Overcoming Grief: How I Recovered from the Death of a Parent

Overcoming Grief

One thing is certain; dealing with loss is not easy. Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, we will lose a loved one. This is a given fact of life from which we cannot escape. Today, I share a very personal story of loss and how I dealt with the flow of emotions that ensued.

My aunt was visiting from abroad. We had just had a great start to the weekend and I was looking forward to another wonderful day as we went to bed that night. In the middle of the night, my father woke my mother and asked her to ready a bath so that he may purify his body before he dies. Horrified, my mother, inquisitive, spent the next few minutes trying to understand what was happening. She finally agreed to the ominous request. By the time my mother got back to the bedroom, my father was paralyzed over half of his body and lost consciousness. He never spoke again and never woke up. He died a week later at a local hospital. I was eleven years old at the time. Loosing dad was a shock for my family. I took it hard, real hard. It wasn’t because he died that bothered me – we expected that our parents would die at some point. It was the way it happened: I never really said goodbye.

Evaluating what was lost: a sacred bond between father and son
Dad and I had a strong bond. By age nine, I could drive a stick shift, knew my way around an engine and could do most maintenance tasks in a home. He taught me. Somehow he felt these skills were a must for a man. He saw in me a future full of possibilities; a better version of himself. I loved and admired him for what he was and how he overcame countless challenges to get to where he was. He was an autodidact who became a mechanical engineer for a prestigious French company. He was not just a father to me but a friend, a teacher, a cheerleader and a mentor. My ambitious nature and willingness to make a positive mark in society was instilled in me thanks to him.

When culture, perceptions and society get in the way of grieving

Although my emotions were erupting every which way, I simply internalized all of it. I was indifferent on the outside but an internal war of emotions was raging inside me. I questioned my faith, wondered what I had done wrong to warrant such a tragedy to befall my family. I even felt ashamed that my father was dead; my friends had parents and I didn’t. This was a precarious moment in my life but I was conscious of the fact that my thinking was different, and not in a good way. I was well aware that if I buried my feelings long enough, they would resurface when I least expected it, in a burst of tears, an outburst of anger, depression or worst. The challenges I faced did not help either. For instance, therapy was not an option, mainly because I did not have access to it. There were also cultural factors in play: grieving was a family affair. In other words, an individual’s emotional struggle with the grieving process was not addressed separately. You just had to deal with it like everyone else.

Ways to cope with grief: it takes time to heal
Don’t suppress your feelings or emotions. When you can, be around others who understand what you are going through. Face the fact that you lost someone that you really cared about and they are not coming back. Let your emotions out: cry. I remember hiding behind a door and releasing three days worth of internalized pain and how good it felt (don’t hide, this is perfectly normal). The notion that “boys don’t cry” is completely misguided! Instead, you need to let it out. Understand that we live in biological vessels that we have no control over. There is a saying that is “the moment a body tastes life, it is guaranteed death.” Life and death are natural dualities. Like water and fire, wind and earth, we do not control them. We never will.

What you do have control over is your time. So, take up a hobby you find relaxing and fun. I took up drawing, martial arts, played competitive soccer and wrote short stories and poetry. Taking up activities did three things for me:

1) Martial arts allowed me to channel my emotions: I could meditate calmly or hit something in a controlled environment.
2) Soccer kept me physically fit and fostered crucial social relationships that went on for years afterwards.
3) Writing short stories and poetry made me realize that life does go on and that death is as much a part of life as birth is. It is a natural process in our lifecycle.

The key takeaway here is that all these activities were natural extensions of my interests. I wanted to try them well before my father died. Writing, for instance allowed me to express tangled thoughts at various emotional stages, in the form of cryptic poems filled with analogies and metaphors that only I truly understood. It allowed me to express, in a creative manner, everything I felt.

The road to healing: you matter
At some point, you realize that your loved one will not be coming back. This is a tough stage in the grieving process. You also need to realize that YOU are here, still alive. You matter. Your presence in this world matters. So live your life. Find things that are worth living for. Think of moments you shared that were humorous and precious at the same time. Your loved one lives on through those precious memories. For me, it was the little things: being in dad’s workshop, recalling the smell of grease, offering shelter to strangers, being kind to animals.

It is crucial to share your thoughts, memories, feelings and emotions with someone. Be sure to talk to a therapist, a grief counselor, a close friend, a family member or whoever you feel comfortable with. As you talk it over, you will start to find your way back to normal life, in time.

For me, getting over my father’s death took longer than most. Because I had such a tight bond with him, some activities that were part of my routine where tied to his physical presence. Consequently, there was not only an emotional void, but also a physical one. To top it all off, additional events that were highly destabilizing, occurred shortly after my father’s death, making matters worse. I felt I had to suspend the grieving process for the sake of my mother and sisters. Family dynamics made me the de facto “man of the house” in accordance to cultural norms at the time.

This is an example of what not to do when dealing with grief. While the length of time it takes to get over loss depends on the individual and many other factors, not grieving at all will only prolong the process. Ultimately, the only way to successfully grieve is to face the reality of the loss. Acknowledge that it happened, let your emotions run their course and say your goodbyes when you are ready.

A word of caution: Grieving is a process
In truth, grieving is complex and consists of many stages that cannot be properly addressed in a short blog post. However, I hope that sharing my experience will give you the courage to grieve your own loss so that you may find normalcy again.

Have you lost someone? How did you overcome grief? Help others, share your experience below.

Grief, Loss and Bereavement Resources:
The 5 Stages of Grief
Symptoms of Grief
Mourning the Death of a Spouse
Grief and Loss

Disclaimer: The links posted on this page are informational only. I have no association, nor do I endorse any of them.


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  • Papa

    Very touching Oumar
    The One who gives and takes lives assisted you in those tough times. Loss of a loved one you knew will always affect your life; psychological preparation is key.
    These notes are well written and take the reader in the heart of the story, living and feeling the same moments as you did which make this book very interesting.

    • Thanks for your kind words Pape. I appreciate it.