“And you probably don’t wanna hear that tomorrow’s another day but I promise you will see the sun again.
And you’re asking why pain is only way to happiness but I promise you will see the sun again.” –Dido
For over 31 years, I have been without my biological father. He died from a massive heart attack. He was a healthy, young man who was loved by all who knew him, especially his new baby boy. Miraculously, I remember his face and his warmth. He took me to my first baseball game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and we even had matching costumes for my first Halloween. Even then, I knew how much he loved me and I loved him just as much. And one day, he wasn’t there anymore.
I don’t remember much after that. My mom, who found out two weeks later that she was pregnant with my younger brother, said I was constantly getting into cabinets and going into every dark corner everywhere she took me, almost obsessively. She talked to a therapist and they said I was looking for my daddy. I would have this recurring dream that he would be standing in front of me and no matter how hard or fast I ran, I could never reach him. Growing up, I walked around feeling left behind and perpetually lost.
There is an indescribable sense of loneliness and unworthiness that comes with losing a parent as a child. You get overwhelmed harshly with the truth that the world is an unfair place sometimes. You find nurturing and parenting in amazing people and they give you a glimpse of what it would be like to have that mother/father figure but there still feel like something is missing because that other half that created you isn’t able to be present physically.
I have done a great deal of work to grieve and eventually heal the wounds that were created by my father’s death. Through prayer, meditation, spiritual teachings, writing and the counsel of several amazing and insightful individuals, I have managed to find myself in a place of peace and contentment with his fate. Of course some days are better than others. Some days are a breeze. Some days, I have to remind myself of the work that I have done around the issue. And every now and then, it is all I can do to not burst into tears at any given moment. It’s a day to day challenge but here are some things I have learned along the way thus far.
Your parent’s death had nothing to do with you.
As a child, we naturally soak in everything, including guilt and blame. When I was younger, I had it made up in my mind that I had something to do with my father’s death. I thought I was somehow cosmically responsible for his fate. But his passing was never linked to my karma, especially being so young at the time it happened. But once I really got that fact and it finally sank in, at least half of my shame was neutralized. And that only happened five years ago.
Forgive your deceased parent.
The world can be a big and intimidating place sometimes and life can get pretty scary. Sometimes you wish for that support and refuge and that missing parent isn’t there to hold you and ensure you that everything will be alright. It can be incredibly easy to remain bitter and resentful toward them for it. It is one thing to be angry but it is quite another to stay angry. With the exception of going through the grieving process which is necessary, anger does nothing but reverberate the pain of the loss. If you feel the need to feel angry, do so with the intent of releasing the energy and moving towards forgiveness, which only means that you are done being hurt and mad about their absence. And it is that forgiveness that has brought the most peace in my own journey.
Let parent-like people to parent you.
Along this journey, you are going to happen upon some amazing people that feel like family. Some may even feel like another parent. Whenever you encounter such individuals, allow them to give you the guidance and nurturing that we all need from time to time. Those people are not there on accident. They are there to support and love you for that absent parent. They aren’t trying to replace your missing parent necessarily; they are simply there to be the parent you need at any given time. And it has been my experience that those wonderful humans were speaking and acting on behalf on my father, which helps to ease the hurt.
Let your heart break when it needs to.
Unfortunately, you are never done dealing with and working through this issue. There is always an unfolding of information and experiences that require you to shift the paradigms in your mind around the situation and that includes reentering the grieving process. And there will be moments when you will simply miss your mother/father so much, it hurts and aches relentlessly. When that time comes and you feel yourself about to fall apart, fall completely into pieces. You are well within you right. It’s more than fine and necessary to break all the way down and feel your heart break. After a while, you’ll begin to feel more at ease and relieved by release of emotional energy.
Their death does not define you as a person.
For the longest time, I allowed my father’s death to be a part of my identity. I lived to be Kenny’s survived son (I was named after my father, for those who weren’t aware). And it was something I wasn’t even aware I was doing. It wasn’t until last year, when he had officially been dead for 30 years, that I realized how harmful and sad it was to live in the shadow of someone else’s destiny. His passing was something that affected me on virtually every level but it was never something I should have attached to my person. You may be known as the offspring of a deceased person but you don’t stop there nor are you limited to that grim event. From there, you and you alone are responsible for who you choose to become. And that’s the good news!
You are not alone in this journey.
“There’s a club, the dead dads club, and you can’t be in it until you’re in it. You can try to understand and be sympathetic but until you feel that loss… My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.” –Cristina Yang from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
In the midst of our loneliness, the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we are alone in our pain and no one could ever understand what you are going through, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sadly, other children have lost their parents but they have grown up to become productive, well-adjusted adults. They have been where you are right now. They have stood where you stand right now. They have felt what you are feeling right now. And they have a shared insight to putting the pieces back together every time they fall apart because they will fall apart every now and then. When you do find each other and you will, ask questions, seek counsel, and gain their perspective to help you cope.
Life is beautiful.
One of the biggest life lessons that I can come up with is this: in spite of everything that is going on around you, life is as precious and amazing and wondrous as it is brash and painful. I have learned to move with the current of the pain and feel it to my very core. It can be horrifying and excruciating as hell but I have yet for that current to lead me to anywhere other than peace, understanding and appreciation of life. And as a child sans a parent, we inherently know and understand its fragility. So treasure it for yourself and take your absent parent’s love with you as you grow and get older to share with those you encounter.
If you are reading this and you haven’t lost a parent, count them as a blessing, no matter the condition of the relationship. And if that relationship is severed and/or damaged for whatever reason, forgive them!!! Even if they were cruel and hateful to you, IT DOESN’T MATTER!!! Maintain your boundaries if you have to. Forgive them from a distance if need be but just forgive them nonetheless. At least you have the luxury of knowing with certainty what kind of parent they would have been.
With everything that was addressed, I would like to make it clear that this is something I am still working on and working through. I’m human and that means I don’t always get it right and most of these epiphanies were realized at some of my lowest points. And I’m sure I will come to a point when I will have to revisit the heartache. But I’m grateful to say that I have developed a strong faith and I acquired an amazing support system that will sustain me in the rough. As will you.
Photo Source: Roseann Givens