Author: Elizabeth Leach, TCU Student, Environmental Science Major
Published: November 6th 2012
When you experience the death of a close family member at a young age like I did, you don’t realize the impact it has on your life until much later. My father died from a heart attack when I was eight years old. I saw him on his death bed and I said goodbye to him when he was no longer with us. His funeral was quite possibly the most impersonal thing I had ever been to. I was surrounded by all these “family members” who I had never met before, and who never spoke to me after that day. I just said “thank you” when they expressed their condolences. Being a military dependent, it was recommended that I see a psychologist until they believed I was “emotionally stable.” The doctor turned out to be just another stranger that didn’t trigger my need to grieve. The unsuccessful sessions lasted for three years.
I was just starting high school when I grieved for the first time. My mom was on deployment for seven months, and though I had someone to stay with me, I was alone. All the feelings I had been burying for years erupted and I caused myself and those around me a lot of pain. I misbehaved, I started failing on purpose, and I refused to talk to anyone about my dad. I was envious of all the kids who had two parents because I felt like I had none.
Finally, when my mom took notice of my behavior, she tried to understand why I was being so strange. I was always a good kid, and everything I had been doing was so unlike me. When I spoke to her, I got angry and I yelled and I blamed her. She was never there. Even before my dad died, she was always working. “I’ve never even seen you cry for him,” I said. I wanted her to hurt like I was hurting. That was, until I realized that all this time she had been. I had no idea that she was hiding so much pain. I found out that she had been diagnosed with depression and a range of several other medical problems since my dad’s death. We both learned a lot about each other and ourselves that day. I realized that my mom and I had both been trying to protect each other. My mom hid her grieving from me in the hope that I would be oblivious to such pain. I never allowed feelings of grief to enter my mind because I didn’t want my mom to worry. Little did we know, we were building up more pain for each other because it all exploded later. What we both needed was genuine communication. Our feelings needed to be discussed, not tucked away neatly in our minds somewhere.
Since that first instance of grief, I have cried for my dad several times. He did not see me graduate from high school, and he won’t be there when I get my bachelor’s degree or when I get married. I will never hear him call me “sugar” or “pumpkin” again and he will never take me out to buy new books to read. And, I’ll never get to ask him about his life and what it was like before I came along, but I will be able to ask my mom what her life was like. She was there when I graduated from high school and she will see my bachelor’s degree and meet my husband. She still calls me her princess and buys me new Star Wars books every time they come out. Most importantly, every year on March 1, we grieve for my father who we both miss and who we both reminisce about together.
I believe that true grieving is only possible when you are honest with yourself and your loved ones. The people who know you better than anyone are the only ones who have the ability to support your pain. I believe that ignoring feelings can lead to suffering and that you should express them in some way before they cause pain. I also believe that there is no right time to grieve. When you try to force someone to realize a loss, it only shuts them down further. Everyone has a different way and pace of mourning, but eventually their feelings do come to the surface and once they do, all you can do as a loved one is be with them physically and emotionally.