guest blogger mairlyn smith

My Parents Died Within a Year and Half of Each Other

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Grief is like a giant dark hole. A hole that you keep falling into. You crawl out and then the next day or the next hour or the next week, you fall back into it. It happens again and again. You know it’s there, but you keep falling in.

My parents died within a year and a half of each other. Grief hip-checked me right into that giant hole. What I’ve learned, through time, is to stop falling into it. I recognize that there is a giant hole in front of me, but now I’ve learned to walk around it.

October will mark the one year anniversary of my mother’s death.

Funny thing, before my parents died, I always wondered why people remembered their loved one’s death with such revere, similar to remembering their birthdays.  And now I get it. Marking the day, a loved one leaves this earth, is as important as marking the day they arrived.

I was just getting used to the fact my father was no longer gracing this earth, when my mother was given three months to live. And I naively thought, I have been through death and grieving with my dad, I can do this. Naïve is the operative word here. I assumed that every death was the same. What I learned was that no one dies the same way because no one is the same. My father went quietly into “that dark and stormy night” and my mother raged against her passing. Her death was so different from my dad’s that it left me shaken to my core. I wished someone had told me. Not that it totally prepares you for your loved one’s passing, but it may have not been as scary for me.

I was there with both of my parents when they died. Just me and my dad and then just me and my mom. It was my choice to sit beside each of them so they wouldn’t die alone. It was an honour to sit vigil as they took their last breath, but I’ll be honest, it haunted me for months. It took a very long time before I replaced that sad memory with joyous memories, the memories that didn’t break me down. I now think about the laughter and the love and not the moment of death. I choose to remember the happy times. It helps.  

People told me that my life and I would be forever changed when my parents died. They were right.

I am much more introspective, much more compassionate, much more raw than I ever was. I see life through the filter of loss. That filter can be joyous or sad, depending on the day or the time of day or a random thought that crosses my mind. But I see the world differently, and that’s a good thing.  I believe that my grief journey has made me a better person.

I’ve learned that grief is a personal journey for all of us. We cry differently, we cope differently, we mourn differently. And that’s alright. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, just our own unique way.

I’ve learned that there was a moment that I knew deep in my soul that if I didn’t get off the couch and go for a walk, I might never get off that couch. I knew that depression is insidious and during grief it can sneak up on you. I chose to get off the couch and go for a walk that day and I made myself do that for months until I didn’t have to make myself, until it became a habit again. If you can’t get off the couch, get professional help. I found that talking to a grief counsellor after my dad died was a gift that I gave myself.

I’ve learned that we will always mourn the people we lose; we will always miss them. We never get over a person’s death, but we do get used to it, and if you don’t, there are people to help. Reach out to your friends and family and beyond if need be.

I’ve also learned that most people are afraid to talk about death, they don’t know what to say and more often than not, they’re afraid to upset you.

You be the ice breaker.

You teach them that this is how you want to grieve. And then grieve. Don’t rush it or get busy so you don’t have time to process your grief. Embrace the pain. I believe that it’s only in embracing the darkness of pain that we get to see the light, because there is light. It’s bright and it’s shining, and it might not be the way the light shone before, but it’s still there, for you.

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