Letter to a young friend who lost a parent
Reading your Facebook post today transported me back in time. Like you, I was 16 when my father died. I won’t even begin to imagine how much more difficult it must be for you now that you have lost both your parents. Yet you carry the pain with much grace and courage.
I agree with you—“How are you?” could possibly be the most stupid question someone could ask of the newly bereaved. Yet many people don’t really realize that.
In an effort to show that they care, to reach out to you, they ask how you are. It’s infuriating and frustrating but try instead to think of it as an awkward way of reaching out and showing care.
I remember when Dad died in 1981, and because it was such a shock to most people, they kept asking me the dreaded “What happened?”
At first it was fine to retell the story, but after the third day of his weeklong wake, I just wanted to narrate everything to a tape recorder and play it for whoever cared to ask next.
You know now, as well as I do, that the greatest thing you can do for someone in grief is to simply be there for them. You don’t have to say anything, right? Just be there, put an arm around your friend, give a hug, hold a hand. That’s really all that you need, and it means so much.
I want to share with you a few things that helped me in growing up with just one parent. Feel free to sift through the information and take what you need.
Surround yourself with friends
It’s very important to have a supportive set of friends and family. Surround yourself with love and with loving people who understand what you are going through. You’ll know who they are because when you are with them, your heart will feel at peace, and at rest.
You need to be kind to yourself now, T. Do a lot of self-care and plan your days so that you allow yourself time to grieve, and yes, laugh, too. I suppose it’s something that your dad and mom would love to see you do as they look at you from above.
Keep regular conversations with God morning, noon and night, more so when you are feeling down. Your Heavenly Father will never leave you, you always need to keep that in your mind and in your heart, and trust that He will always provide for you and care for you no matter what the circumstances may be.
Don’t forget, the orphans and the widows are God’s favorite people. If you don’t believe me, look it up, it’s in the Scriptures.
Losing a parent early makes you grow up by a decade. That’s how I felt—16 going on 26. You mature in ways you never would have imagined.
I always like to tell young people that they are like Percy Jackson, who had one parent as a demigod. We who have lost our parents early become imbued with what I like to think of as supernatural powers—compassion and courage become our superpowers. Look at Clark Kent, or Harry Potter, who both lost their parents. Seriously. I’m sure you understand what I mean.
Relationships become tricky terrain when you lose your parents or parent early. The downside is you tend to look for them in intimate relationships; you might even bring the father-daughter dynamic into your relationship, and because that isn’t really right, you find that you get disappointed again and again.
No one will ever replace your dad or mom, so keep that in mind the first time or the next time you fall in love.
Know that it takes time
Losing a parent is the kind of loss that you keep forever. As you go through life’s milestones—your first heartbreak, your college graduation, your wedding, the birth of your first child—you will always remember them. “What would Dad have done? What would Mom have thought?” These are questions that will ring inside your head each time you have something major happen in your life.
The goal of healing is to move your sadness from a place of longing to a place of remembering well. Don’t rush it because healing and moving forward take time. And sometimes, just when you think you are okay already, the sadness comes rushing back, even many years later.
I love what Winnie the Pooh said to Piglet: “If there ever comes a day when we cannot be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”
We who have known losses so deep hold on to this promise. For those whom we love are never truly gone from us, T. You only need to call on their memory, and with every beat of your young heart, there they will be.
Speaking of memories, one of the most beautiful children’s books I have read lately is called “Goodnight, Lala.”
The book, published by Adarna Books, consists of stories told by Corazon Calica and edited by her daughter, Maya Calica. Lala is what Corazon was fondly called by her grandkids. The book was published a year after she passed away.
The eight engaging stories are all set in Pampanga during World War II. All the illustrations were done by Maya who, instead of coloring them with inks, embroidered each and every one of them. It’s a beautiful book to add to any collection, made more beautiful by the love that went into its creation.
Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao or subscribe to her Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/cathybabao.
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