When a parent dies we are never prepared. There is no handbook or manual for loss. Whether a parent is sick and we know they are going to die, or they die unexpectedly we’re not prepared. A parent in care, palliative or with a terminal diagnoses, gives us no sense of readiness. Parental loss in whatever way comes into our lives, leaves us exposed, painfully wide open, broken, disillusioned and full of grief.
This is how I felt when I lost my father in May 2006. I was living in Australia, I got a call in the middle of the night to come home. My father being admitted into hospital with a cough. Fast forward and he was in ICU, fighting for his life. Within 36 hours of a phone call, I was on three planes, flying across continents, paralysed in my seat, knowing my father was dying. When the plane landed in Dublin doors opened, security whisked me off the plane down into a car and straight to the hospital. We arrived at the hospital, I found myself sitting by my fathers bedside in ICU saying my goodbyes, being asked by experts to turn off the life support machine. I sat there numb holding his hand, telling him I loved him. I knew I would never see him again.My mother had died when I was 11 in horse riding accident, I was an orphan at the age of 30. There is no manual on how to grieve, no quick fix, no getting over your loss. There is only our own personal, unique journey which we fumble through blindfolded in the dark. We trip and we fall, we feel anger, denial, despair and hopelessness, we find comfort in distraction and we seek out ways to find meaning. We ask ourselves ‘why me’ we wonder what we did wrong, we ask outside of ourselves could we just have had one more day with them and we beg… please.
Grief is a natural way of processing loss, we must grieve our loss in order to make sense of it. We are sometimes afraid of our grief, afraid to sit silently with the feelings, afraid of what they might bring up in us. Sometimes we seek out distractions from grief in the hope it’ll make us feel less pain. Truth is there is no hiding from the pain it is raw, wide open, and nothing anyone can say or not say that makes that wound any more painful than it already is.How to manage grief? Give it a voice, give it space, give it time and give it the respect it deserves. Allow others to offer support, let people care for you. Listen to what you need. Offer space for sadness, find a support group, talk about your parent, what they meant to you, who they were, what life was like when they were alive. You don’t get over your loss, you find a way to navigate it, allow yourself to flow with your grief. Allow yourself to move like a river, some days will be tougher than others, and that is normal. Be kind to your pain and be kind to your grief. Find something that reminds you of them, write a journal, write them a letter tell them what you miss about them, what they might be missing in your life. Take daily walks in nature, breathe fresh air, listen to the birds early in the morning.If you have children and they want to know where their grandparent has gone, be honest, tell them they have died and how much you miss them. Don’t hide your tears, children understand sadness they just have a different way of processing grief. Its ok if they see you sad, remind them of what grandad or grandma loved, all the nice things that you remember, memories are important for your life and for the lives of your children.If you are supporting a loved one, a friend or a colleague who has lost a parent, sit with them, listen to them, listen to what they say and what they don’t say, if they want to sit in silence, sit in silence with them, sometimes words get in the way. Don’t listen with intent to answer or have solutions. There are no solutions to a death. Don’t be afraid to upset those you support in their loss, they are already upset. Offer kindness, love and support, drop in dinners or offer to help with school collections, or supermarket shopping. Don’t hide from someone who is grieving, offer them your love and tell them simply that you are sorry for their loss, that you remember that person (name them) and you too are sorry they died.There is no love without loss. Life is forever changed when loss enters. Hold memories close, as they are the lights to our souls. Love like you’ve never been hurt and sing like nobody’s listening.