June 6, 2015 was the most important day of my life.
It was the day I graduated high school. After four arduous years of high school, I was finally walking into adulthood. But that’s not the reason that this day was so important.
June 6, 2015 was also the day that my dad died.
It was an especially warm day and the stiff graduation gown furthered my discomfort. I sat through the entire three-hour ceremony, wondering where my dad was sitting. I exited the stadium and immediately ran to my sister. We both had no idea where he was.
After a few photos with friends, I hopped in my car with my sister, and we drove the short distance to my dad’s apartment. I felt this heavy weight in my chest that whispered to me that something horrible had happened, but I brushed it aside. Today was my day; nothing was going to take that away.
We found our dad sprawled out on his couch, face down. My sister shrieked and immediately told me to call 911. I still didn’t realize what was going on. The rest is a bit hazy, but sometime later, I stood on the edge of the road sobbing as a police officer told me that the man who had raised me for 18 years had departed the earth on the day he should have been watching me graduate.
It’s been two years since then, and they have been the most difficult years of my life. Three months after his death, I uprooted my life in Kentucky and moved across the country to Philadelphia, where I knew no one.
My safety net of friends and family who understood what I was going through was gone. I felt alone and anxious, grasping for some sort of understanding as to why my dad was stolen from me on my graduation day.
Most days, I felt withdrawn from everyone. Before I lost him, I had a sense of security in the world around me. While I was aware that people died suddenly and bad things could happen unexpectedly, I held onto a blissfully naive idea that nothing evil could touch me. After he died, that security was shattered.
But with every hardship, there is beauty.
Every day takes on a new, illuminating light when you are aware that days are fleeting. Relationships are deeper and more meaningful. By just living with grief, my resilience and character have become more robust. I live for two people now.
My story and grief are unique, as is everyone’s who has lost a loved one. I’ve struggled to latch on to some sort uniform way to deal with grief, but there is none.
There is no right or wrong way to cope; there are no good or bad feelings. There is just whatever you need to do to keep going. Grief never ends, but it changes form and becomes a part of your identity.
No matter how many years pass, I will always long to see my dad again.
Losing someone feels like losing part of your structure, but you are never alone. Besides the swath of friends and family who still love you, there will be countless other people who have lost someone and understand, to some degree, the pain you are feeling.
Here on campus, I’ve found comfort in the Living with Loss bereavement group, which is an open group of students who have lost a loved one. Your struggle is individual, but that does not mean that you are alone.
A few weeks ago my grandfather passed away at the age of 86. He was a witty and kind man who lived right across the street from me. I felt another twinge of sadness when my mom called me and told me that he had passed away.
But when I flew back home, I was again reminded of the ironic beauty in death. There were a few tears, but for the most part there was laughter at the old jokes he had told and smiles at the profound stories he was a part of. We were able to relish in his life, not fixate on his death.
The trauma of death does slowly fade, but the love and nostalgia for that person does not. Their warmth and memory is instilled in everyone who knew and cared for them.
Losing a loved one is a bit of a misnomer; in reality, you gain that person forever.