5 things I learned from losing a parent

March 7, 2013 is the most vivid memory I have. I was in my Australian boarding school dorm room, it was 7 am and I was getting ready for breakfast. I could hear the groundskeeper outside my window, a girl singing a Justin Bieber song down the hall, and there was sweat gathering at my hairline from the intense Australian heat. I had just finished fastening my school pins onto my uniform and was in the middle of tying my navy ribbon around the base of my blonde braid when my phone rang. It was my mom calling from Canada. I remember her voice sounding soft. As if her voice was trying to cushion the words that she was about to tell me. I remember barking at her to spit it out, so annoyed that I was going to be late for our breakfast sign in. I was looking in the mirror putting on a thin layer of sunscreen when she said the words “Allen’s dead.”

I watched a slight smirk go across my face as I thought that it was just a horrible joke. But, as soon as I heard a whimper come across the phone a weight comparable to a ton of bricks fell on me. I remember my knees giving out as if my body couldn’t physically carry the news I had just received. I remember the cry I let out. A cry so painful it broke my own heart. A cry like none other I’ve ever experienced and I can still hear it in my head today.  Even after it came to an end it will always still be with me and it’s a sound I hope to never hear again. 

The moments after this are fuzzy. I remember girls rushing into my room. Someone handed me a mug of water with the words “Mrs. Bieber” on it and for a second I know I laughed. After that it goes blank. I must’ve slept for hours exhausted from the crying. Losing a parent flipped my life upside down. For my entire life I had become accustomed with a certain way of life and through one phone call that life I once knew was no longer a reality.

Losing a parent at a young age is unlike any loss. I found myself pretending as if it didn’t happen. Anytime I was around my family I talked non stop. I feared that if I was quiet or gave anyone the opportunity to speak the conversation would change. That if anyone was given a moment of silence they would bring up the fact that my stepdad was no longer with us, that instead, he was sitting on the fireplace. Around my peers I was the most uncomfortable, I felt awkward for the fact that I knew they felt awkward. Being 15 and losing a parent, most of your friends won’t know how to navigate the situation. For more than half of my friends, we have never acknowledged to this day, that I went through that. We’ve found it easier for everyone to have a silent agreement. It wasn’t necessary to talk about, but even though the words weren’t exchanged the looks were. The look of sympathy was unavoidable. It was a constant reminder of what had happened.

Even though this was the worst experience of my life, I am now able to be grateful for my experience. That sounds morbid, but it’s true. Though I would do absolutely anything to have him back here. I would do anything to have him watch me graduate high school, or help move me into my first apartment, or watch me pursue my dreams as a journalist, or walk me down the aisle, or spoil his grandkids. Thinking about every situation I had day dreamed about since my childhood is now distorted as he won’t be there to complete the picture. It makes me feel sick, but when I lost Allen I gained life lessons that I wouldn’t have had without being put through the loss of a parent.

These are the five things I learned from losing a parent:

  1. Edit and revise your life constantly

This was something that made me uncomfortable only a few years ago. Worrying about hurting someone’s feelings or creating conflict I often found myself trying to please everyone. When reality hits you with the fact that life is short, cutting people out of your life that don’t contribute to your happiness or who don’t add any value becomes a lot easier. This is your life and you have the right to tailor to your exact specifications and if that means cutting negative people that owes no explanation.

  1. Mediocrity isn’t an option

I remember being 15 and him constantly asking me what I want to do with my life. The mix of annoyance and puberty would fuel a snarky reply such as “I’m going to be a trophy wife and only go to university to find my husband,” which would inevitably lead to a fight. When I lost him the daunting fact that this is my only life and the only certainty in it is that I will die at some point seemed to kick my need to succeed into overdrive. I was determined to make the most out of my life and now I have a burning desire to do something extraordinary. I don’t know if this is truly because I realize how short life is and I want to make the most of it or if it’s actually fuelled by me trying to make a dead person proud. Either way I have this determination in me to not settle until I reach my goals.

  1. Question what you believe

I remember laying in bed at night having these debates with myself over every aspect of what I believed up to that point. Heavy questions most 15 year-olds should not be concerned with. After the sadness passed, I was constantly angry. I wouldn’t say that I was overly religious growing up but I did find comfort in thinking there was a God that was looking out for me. After losing a parent I found no comfort in prayer, or even thinking that he was in a better place. I remember cursing God for taking him away from me and then I would feel immense guilt. Guilty for thinking that, I found myself in an endless cycle of anger, guilt, and sadness. People tend to tell you “everything happens for a reason” when you lose someone. I spent years trying to understand what could possibly be a reasonable explanation for taking away the most important person in my life? It has almost been 4 years since he died and I still don’t know the answer. I am still questioning what I believe. I no longer find comfort in things I used to find comfort in. Oddly enough, the feeling of having no one to turn to, but instead to a whole world of religions and belief systems brings me a little comfort and gives me a certain type of hopefulness. I have the rest of my life to figure out what I believe in.

  1. Be warm

Before losing a parent I would look up to the cool girls in school. These were the cold girls who never smiled but everyone seemed to envy. I remember thinking this was something to aspire to be, but how wrong I was. When you lose a parent a certain type of sadness seems to always be present in you. I went through a particularly rough year where the sadness wasn’t only present but dominated me. I would go days without sleeping or eating. There were countless nights I spent on my bathroom floor, sick from the pain I felt. Every aspect of my personality was gone, I was a girl unrecognizable to who I am now. But in that year I have never felt so loved. The warm people in my life – from my house directors at boarding school, to my best friend and her family, and my family – they showed me the power of true kindness. These people changed the course of my life, without them I don’t know who I would be today. This taught me that if you are going to be anything in life: be warm. 

  1. Love fiercely

If I have any regret in life, it is that I wish I would’ve told him how much I loved him more often. I know that he knew, but I took our time for granted under the impression that I would have many more years to show him just how much he meant to me. This is a mistake I hope to avoid from now on. After losing a parent I no longer love anything a little, I love a lot. I think I even annoy some of the closest people to me by telling them how often I love them. I am constantly thinking of ways I can show them because you never know when it will be your last time to be able to. Love fiercely, it’s important.

The other week I was trying to hang my curtains in my new apartment and I didn’t know how to work the drill. As I picked up my phone to call him, I began to cry as I realized that I don’t have him to turn to for that advice anymore. Parents are supposed to be there to give you advice and help you, but one of my parents was taken too soon, before he could teach me everything he was meant to. Even though he is no longer on this earth he has taught me these five lessons that I will be forever grateful for. So even though my curtains still aren’t up and probably never will be, I have wisdom in a couple other areas in my life that I wouldn’t have if he were still here. Maybe I am looking a little too hard for the silver lining in this, but I am thankful to have went through it and come out on the other side just a little bit wiser.