Losing a parent is complicated. It hurts, bad. It affects you, probably even more than you realize right away. It changes you. Sometimes the hurt sneaks up on you, overwhelms you; other times you see the storm coming from a mile away. You brace yourself and try to ride it out until the next wave hits.
Nothing can truly prepare you for such a significant loss, no matter when it comes, and especially when it happens way sooner than it should. For me, it was ten days after my 23rd birthday. My dad had a medical emergency and passed away a few days later. It was sudden, unexpected, and completely devastating to my mom and me and to our whole family.
Before that, I was lucky. I had a wonderful childhood, two loving parents and a very close-knit extended family. We spent a lot of time together; my cousins are more like siblings and we have endless happy memories of growing up. Of course there were hard times – everyone has them – but the good far exceeds the bad in my case. Until one day when it felt like all the good was ripped out from under me and nothing would ever be right again.
I met my now-husband later that same year that I lost my Dad, and he is everything my Dad would have wanted for his little girl. In fact, I’m certain that he had a hand somehow in our love story. And my daughter… she would have been the love of his life. My dad was the strong silent type, but he would have melted at the sight of her. Now at almost two years old with her adorable little voice, sassy independence and beautiful green eyes, she would have him completely wrapped around her little finger. Just like I did. And each time I think about all that he is missing as she grows up, or what she is missing out on by not having her Grandpa around, it shatters my heart into a million pieces all over again.
But let’s back up for a moment. I think at some point, before you become a parent yourself, you swear you’re going to do things your own way – you’re not going to parent the way your own parents did. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you disagree with their parenting philosophies or style, I think it’s more rooted in the fact that you were annoyed or unhappy with their decisions because you were the kid in that scenario and you weren’t always getting your way. So now you are just certain that you have all the answers and you know exactly how you want to handle things while raising your own children. You are confident in the decisions you’ve already made in your head – “I’ll be stern about this” and “understanding about that” and “I will never say this.” Famous last words! Trust me when I tell you, one day you’ll be chasing your toddler around or picking up after your middle schooler or arguing negotiating with your teenager for the nine thousandth time, and before you even know what’s happening, out of your mouth comes your mother’s stern tone or your father’s intimidating warning and you will sound just. like. them. It will stop you in your tracks and probably make you laugh right out loud, quite possibly roll your eyes, and then you’ll want to pick up the phone to tell them, “You’ll never guess what I just said to this little wild child!”
That’s when the wave hits… and now we’re back where we started. Parenting after the loss of your own parent(s). It sucks. It’s hard. And it’s an especially vile punch in the gut at times like these.. times when all you want to do is pick up the phone to hear their voice or see them walk through your door to the utter delight of your kids. My daughter is so completely enamored with my Mom, her Grandma. She often wakes up in the morning or from her nap asking for “Ri-Ri” (her hilarious way of saying Grandma), and nine out of ten times that’s who’s on the other end of her pretend phone calls. She is unequivocally my daughter’s favorite person after my husband and I – and sometimes, I’m sure, she slides easily into that #1 spot. I am thankful beyond words for my Mom, for so many reasons, but perhaps most of all because she is the only person who could even come close to helping fill the void that was left when we lost my Dad – for myself and for my daughter. I hope I am half the mother that she has always been to me. And I thank God every day that I’m still able to pick up the phone to call her, and see her walk through my door as my daughter squeals happily and runs to hug her.
But the other half to this whole is missing. My daughter knows her Grandpa and he will always be present in our lives; we talk about him constantly, she points him out in photos, and as she grows up she’ll get to hear his stories, laugh through the memories, and ask her own questions about him. But I will forever wish that she were able to experience life with her Grandpa by her side, having her back, and guiding her forward as he did for me. And also.. that I could pick up the phone to hear his voice, or see him walk through my door. I’d be able to ask him for the advice I’ve been missing; I’d be able to see him lift his granddaughter high into the air, thrilling her. I’d be able to tell him all the things. I’d be able to hug him tight.
I’d never let go.
Meghan Scafati, Birth and Postpartum & Infant Care Doula, mom of 1, and undeniable Target addict