What is it like to lose a parent at a young age?
It’s dealing with the reality that most people who knew your parent will always know them better than you will. The only way you’ll be able to understand who they were is through stories and memories, which makes you both grateful and incredibly jealous. You have to bite your tongue to prevent yourself from saying, “Oh, it’s so comforting to hear how amazing my dad was. But it’d be better to know myself.”
You’ll always envy your older siblings for having more time. Always. You’ll also envy anyone who had an adult relationship with their parent. Oh, and little kids playing with their dads on a bus.
And congrats, you now have a secret name. Everyone now knows you as the kid whose dad died. Grief is so foreign to children that they can’t help but see you differently. As we grow older, we experience more death… but chances are that you’re the first kid that most people know who has a dead parent. Which means you’ll have to deal with the fact that most kids don’t have a censor. Which means they’ll say things like, “I know how you feel, my dog died” and “I wish my dad was dead.” and “Why are you even upset? Weren’t you just fighting you him?” You’ll want to punch a lot of people in the face.
Including yourself, because losing a parent as a child means that you will always feel guilty.
Guilty for their death, like there was some way to prevent it. Guilty for yelling at them. Most kids yell and fight with their parents but when your parent dies during this phase, you’ll never forgive yourself. The guilt won’t rule your life anymore, but it’ll always exist. Guilty for getting older and moving away from your family, guilty for getting angry with people, guilty for being upset. Just guilty, always guilty.
You’ll have a lot of people tell you that they understand. They don’t, but they mean well. Don’t be an asshole to them.
You’ll hear that you’re brave and strong. You’ll grow to hate those words because you don’t want to be either, you just want to be normal. The words are said with good intentions, don’t be an asshole to whoever says them.
It’s dealing with the fact that you’ll always be in this strange in between place. You’re probably more mature than a lot of your friends because you were forced to grow up at a very young age. You understand prioritizing life and that there’s a very finite amount of time left. Not many things bother you because everything becomes relative. But at the same time, you still feel like a kid. You’ve been wandering around motherless or fatherless for a very long time, desperately trying to hold onto some morsel of your innocence. You look for mother or father figures in a lot of people that you surround yourself with, and many incredible people will step up to fill that void.
But the reality is, that void won’t be filled. Not entirely. And you’ll have to deal with that. No sibling, or aunt, or uncle, or coach, or teacher, or stepparent can ever fill the void left by losing a parent young. They may be a father figure, but they’re not your parent. Accept that, and be grateful for their willingness to love you like family. And love them back, without the fear of them leaving or dying. Not everyone will die.
And not everything is bad.
You have a zest and appreciation for life that most people don’t find until they’re much older, if at all. You learn how to cherish every single second spent with someone, because you know not to take them for granted. You thank people, aren’t afraid to express the impact that they had on your life and tell people that you love them before it’s too late. Because you’ve already learned through it being too late.
You walk through life a little more fearless. Knowing that you will die gives you the ability to actually live. There’s a difference between knowing that all humans die and knowing that you will die, and that difference was brought to light very early.
You treat people kindly. You understand that so many people are suffering through things silently, and the best thing to do is not to be an ass to the person who bumped into you on the street, or demand excellence out of a distracted coworker. You know that everyone is just trying to get by.
Most importantly, you understand that life goes on. You’re resilient, you’re a survivor. You cherish the highs and understand that the lows will pass. You belong to this club of people who actually do understand. All someone has to do is mention that a parent died when they were a child or teenager, and you suddenly understand them on an incredibly profound level.
Maybe you didn’t want membership to this club, but you can’t deny that the people are great.
You’ll never get over it. There is no set timeline for grief. That’s okay. You’ll live.