What It’s Really Like To Lose A Parent When You’re Young

It changes who you are forever.

I was cramming for my Interpersonal Communications midterm during my sophomore year of college when we had got the call. It was 6:30 a.m. I was wearing black sweatpants that had a bleach stain on the knee from letting my childhood best friend wear them to work at a bagel store. The last sentence I had read was about the differentiation of communication between men and women. It was March 22nd, 2013. I spent five days in a hospital room before saying goodbye to my father at age 20.

While I can remember the days leading up to my father’s death in vivid details – the way the hospital room smelt of cold metal and latex gloves, the way the doctor’s voice broke when he said, “We have done all we can do,” the song I played on repeat blaring through my headphones to mute the sounds of the life-support machines keeping my father semi-alive – the days following are all blurry.

They blend together like mud and water after a rainstorm, they become bits and pieces of puzzles I cannot quite place together. I spent several days with my family in Long Island, New York following my father’s death. I can’t remember all of the faces of people that came. I can’t remember all of the words that they spoke.

I can remember feeling uncomfortably numb (sorry, Pink Floyd).

When you lose a parent at a young age, it changes your life forever. People deal with grief in a number of different ways. There are those who are strong – like a brick wall – never allowing their emotions to slip out beneath the cracks. They keep their sorrow hidden away under lock and key because it is the only way they know they can survive the pain and torment of losing someone so vital. There are others who live within memories and in the past – aching for moments unseen and unheard of, day-dreaming of events that will never again take place. There are those that let the grief eat them alive – tearing away at them until they are no longer themselves.

Death changes everyone – no matter how you decide to march forth.

One in nine Americans lose a parent before the age of 20-years-old. In my mourning, both in the moment and in all of the days since, I know I am not alone. There are people all across the world who have experienced the kind of mind-numbing pain I endured as a mere child. And, there will be others who will suffer the same.

It’s often difficult for people who haven’t endured the loss of a parent to fully understand the gap that their exit leaves within your life. The hole that is now residing in your soul forever.

It’s the empty chair during family dinners and holidays.

It’s the number in your phone you will never dial again.

It’s the voice you will never hear say, “I love you,” once more.

It’s the words you were “too old” to say.

It’s the dinners you were too busy to attend.

It’s the birthday cards you were too forgetful to read.

It’s the sports games you watched out at bars instead of at home.

It’s the movies you were too stubborn to watch.

It’s the Sunday morning breakfasts you were too tired to attend.

It’s the gifts you were too spoiled to appreciate.

It’s the trips you were too bored to enjoy.

It’s the “it’ gets easier” clichés that never fully come to.

It’s the empathy that people try to give forth.

It’s the blank and quiet reactions when someone mentions them in passing – forgetting to walk carefully as though to tread on shattered glass.

It’s the guilt that lives on your tongue for days on end.

The the sorries you never brought yourself to mutter.

The the moments you were too caught up in your own world to fully embrace.

It’s the feeling that a piece of you will always be missing – every day, for the rest of your life.