Coping with loss: A personal account

Breathe. Look at the people around you. You are not alone.

When I was an infant, I stopped breathing and my dad saved my life. I was only a few months old and my father noticed my skin was past blue or purple, it was grey; my lips were a mix of the colors. Luckily, my dad noticed and got my mom to call 911. My dad tilted my head back, pinched my nose and blew tiny puffs of air into my mouth until the ambulance arrived. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today.

My father saved my life, but when the time came, I couldn’t save his. At age 15, I lost my father to colon cancer that metastasized to his liver. After a long battle with the colon cancer, the doctors thought he beat it; my father and his new wife were relieved.

Misfortune struck again a few months later. Doctors found cancer in his liver growing at an alarming rate. This is when my dad finally told my brothers and me. We were instructed to keep it a secret for the sake of my father’s own personal reasons.

I remember my dad in pain, late on a Sunday night. My stepmom didn’t want me to go with to the hospital because it’s no place for children. However, I knew that if his time were to come soon, I would want this extra time with him, and gain real insight as to what’s actually going on.

We were there until 3 a.m. and afterward we went to pick up a prescription. I was waiting at the counter and my dad came out from an aisle with some goofy sunglasses on. It made everyone laugh, even though we knew the circumstances he was in were no laughing matter. I still don’t know how he managed to stay so happy even though what was happening to him was inevitable.

After a year of countless battles, he passed away. The Sunday prior to this event, we had family over. My father’s three brothers and their families, his father and his college roommate. If you were to see him then, he just seemed tired. Tired in a sense that he was up and moving, striking up conversations here and there, but he would zone out sometimes or go a moderate period of time without talking.

The day my father passed away, my brothers were visiting him after school and I was at my boyfriend’s house. We were eating dinner with his family when my mom first called. I missed the call.

When we were doing homework immediately following dinner, she called my boyfriend. My mom told him what was happening, but since he keeps his phone at full volume, I heard everything she said. I packed up, he drove me home, and then my mom and stepdad drove me out there. The whole 45 minute ride, I tried to keep myself composed.

Family members and close relatives were just milling around the house when I arrived, tissues in hand. The hospice nurse met me at the door and we walked into his room. I wanted him to wake up more than anything. When I visited him the night before with my oldest brother he looked asleep most of the time, but every once in awhile he would wiggle his eyebrows to make us laugh, or open his eyes and hold a short conversation.

For the following two weeks, I started showing up to school late, always missing first, second and sometimes third period. The only ones who knew about the event were the school counselors and my teachers, but they were instructed not to say anything unless we brought it up. I constantly feel like I should have been there when he passed away; it keeps me up at night.

If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one right now, I want to tell you something I wish somebody would’ve told me:

I know things may be stressful at the moment, but you can get through it. You are not alone, so don’t be afraid to talk to someone.

I generally keep my emotions bottled up. I hate to cry in front of anyone and I despise discussing emotions. At this point in time, I felt I needed to be the rock of the family. When I was alone, though, I sat in my room, recalling memories and listening to old voicemails of his.

I was scared out of my mind and just all around sad, but I never really talked to anyone about it. I am haunted by the fact that I missed the call and I was the only one of his three kids not there when he passed away. I still refuse to talk to people about it.

Now, the slightest thing that reminds me of him makes me break down. I can’t listen to certain songs anymore; I can’t read certain books. To deal with this period of time, I quit track because it was too painful for me to constantly be reminded of one of the things he was proud of me for. I never told a soul about this.

I think back and wonder that if I were to talk to someone, I could be more open with these emotions. I constantly need to push these emotions to the back of my priorities. Truth is, that is the worst thing you can do.

I started to open up to some of my friends because they can see how I’ve been acting differently. I got a bit too quiet when people talked about death and I’d stare off into space a lot. The people who I did open up to were very understanding and helpful. They gave me the idea that talking to people about your emotions doesn’t always mean that you’re weak. Talking about your emotions with another soul means that you’re strong enough to trust someone and have come a long way to face your demons.

Life is so precious. Spend what time you can with the people you have around you. Anything can change at any second. Take care of yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. When difficult times pass, be able to look back and say you have no regrets.