Articles | Posted by Danielle B on 03/14/2011

When You Lose Someone (From One Teen to Another)

It’s 10:06 AM on a random Tuesday morning (I’m not a skipper, folks, my school is on Mid-Winter Break), but I got a weird impulse to write this post.

My dad passed away last month. Chances are some of you have also lost a loved one in the past few months and, like myself, are struggling with how to get by.

When my dad was in the hospital and hooked up to what felt like a thousand different machines doing all of his bodily functions for him, it was really tough. I try to block those memories out, but I can still picture everything with perfect clarity: sitting by his bedside, holding a hand that at times felt too cold and at others too hot, and above all else, trying to reason with my dad that he “still owed me a game of chess.”

That chess set we got him for Christmas? We’d only managed to play once.

It was at the moment we knew my dad wasn’t going to make it that my aunt told me something that changed my life. She said “You need to do something with this.” She said that there was going to be another 17-year-old girl who was in my exact position:

She would be holding back tears with enough force to make her head pop, she would be asking God (or whoever she believed to be “up there”) why this had to happen, and eventually, she would have to accept – no, cope with – fate.

Are you that 17-year-old girl?

Okay, maybe you’re not 17. Maybe you didn’t lose a parent, but a grandparent, a sibling, a friend. Maybe you’re not even a girl.

But while I can’t see or hear you, I feel like we’re linked by an invisible thread. I know that sounds really, really, really corny, but it’s true, isn’t it? Whether it makes sense or not, we’re connected, and we owe it to ourselves to support each other.

So, for any of you who might be trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, here are my tips, observations, snide remarks (heh), and advice:

“You’re just grieving.”

First off, I hate the term “grieving.” It doesn’t do our feelings justice, you know? But you’re going to hear it about a thousand times from relatives, self-help books, and counselors (if you choose to see one), so I guess we just have to roll with it. The thing I want to say about this whole process is that it’s going to be crazy, horrific, weird, sobering, sporadic, gut-wrenching, and life-changing all at the same time. At times you’re probably going to feel like an ass for having certain thoughts, while other times you’ll feel content in the fact that you tried to be a good daughter, son, sibling, friend, etc. to the person you lost. Grieving (there, I said it!) is one wild ride. Probably because we don’t have control over it.

Caught in a Whirlwind

In the week or so after losing your loved one, your house is probably going to feel pretty chaotic. People are going to be checking in on you constantly, your mailbox is going to be stuffed to the brim with sympathy cards (some of which aren’t even that sympathetic), and you’re not going to have to cook for about 3 weeks because people will keep bringing you donuts and homemade chili (because they don’t know how else to help). I like to call this the “whirlwind phase” because there’s so much going on around you. Sometimes you won’t even have a chance to be alone or cry. It’ll feel like you’re stuck in a bad dream, and any minute the person you lost will walk right through the front door – probably asking who brought the donuts.

For the millionth time, “Are you okay?”

WARNING: People are not going to know what to say to you after you lose somebody.

It’s okay to not be okay.
You’re going to hear “Are you okay?” about a million times and you’re going to want to bash in somebody’s skull every one of those times. You’ll think: Am I ‘okay’? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not okay, you idiot! I just lost somebody important to me! Do you honestly think I’m okay?!

That’s completely normal.

People don’t know what to say during times like these because they don’t want to accidentally say something insensitive. They feel helpless, so instead of thinking about your loved one they’ll think in the moment – they’ll want to know if YOU are okay. Even if you think the answer is obvious, don’t punch anybody out for asking The Question. Just come up with an answer beforehand that’s quick and to-the-point. Obviously “Oh yeah, I’m doing great!” is out of the question, but things like “I’m just really tired lately” or “You know, I’m hanging in there” will spare you the pain of explaining things if you don’t want to. Of course, you can’t do that with everybody. The people who genuinely care about you – close friends and family members as opposed to casual acquaintances – will want to know the truth. If you’re not okay, tell them. They will understand.

Then Comes the Quiet: Don’t Cry Alone

The hardest part of this whole process comes after the whirlwind phase. You stop getting cards sent to your door every five seconds, people stop asking you if you’re okay and go on with their lives, and sometimes they’ll even forget about what happened and inadvertently say something that strikes a nerve. But worst of all, your house will be quieter and you’ll be faced with a lot of alone time in your own head.

Let me tell you, crying alone is heartbreaking. Please don’t torture yourself like that.

Find somebody you trust and pour your heart out to them. Tell them what you’re worried about. Tell them what you’re sad about. Reminisce about the “good old times” if that makes you feel better. But do not lock everything up inside because it’s an incredibly sad, lonely feeling (even those words don’t do it justice).

If you don’t have anybody that will just listen to what you have to say, I’m begging you, find a counselor! A school counselor! A community counselor! Preferably somebody free-but-good!

The thing is, I don’t think we’re equipped to handle losses like these on our own. We need somebody to lean on during times like these. And that’s okay!

Handling the Guilt

Depending on how you lost your loved one and the type of relationship you had before their passing, you’re going to have to deal with what we in the biz call “mental crap.” In my case, it was guilt. I wish I would’ve done this. I wish I would’ve done that. Those thoughts are inevitable, but if we focus too much on them we’re going to dig ourselves into a deep, deep hole.

Losing somebody close to us is so, so hard. But we can never forget that there was nothing we could have done to change things. It’s not like we can say “If I would’ve just worn my yellow shirt instead of my orange one Uncle Jimmy would still be here!”

It was not our fault.

Bang! Bang! Another Trigger

Triggers are going to happen without warning. A trigger is something that is completely unexpected and random that makes you think about your loved one in a positive or negative way. For example, if your grandma was a gardener, smelling fresh flowers might remind you of all the good times you spent together. Alternatively, if you lost someone in a car crash seeing a car zoom down your street at 80mph might make you angry and anxious.

Triggers are everywhere, and even if you tell yourself that you’re not going to let them affect you (like I did in the beginning – what a dummy!), it is going to happen and you cannot beat yourself up about it.

My trigger came in the form of a poem in English class the other day. The poem my teacher read was about a man who committed suicide, and afterwards all she had to say was “I don’t know how many of you have lost someone…” and BAM! I was a wreck. I cried on my textbook for about five minutes, trying to stifle my sobs. I’m sure everybody in class was watching me. About three of them knew why I was crying. The rest were confused: “Are you having a bad day?” “Did something happen in your 2nd period?” “We all have days like that.”

And here I was thinking: If you only knew.

But of course, they never know.

Keeping Memories Alive

I’ve found that finding ways to honor my dad is really therapeutic. I wrote that article about him, I made a video, I have pictures of him up in my room . . . I even wrote a song for him in Chinese (for those of you who don’t know, I’m a Chinese-learning-maniac) and sing it whenever I’m feeling sad or lonely. Maybe it’s too soon for you to do anything like this; maybe you don’t want to. All I’m saying is, it might not hurt to try.

They Never Leave Us

I don’t know about you, but I totally believe in “life after death.” I hate saying afterlife, spirits, ghosts, or anything like that because the media has made a mockery of that stuff (except for shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer which are actually pretty good!), but I am a firm believer that when we die, we don’t just disappear. Our loved ones never leave us.

It has been so freaking frustrating for me ever since my dad passed away because, as dumb as this sounds, I’ve been waiting for some kind of “sign” from him. You see it in the movies – lights flicker, TVs turn on and off, you feel chills, etc. I’ve been waiting anxiously for my sign.

What I’ve realized is, your “sign” isn’t always going to come when you want it. BUT you can’t lose faith in the fact that your loved one is looking out for you. I talk to my dad whenever I need to because there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s listening.

If you’re on the same wavelength with me about this stuff, I’d suggest reading James Van Praagh’s book Ghosts Among Us. It gave me so much reassurance . . .

What the Future Holds

Most of the time it hurts too much to think about the future. To think that my dad will never get to see me graduate, get married, or have a book on the National Bestsellers List (hehe) . . . really kills me. But I’ve also learned something through this.

I’ve learned not to take people for granted. When we expect someone to always be there for us, it’s so easy to justify petty arguments or think “Eh, I’ll hug ‘em some other time.” But experiencing death head-on has made me realize and appreciate that (corny) line that says life is fragile and precious.

We need to be so grateful for the people we have in our lives. We need to treasure every laugh, every funny conversation, every hug, every “I love you.” We need to take things less seriously. I mean, does it really matter if we get a B on a test? In the grand scheme of things, hell no. We need to be more open to spontaneity, more willing to try new things, and more accepting of new people. We need to recognize that beauty does not come in a shampoo bottle or lipstick tube, but in a smile, in kindness, in confidence. We need to love ourselves more, and pursue all the relationships in our lives with a new appreciation and vigor.

*Sigh* Okay. That concludes my philosophical spiel.

P.S. It might not mean much, but if you find that you ever need someone to vent to, drop me a line at teenagefeminist@gmail.com.

“Life is eternal and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon,
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
–Rossiter W. Raymond

Danielle also writes for Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist

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  • jULIET @ at 1:08 pm, March 14th, 2011

    thank you for this.
    i have not (yet) lost anyone so near to me, but i thank you for your advice on how to cope. seriously, thank you.

  • A @ at 3:35 pm, March 14th, 2011

    Thank you, Danielle. This was a very personal, brave, important piece to write, and I both thank and applaud you for it.

  • Melissa @ at 4:25 pm, March 14th, 2011

    Thanks you so much for this. I just lost my dad too in a sudden death, so I didn’t exactly get to “grieve” his passing. I am only now feeling what I have come to try to deal with his death. And you are exactly right about where people are and how people deal with someone else’s death. This is a terrific piece and I hope more people will share.

  • NWOslave @ at 5:02 pm, March 14th, 2011

    Death is the foremost enemy of us all. God bless and best wishes to you.

  • Rachana @ at 9:00 pm, March 14th, 2011

    I lost my grandfather, the day after my birthday. I am a 17 year old girl, and I went through and am still going through what you are going through and have written in your article. There are no words on how to express my gratitude towards you for letting us people in similar situations that we are not grieving alone even if not for the same people. Although, I dont know you, I am deeply touched by this. Thank you for taking the time to write this, it means a lot to me to read about someone like me in a similar situation. My grandpa was on the machine and I stroked his hand sometimes and I just cant thank you in enough or appropriate words :) <3 Thank you

  • Halle @ at 9:41 pm, March 14th, 2011

    Thank you for this article. Although I have lost grandparents and an uncle I was very close to, my thoughts immediately turned to the loss of my best friend. She died of ovarian cancer when we were 12. Her death has been really hard for me to deal with and I went against your suggestion and cried alone all the time. I made people think I was fine, when really my pent up sadness lead to a bad depression. I still find it hard to talk about- posting a comment about it isn’t my thing- but your post inspired me. Thank you and my sympathies for your loss. One thing I’ve learned about my experiences is death doesn’t get any easier to bear or less sad. You just adapt to the burden and think less of the loss and more of the life lived.

  • Rachel @ at 12:05 am, March 15th, 2011

    If you’re like me and you bottle everything up and deny yourself the expression of any sadness/pain in public or private, it can be incredibly relieving to just sit and cry alone for a little while. From time to time, I have a “good cry” and allow myself to feel that pain. Everyone deals with death differently. I think it takes some time for some people to be able to share these feelings that they’ve never felt before with other people. Sometimes explaining why you’re crying is just too hard, especially if the other person has no idea what you’ve been through. Thank you for sharing your experiences. This was wonderfully written.

  • Beth @ at 1:17 am, March 15th, 2011

    I lost my dad last month too. I’m 21.

  • Nereida @ at 7:06 pm, March 15th, 2011

    This is wonderful, you should share it (maybe publish it?) with anyone that has lost somebody close to them…very honest and real, but hopeful. excellent work.

  • Diana @ at 8:43 pm, March 15th, 2011

    To everyone who has lost a loved one, I am so sorry. I lost my brother 6 years ago (he was in a car accident), and the pain does not go away. Like you said in your post, the letters, cupcakes and homemade chili go away, so do the people, but not the pain. You only have yourself and a few people to lean on. Everyone deals with it differently. My Mom, Sister and I lean on each other, and my Dad refuses to talk about it. For the first year I suppressed most of my feelings, and I’m still dealing with the consequences of that now. It’s so hard to live with, but we need to give ourselves patience to find a way that suits who we are.

  • Hannah @ at 9:51 pm, March 15th, 2011

    Danielle, I’m really sorry for your loss. My dad died of ALS when I was 4, and even though I don’t remember him, I’ve had to deal with everything you talked about since then (I’m 18). Triggers were and still are the things that I have the most trouble with, but I think they are completely natural to have. I wish you the best, and don’t hesitate to email me if you want :)

  • Rosie @ at 10:34 pm, April 2nd, 2011

    Dear Danielle, I am very impressed with your article! I am currently doing an internship with hospice for grad school, and your advice about experiencing grief is sophisticated, insightful, and wise. I’ve been training in grief therapy and your advice is spot on with what I’ve learned and read about handling grief. I hope you won’t be offended if I offer a word of caution about James Van Praagh and other so-called “Mediums.” It would be a good idea to read up on the techniques these folks use to deceit the vulnerable bereaved, such as “cold reading” and “subjective validation.” Try this link: http://skepdic.com/medium.html
    This is has nothing to do with belief in life after death – that belief is a personal one which no one can prove or disprove. But “Mediums” have been scientifically debunked again and again. (including Mr. Van Praagh.

  • Jenna @ at 1:14 am, June 2nd, 2011

    Beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

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