My Life After Loss

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Written by Cole Sterr

 

Story:

It was the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was 13 years old. My father lost his emotional battle with cancer on June 23, 2012, and it was most definitely the worst thing that could have happened to my family and me. However, through unconditional love, support, and motivation, we were able to continue on with our lives after this loss.

In this blog, I share some of the most prevalent things I’ve learned about living my life after losing my dad and how this experience has contributed to the person who I’ve become today.

Note: Please be open-minded about the thoughts expressed in this blog. My intentions are not to offend or make generalizations about people dealing with grief.

 

1. It’s okay not to be okay

Sometimes, you just need to sit down and cry it all out, and that’s okay! Taking hold of your grief and knowing that you’re in a place of emotional insecurity is by no means considered a bad thing. After saying goodbye to my dad, there were many times where I just didn’t feel right and didn’t know how to react to my feelings. I specifically remember one night in particular. It was a couple of weeks after my dad died and I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep and I just started crying, confused by what had just happened in my life. Evidently, I cried myself to sleep that night, but over the years, I’ve realized that it’s okay to do this. Whether you just need to sit and cry, be by yourself, take a walk, lie on the floor with your dogs, or even scream into your pillow about how unfair life is, it’s healthy to acknowledge that you might not be feeling yourself. Acknowledging that I’m sometimes not okay has only made me better at managing my grief, stress, and other life demands. So, if you’re ever feeling like you’re not okay or just confused about life, that is more than okay because you’re doing just fine.

 

2. Family is everything

The only people who knew exactly what I was feeling when I said goodbye to my dad were my family. Together, my mom, two older siblings, and I experienced something we never thought was possible. Standing there beside them while my father was plagued with cords, bandages, and the attention of various doctors and nurses was, without a doubt, the worst feeling in the world. After seeing each other in our raw, vulnerable states, we realized that we had to work together to carry on after this experience. Yes, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements and fights like any other family, but our shared experience of losing our dad has bonded us together even more. It’s also made me realize that the corny quotes my mom shares on my facebook profile, my sister’s lack of punctuality, and my brother’s annoying ability to burp on command all don’t really matter. After losing my dad, I can honestly say that I’d be equally as crushed and heart-broken if my mom or either of my siblings were to die anytime soon. Don’t take the family you have for granted, you’ll never know what you have until a piece of the puzzle is missing.


3. I don’t need to keep searching for my father’s approval
After he died, I kept allowing my dad’s approval guide how I lived my life. I couldn’t really make a decision without wondering what my dad would think or how my dad would react. I’ve contemplated if my dad would be okay with the fact that I am gay, or that I decided to go out of state for college. However, I’ve learned that I don’t need to keep searching for my father’s approval on things; he’s already lived 52 great years of a life and now it’s time to live mine. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still want to make my father proud, but I don’t need every decision or choice I make be under the guise of what my late father would think. I’ve learned that letting your own happiness and self-approval be the reason for what you do is a completely valid justification and perhaps the best justification.

 

 

4. Do little things that remind you that you aren’t alone

There hasn’t been a day in my life where I haven’t thought about my dad. When I miss him a little extra though, I sometimes wear some of his old sweatshirts, or signature Packer Zubaz pants and remember that distinct smell he had. Or sometimes I’ll watch some of his favorite movies and TV shows and I’ll be able to hear his loud laugh in my head because Joey from Friends didn’t realize that his family name was his surname and not his first name. Or I’ll lie on the floor with my dogs and reminisce about how my dad was the biggest dog lover I knew. I learned that these little things have made me feel like my dad is just a little closer, watching me, protecting me, and making sure I’m alright. Any quirk that brings you just a little bit of comfort can make your day a little brighter, providing some closure that your loved one is much closer than you might think.  

 

5. Don’t let anyone tell you to “let it go” or “get over it”

Grief is something that we as humans cannot escape. I came to be under the impression that people almost expected my family and me to get over my father’s passing as if it were just some little thing that happened in our lives. We were held to such a high standard to the point where people expected us to figure things out ourselves and that we couldn’t burden anyone with questions about finances, maintenance, yard work, or college -- things that my father primarily handled. Losing a loved one is indeed a huge deal and it’s okay if it takes time for you to make peace with what has happened. Death puts you through the wringer and you won’t come out feeling like kittens and rainbows all the time. Don’t ever let anyone undermine your grieving journey like it’s not a big deal or like it’s just some little thing that everyone experiences on a daily basis. Grief has the power to steer your life -- in most cases, for the worst -- and conquering grief and allowing yourself to make peace with loss is something you should pride yourself on.

 

6. Nothing compares to losing your parent

Any academic, personal, or emotional hardship will pale in comparison to the feeling of losing a loved one (at least for now). Losing my father was undeniably the hardest, most stressful, and most emotionally draining experience I’ve ever had to endure, even more so than attending college and becoming an adult. My family and I both realized that one of the worst things that could have happened in our lives happened and that we’d be better prepared to tackle any other hardship we’d potentially encounter. I learned that if I can be prepared to say goodbye to my father on his deathbed, then I can most certainly be prepared for any obstacle that will come my way in my collegiate career and beyond.  

 

And last but MOST DEFINITELY not least,

 

7. Listen to your mother

Please, just do it.

 

I realize that what I’ve stated here is not the same for other people who have also experienced grief. My life after loss may be completely different than another 19 year-old college student who also lost his dad to cancer five years ago. These are just some of the biggest takeaways I’ve gathered in the five years that have transpired between June 23, 2012 and today. I also acknowledge that I don’t think I am done grieving, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone ever is done grieving.

I hope that my findings will supply insight to any of my fellow peers who may still be struggling with life after loss. Thank you, CLAgency, for providing me with this platform to discuss my thoughts about this little talked about concept that we humans just can’t avoid.

This blog post is dedicated to my father, Harvey Alex Sterr (February 26, 1960 - June 23, 2012). I hope you’re having all the specialty beers and butter pecan ice cream that you can imagine. I miss and love you, very much.

Love, your Chips Ahoy.