Love, Life Stories

One year after losing my father to cancer, this is what I’ve learned

Years and dates are very easy to forget. Not for me, at least, not for a very specific day.

Except for the important ones, of course, such as a loved one’s birthday and major holidays. But for most people, the dates seem to just sink somewhere in their memory, until it’s only the images from the moment that remain.

Not for me, at least, not for a very specific day. It was just last year, on September 22, 2014, that I said goodbye to the number one man in my life, my friend, my confidante: my father.

He’d been battling a rare form of cancer called Squamous cell carcinoma, and had been fighting bravely for over 5 years against the disease. The disease took my parents to multiple countries and cities around the globe, seeking a treatment that would work, as well as endless rounds of chemotherapy. In the end though, as he lay hospitalized and sick,  the doctors told us that there was nothing more that could be done. That it would be best if he just came home. Eight days later, he passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family. I was only 24.

[bctt tweet=”Years and dates are very easy to forget. Except for the most important ones, of course.”]

It’s been about a year since that day, a day where everything changed so fast, that I felt like I had to sprint just to keep up. The pain might have numbed, but the reality of loss still stings. Yet the life lessons that I’ve learned since that day have been instrumental in my growing as a person. Understanding grief, understanding pain, and understanding growth have all been a part of those hard lessons. In the hope that it might help someone in a similar situation, I wanted to share what I have learned a year after losing my father to cancer. For anyone that has lost a loved one, at any stage in his or her lives, I hope this brings you peace.

It’s tough losing a loved one. It’s really, really, really tough. The healing – as broken as that might feel – will also take time. Time for the pain not to wake you up in the middle of the night, your face soaked with tears. Running away from and burying the emotions just doesn’t help – it only makes it worse. This reality especially stands true at a time when you’re already vulnerable, and let’s face it, probably an emotional mess. But there’s no shame in that, no matter what you might feel. It’s called being human.

We feel so many emotions simply on a day-to-day basis, and after losing someone, it feels like all of those feelings have been magnified. I’m no psychologist, but what I learned through the grieving process was to allow myself to feel my own feelings and to not judge myself for having them. Oh, and to cut myself some serious slack too.

The reality is, no matter how high we build our barriers, we will always be vulnerable. Why? By simply being alive we already are vulnerable to illness, love, heartbreak, disappointment, and the grand finale, death. In the months following my father’s funeral, I was the most vulnerable I’d ever been in my entire life, yet I allowed my close friends and family in because I knew I needed them the most. It wasn’t easy at all.

Let the ones you love in, because they are also grieving in their own ways – especially if they knew the deceased. On top of that, they’re also wondering  how it is they’ll be able to be there for you now. And the only way to give them an answer is to let them in.

There will also be good, bad, and flat out horrible days. That’s alright, and it’s also okay to miss the one you lost, because you’re making a huge adjustment in living your life, without the physical presence of a loved one. There were days for me where I felt good, where I felt okay, where I was surviving. Then there were the days when I felt pretty terrible about myself and about my life. A good university friend of mine told me that, to him, life was and is all about perspective.

[bctt tweet=”There were days for me where I felt good, where I felt okay, where I was surviving. “]

During some of my darkest moments, forcing myself to shift my perspective and look for the silver lining kept me going, even if it was a struggle to pull myself out of the hole I found myself in.

I sometimes feel guilty for going forward in my life without my father in it to cheer me on or be there for me. But I also know that to continuously exist in a state of grief benefits no one – especially myself – and would be an insult to my dad’s memory and how he raised me. It’s hard to want to move on in life, even when it just comes to feeling better for yourself and your family. But I learned, throughout it all, that the ones we love will always want the best for us – even if they have passed me away. It’s what keeps me going, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.