Nothing sucks the air out of your lungs quicker than the moment you find out that someone you love is going to die. It’s the kind of news that makes your heart race uncontrollably and the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It makes your breathing quicken and just when you’re trying to catch your breath, it punches you in the gut.
I found out my dad had cancer on a freezing cold day in July 2002. It’s funny because all of those scenes in movies where you see people scream “No!” are so much more accurate than I’d ever thought. In that moment when my little brother looked up at me and said, “Dad has cancer”, I completely lost control of myself to the point where I remember wetting my pants a little, just like a scared little kid. Because that’s exactly what I was. Even though I was 23 at the time, I was totally helpless and overwhelmed with sadness and fear that I just didn’t know what to do.
On October 11 2002, my immediate family and I held my dad as he took his last breath. It’s difficult to write about because in order to write it, you have to re-live it in your mind and that can be very distressing. I’ve heard people describe watching someone die as “beautiful,” and while I know I would never, ever change being there in that moment, it was the most painful experience of my life. I know for sure that a piece inside each of us broke off and died when my dad did and I like to think that it was part of us that he took with him.
‘Strength’ doesn’t mean not letting yourself fall apart because for many of us, it’s the only way through.
I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last person to lose someone I love. At some point, we’ll all have to face it; but to those who are going through it right now, I say this: You are so much stronger than you realise. I promise you. ‘Strength’ doesn’t mean not letting yourself fall apart because for many of us, it’s the only way through. Well-meaning people might say, “It gets easier” or “It gets better with time,” but I disagree. It doesn’t get better and it doesn’t get any easier; you just learn to live in a new kind of normal. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be happy again because you will, even though it seems unfathomable at the moment. One day, maybe not today or maybe not for months, you will smile again and it will be real.
Let yourself grieve. Allow yourself to cry and to wallow in the sadness of losing someone who means more to you than you will ever be able to articulate in words. If there’s any comfort to be had, it’s the beauty in having loved a person with every fibre of your being. Some people go their entire lives without that level of love and you my friend, you are lucky to have felt it. That love will never go away, just as your memories of that person never will, and that will keep them alive in a way no one will EVER be able to take away.