealing with the ache inside my chest. This led to feeling numb and I spent many years without shedding a single tear. When my dad died, I realised how precious life is and I didn’t want to “waste” time crying and feeling sad. But as hard as I tried, the pain couldn’t be ignored.
Let it out
I found huge relief in releasing my grief and talking about it with someone away from my immediate circle of friends and family.
For me, it was therapy. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a therapist as it helped me to explore grief in a healthy and constructive way. Losing someone at such a young age is seriously tough and you don’t have to struggle in silence. I wish I’d gone to therapy sooner, but I also know that you can’t start before you’re ready.
In therapy I learnt a lot about grief. My therapist once said that although they’re not here in physical form, you carry them with you throughout your life – a part of them remains in you. At the time, I hated this, and I hated her for saying it. I felt angry and frustrated because I just wanted my dad. But over time, I’ve learnt to accept and find comfort in this thought. A small part of him does live on in me. Sometimes I say things and I can almost hear him as I speak. Every time this happens, I can’t help but smile as I’m reminded of him and our connection.
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Grief is not a step-by-step process
Grieving isn’t straightforward. There is no one way to grieve and it can be different for everyone. My friends were really impressed with how I was coping. I was constantly being told I was strong. While this was hugely validating at the time, I was also unable to really look at what was happening.
What I’ve learnt is that being strong requires a lot of energy. Eventually it starts to take its toll. I don’t think I actually started grieving until I was about 23. That’s five years of not really speaking to anyone about my dad or how he died. Part of me regrets keeping this to myself, but I’ve also learnt that it’s not helpful to judge yourself. As they say, hindsight is a fine thing.
What I really wish someone had told me is that you won’t always feel like this
I’d read somewhere that you never truly stop grieving, that there isn’t a final phase. This terrified me. The thought of grieving for my whole life was unthinkable. But having pondered on this, I think what it means is that you can’t completely move on from grief. Sure, it’s there but this once loud noise has become much quieter, now just a low hum in the background of life. This is the hope that anyone grieving needs to remember because it does get easier.
Self-care is key
At 18, I had no idea what self-care really meant. Face masks and early nights? They count, but I’ve learnt there’s a lot more to it. Through therapy I discovered meditation. This really helped me to manage my anxiety which was getting in the way of everyday functioning. I now meditate almost every morning and evening. This is also a great way to notice negative thought patterns and calm your mind.
Other forms of self-care that I love include soaking in a hot bath while listening to my favourite podcast. Early nights. Sea-swimming. Running. Painting my nails. Doing a hair mask. Journaling. Positive affirmations. Yoga (with Adriene – it’s free). Treat yourself often as you deserve it. Grieving really is seriously hard and you should cut yourself some slack. You’re doing amazingly.
How to get help
If you’re struggling with grief right now, Winston’s Wish is here to help and here to listen. Winston’s Wish provides support for grieving children and young people (up to the age of 25). We offer one-to-one and group support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline, email and live chat service where you can talk to bereavement professionals.
If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.