I was on the cusp of my 30th birthday when I lost my dad. Amidst all the chaos of grief, and some of the typical challenges people experience, I found that my age made me feel almost uncertain of how I was “supposed” to behave (I’ve unfortunately always cared way too much about what other people think of me).
On the one hand, I felt young enough that I had a right to be shocked and devastated. My dad was in his 50s, and in good health, so I don’t feel like it was particularly insane of me to have hoped that he had another 20 or 30 years left in him. Yet at the same time I felt like I was old enough that people expected me to take it relatively well, and not completely lose my shit about it (which is what I wanted to do).
To be honest, I was fairly bitter that people expected me to be able to function at work almost immediately, resentful that I was still expected to do chores around the house, or worry about bills. I wanted people to cut me some slack, to take care of me, and most of all I wished so very badly that time could just stand still for a goddamn minute so that I could focus of myself and recover (yes, grief can make you illogical and selfish, at times).
Simultaneously, I felt guilty for not being strong enough, constantly questioned whether I was doing enough for the other people, and felt that it was up to me to keep my family together. I felt instantly saddled with a new, uncomfortable pressure of needing to be a responsible grown up. Despite what I said above, I really tried not to feel sorry for myself, resisted the urge to scream about how sad I was all the time, and did my best to keep everything running smoothly for my friends, family, and co-workers. I think I made a solid effort at never being a burden to anyone.
If I had been, let’s say, 9 years old when this all happened, these types of concerns likely wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. People would have unquestionably taken me under their wing and made sure that everything was A-OK. If I was a teenager, I feel like I would have gotten a little more leeway to “act out” a little bit, and that people wouldn’t blame me if I lashed out, or was grumpy. And, if we skipped ahead a decade or two, to me being in my 40s – or preferably my 50s or even 60s – I’m not saying it would have been a breeze, but I feel like I would have been a bit more prepared, in a sense.
I’m not going to give a long sob story, or pretend that my struggles were worse than anyone else’s. There is no ideal age at which to lose your parent. Regardless of how old you are or how old they were, it’s bound to be a horrible experience. And of course, I ultimately, deep down, know that things could have been much worse. I am glad that when life dumped this challenge on me, I was at an age where I could handle it.
All that being said…if I could go back in time, what would I do differently?
- I would let myself grieve. I don’t mean that I had the right to lie in bed for the rest of my life, give up, and ask the world to take pity on me. But I wish I had let myself lie in bed for just a little bit. I think it would have been ok at first to tell my friends that no, I actually didn’t want to have a game night, go to the movies, and force a smile on my face just yet. It wasn’t what I needed (although everyone is different. So if it’s what you need — go for it).
- I definitely, definitely wish I had asked for help. I should have asked my partner to take over some of the household stuff I couldn’t seem to manage, I could have taken an extra week or two off work, or asked to scale back on my files for a short time. Instead, I acted like everything was totally ordinary. Because the sun came up the next morning, the world kept turning, and shockingly, not much had changed for most other people. And because I continued to perform at 100 percent capacity, people probably assumed I was at 100 percent capacity. But in reality I was burnt out, in robo-mode, and basically felt like a walking corpse for a looooong, long time.
- All in all, I think both of the above things tie in to the ultimate point in just allowing myself to communicate how freakin’ sad I was, and be honest. To not feel like I wasn’t “allowed” to bring up the topic, that I was “supposed” to behave a certain way, etc.
Not sure if anyone else can relate, but felt this was worth getting off my chest.