Imagine this. You are 18. You are by legal terms an “adult”, but in all other aspects you are kid trying to find your way in this crazy world. This is often a time when many people go off to college, start a career, party, make mistakes, begin romantic relationships – basically explore what life has to offer before having adult responsibilities.
Now, imagine at the same time – your dad has dementia. While most kids are going off exploring the world, you are partly stuck in “adult mode” because your relationship is changing from child to caretaker.
Fast forward a year and you are told (within the same month) that both your parents have cancer. Both have critical surgeries at the same time (and I mean are actually in the hospital at the exact same time) and you are left wondering whether you and your sibling will be orphaned by the end of the year.
Now again, imagine getting through that year (thinking you are in the clear) only to lose one of your parents the following year from the same cancer just speeding up. Your world suddenly crashes. You are left picking up the pieces of your own heart, while also trying to be a rock for your mom who just lost her soulmate.
Fast forward eleven years. You will fight to find some type of normalcy within those years, but every time you think you are close, another health scare comes about for your only living parent. That’s right – the big “C” word keeps coming back AND in different forms.
Now you are slightly over 30, and you must relive your worst nightmare again – watching a parent you love so much take their last breath. Not only are you flooded with emotions of grief and anger – but you must also be forced to put those emotions on hold, in order to step into the role of executer and fulfill the wishes of your parents’ estate.
You try your best to balance it all, keeping busy and taking care of your parents’ last wishes – yet everyday ends in tears because it doesn’t feel fair that life could be so cruel.
This – my friends – seems like a hellish story, but unfortunately for me and my brother – it isn’t just a story. It is reality.
When one parent dies, life changes as we know it. We start to question life and its purpose. We start to imagine all the events they are going to miss and the memories that were shared. We start to think what we could have said or have done differently – or even just imagining one last moment to make everything right.
No matter how old we are, losing a parent is not easy. But what most people don’t know is that losing both parents before you’ve barely had a chance to start your own life – that, my friends, is a nightmare…and a nightmare that few can understand.
As a parentless 32-year-old, you begin to disassociate with others because of lack of understanding. When people ask specific questions about your parents, sometimes lies are told or avoidance of the subject altogether occurs in order to not utter the words “my parents aren’t alive anymore.”
Society tells is that we will all go through the five stages of grief. But anyone who has lost a parent, or both, knows that isn’t always the case. Some of us get lost in one stage for years, some of us skip some stages, and some of us never get to the point of acceptance.
I don’t know if I will ever fully get to the point of acceptance. But one thing I know for sure is that my brother and I will use these events to work on ourselves and our brother-sister relationship, so that we can make the most out of the short life we are given. We don’t expect others to understand what we have gone through – because we don’t even fully understand it ourselves. But, have sympathy…have patience…believe that we are doing the best we can under the crappy circumstances handed to us. Believe it or not, our parents did prepare us for this moment. And while emotionally it does not make the acceptance of either one of their deaths easier, we were set up as best as possible to know what to do and to do so with grace.
So now, we carry out each day in memory of Mom and Dad. We hope to make them proud, while equally healing the broken parts of ourselves that died slightly with them the days they went home to God.
So, if nothing else, take this from my story: Life is short. The time you think you have, you really don’t. And while it is quite cliché, each day should be lived like it is your last. You will lose family. You will lose friends. People will turn their back on you, and at the same time people will show up for you when you least expect it. Experiences (whether they good or bad) help our soul to grow. We all have a soul contract putting us here for a certain number of years. We cannot change that fact – only learn to grow from it. Allow yourself to grieve – whether that be from someone passing, a major life change, a job loss, WHATEVER. Just allow yourself to feel – even if it feels extremely uncomfortable. That is the only way you begin to process and move forward. You may never fully heal the way you want and go through the stages of grief in the order defined by society…BUT that is okay. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. We can all learn something from another’s story.
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