The Personal Journey, Uncategorized

We are the Hands and Feet: Losing a Parent at a Young Age


Losing someone you love is hard.  And there can be no competition about which is the hardest although I could never EVER imagine losing a child.  No one should ever have to bury their baby.  But loss is loss, and regardless of who it is, when we love someone and that someone is no longer here anymore, that loss takes a little piece of you and nothing or no one could ever replace.

When you lose a parent, it’s difficult but it isn’t something that much talked about in the same sense as other losses because well, it’s in the natural order of things.  You are supposed to buy your parents.  That’s how nature intended.  But there is an extreme difference between losing a parent as an older person and losing your parent as a young person.  I cannot speak on how it is to lose a parent as a child, but my focus will be on what life becomes for you when you are in the beginning of the onset of your adult life, and suddenly a parent passes away.

At the genesis of my senior year, everything was looking bright.  I was preparing to take the GRE, had just moved into my new apartment, and I even got a puppy!  I was super excited to finally be in the final year of my undergraduate experience and had big plans for making this year the very best one yet.  Life had other plans, of course.  Right before my 22nd birthday, my father suffered a stroke that led to a series of two more strokes which pretty much rendered him brain dead.  If he had survived, he definitely would not have been himself.  I know this.  But something didn’t quite register when he died, 10 days after my birthday.  It was more of a weird feeling, a bit surreal you could say.  If you would’ve seen me in the days following, you probably would have never known that anything had even happened.  But I changed that day, a change that would forever dictate my decisions from that point on.


You see, no one talks about losing a parent in the same way that they talk about losing a spouse or a child or even another family member like a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling.  It’s the natural order of things, you see.  You are supposed to bury your parents.  But it’s not the same when you are at the very beginning of the rest of your life.  We are technically adults after we turn 18, but we are far from independent.  Most of who we are come from what we inherit from our folks, and what we learn from them.  They, without a doubt, and whether you want to believe it or not, are the most powerful influence in our lives.  And so when you are still trying to figure yourself out, it can be hard to lose such a big part of what makes you YOU.

It’s difficult to lose a parent at this time in your life because he or she will miss important days, days that define what adult life is all about.  He or she will miss your wedding and the birth of your children.  He or she won’t be there to help you figure out how to go about buying a house and lend you his or her knowledge that helps you make the right decision.  There is no going to grandma’s and grandpa’s for the weekend when one of them, or both, isn’t there.  And that point of reference that always knows just what to say or what to tell you to do when you need advice is no longer around.  You keep with you the memories, and sometimes that is even painful.

When my father passed away, the most interesting thing happened.  I also lost some friendships as well.  It’s funny because it’s assumed that when you are going through a really hard time, that’s when your friends rally around you, showering you with love and support through this difficult time.  But the truth is that when bad things happen, many people will find a way to avoid you.  It’s tough on you, and it’s totally unfair.  It’s a fact that people generally do not like conflict.  And the conflicting feelings that occur in people after something bad happens initiates fight or flight.  Most of your friends will choose to leave you alone, especially if they cannot relate because they simply don’t know what to do or say to you.  This is a time that is typically not synonymous with death, especially in someone so close to you.  Most of your friends will still have both of their parents who are still working full-time jobs and who are very active.  What can they possibly say to you that will help you in anyway?  So instead of trying, they leave you alone.

When you lose a parent, he or she cannot be replaced.  Sure, your surviving parent might remarry, but he or she will never be the same as the person who raised you.  You will find yourself many days going to the phone to call your parent when you have a question about something, or want to tell him or her something crazy your crazy kids did.  You might have some questions when you need to feel out a questionnaire examining your child’s possible developmental delay and need family history information.  They’ll be times when you look at your children, or even at yourself, and see that person who raised you looking right back at you.  You’ll catch yourself using words and phrases that he or she often used with you, to which you would say, “I’ll never say that to my kids!”  Losing at parent at this fragile time in your life will change you.  I can’t say how, but it definitely gives you a new perspective on life, how fragile it is, and how lucky you are to still be here.

My story is one I hope to start sharing with anyone who will listen, and that begins with you.  I buried myself in work and other activities to keep from mourning appropriately.  For me, no mourning meant that I could accept his death.  It meant that I was okay.  But I wasn’t.  I wasn’t for a long time.  And that’s okay.  Grief is something that never goes away.  It’s part of your new normal, learning to adapt to a now drastically different life.  You give thanks for the time you had with your parent, and you hold all they taught you close to your heart.  The fact is, they are never truly gone.  Their legacy lives within you and you now have the power to tell their story.  Losing a parent at a young age changes you and you will mourn the loss of what a “normal” adulthood is supposed to look like.  But you have an even longer time to pass down their legacy to your children and to celebrate with them the vibrant life of the one who made you.

Robert Barnett, Jr  1932-2007


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