What Losing My Father At Age 21 Taught Me About Life

Generally speaking, nothing can ever prepare you for the loss of a loved one.

I am a 21-year-old college junior and have recently returned from Europe after studying abroad in the fall. Within two-and-a-half weeks of my return, I had reunited with family, caught up with my friends and celebrated Christmas.

The next day, my dad was in a serious car accident. Three days later, he was dead. The days, weeks and months since have left a hole that will never be filled.

What can be described, however, are some lessons I have learned since going through the hardest experience of my life.

1. People Do Care

The hours and days after my father's sudden death, my house was flooded with flowers, cards, food and condolences. Pretty much anything my family may have wanted was there. Family and friends were in and out, day after day, bringing offerings or simply being there for support, assistance and love.

2. The Little Things Don't Matter

For all the times people complain about work or school or their inability to form half-decent relationships because they are socially inept and awkward, guess what? It doesn't matter.

There are more important things happening in life. Your argument with an old friend from high school because he didn't repay you that beer money? Doesn't matter.

Your "stress" from all your school work due to finals week? Doesn't matter. No Valentine on Valentine's Day? Doesn't matter.

What does matter is that you have your family and your friends — the people who are important to you and mean something to you. Everything else doesn't matter because life is far too short.

3. We Take Too Many Things for Granted

When was the last time you told your parents you loved them? The last time you told the people who mean something to you, that they do indeed mean something to you?

If you lost someone close to you tomorrow, would you regret not telling him or her certain things or wish you did things differently? Far too often, we take things for granted in life. I know that I do. Don't live with regrets.

4. Everyone Else Will Move On

Everyone will show up and support you immediately following a loss, but after the dust settles and the arrangements are finalized, everyone will get back on with their lives.

This isn’t to say that they shouldn't — they should, in fact. It's just something for which to prepare because while you are still grieving, not wanting to think about or worry about anything else, everyone else will move on.

5. It Only Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

For me, it has yet to get better; it's only gotten worse. The shock factor is wearing off, making room for the reality. When you're with someone who gets a call from his or her dad, the realization of “Wow, I'll never get that call again” starts to set in.

The idea that he won't be at my college graduation or get to congratulate me when I accept my first job offer or to walk me down the aisle at my wedding or be there to be the best grandfather in the entire world is something that bothers me every single day.

6. Wear Your Seatbelt

I can’t know whether or not that would have made a difference, but my dad did not have his seatbelt on. He hadn't worn a seatbelt his entire life, but after the accident, he told us he was going to start wearing it — and he meant it.

Unfortunately, he didn't get that chance, but it is one thing I make sure I do every time I now get in the car.

7. Parents Really Can Be Your Best Friends

Some people aren't lucky enough to have any relationship with their parents. Others simply don't get along with theirs or resent them for some reason. For many people, their parents are just that — their parents.

I was blessed to have my dad as my best friend as well as a parent. He was available 24/7 for anything and everything I needed. If I needed advice about issues I was having with work or school, he was there to give it.

If I needed to tell someone about what a crazy night I had, he was there to listen, loving every minute of my drunken stories.

If I needed someone to speak with about a decision I was about to make, both big or small, he was there to give me some tips, but ultimately, he let me make the final decision.

If I screwed up, he would be the first person to tell me, but he was always 100 percent supportive and proud. Those are all qualities I look for in a best friend — all qualities that he had.

The loss of a parent is something I had never imagined nor prepared to do — but why would I? I'm a 21-year-old college student, just worried about making sure there are no tests in the morning and a Philadelphia Flyers game on the television.

At least that’s who I was before my world was turned upside down.

So, do something today that I cannot. Call both of your parents, have a conversation with them and tell them you love them. Do this, because one day you won’t be able to do so and then you just might regret it.

Photo via We Heart It