In the blurry, awful period immediately after my father died, the house where I’d spent half my life no longer felt like mine. Everything felt too quiet, too still. The lingering air of death and sadness was heavy all around us. The family dogs refused to leave my parents’ bedroom and even the sun seemed reluctant to shine, obscured behind a cloudy snowstorm that lasted all night and the following day.
Part of me wanted everything to go back to normal, whatever “normal” was, and another part of me wanted everything to just slow the hell down for a minute so I could catch my breath.
But even later when all the people swooped in—relatives and friends and with them, the planning that began and eclipsed all else—I could see that the world was going to continue right on spinning. I could see, too, that I was not the same. I would never again get to be that girl from before; I was someone new now. Who this new person was, I couldn’t say, and it terrified me.
When I returned to college in the wake of my father’s death, I had no idea what to expect—either of myself or anyone else. I figured that many of my friendships would change; many of them had already evolved, or devolved as the cases had proved. Indeed, what caught me by surprise was how swiftly some of those friendships changed or dropped altogether. Some friends simply never addressed my loss at all. Ever. Others made unfunny jokes or asides, while still others who maybe had been only mere acquaintances before I left school to be with my dad in his final months ended up becoming some of my closest friends in the wake of his death.
There were so many times when I found myself reaching for the phone to call my father, seeking his advice, or wanting to share something funny or exciting with him. And then there were times when I retreated inward, knowing that since he wasn’t there for me, I preferred solitude instead. And all of it, in the end, was just fine. I did what I had to do in order to deal with what had happened to me and what had changed, because—really—everything had changed.
In the first few months as a grieving teenager, finding whatever solaces you can find in books, friends, movies, music—whatever brings even the smallest suggestion of comfort without also inviting more heartache—is perfectly OKAY. It’s all about survival mode, plain and simple.
My mom used to tell me that whenever I felt like I needed my dad’s advice or opinion on something, I should just remember who he was and that I would know, somewhere inside, what he would tell me and what he would think of whatever situation I had found myself in. I am lucky to have had my father in my life long enough to know what kind of man he was, and to know with absolute confidence how he felt about me and the person I am.
In my relationship with my father, we were blessed with the time and courage to have said all that we needed to; my father and I each knew how much we loved the other. And when I do find myself in those moments when I wish my father were here to help me find my way out of something painful, chances are that I do know—somehow—what he would say to me if he were alive. His impact on my life was solid enough to get me through most things. And what he didn’t instill in me, I think I’ve managed to instill in myself.
I’m reminded of something said to my siblings and me at my father’s memorial service: “When people ask the three of you what kind of man your father was, all you will need to say is that he was the kind of man who raised a person like me.” I may not always feel like it, but I know that my father gave me the kind of strength and capacity to love that can never be undone by a time of sadness, pain, or stress—no matter how troubling or trying.
The first few days, weeks, months, and even years after losing a parent will be the very hardest of your whole life; there’s no sense in pretending that it will suddenly get easy or carefree. However, happiness and strength eventually do find their way back into your heart, and when you feel them there again, you’ll know you’re ready to live the kind of life that any parent would be proud of.