Denni Van Huis

What I Wish People Would Have Told Me After I Lost My Father

If you were to ask me two years ago to consider shedding light on such a sensitive topic, I would have been quick to shut the idea down immediately.

Yet, I have come to realize our generation is one that relies heavily on publications such as this. We rely on these publications for advice, for news content and for a place to read stories that are raw and real. I would have appreciated an article like this when I lost my dad two years ago, so I thought writing one would be the next best alternative.

Here are the four things I wish someone would have told me when I lost my loved one:

1. Holidays are not necessarily the hardest days.

After you lose a loved one, you are immediately warned about the gut-wrenching feeling you're going to endure when you have to celebrate something without him or her. I always appreciate the influx of messages I get on holidays from friends and family letting me know they are thinking of me. But in my experience, holidays are not the worst days by any measure.

You see, when I get to witness people appreciating and spoiling their dads on Father's Day, it brings me so much joy. Why? Because unless you have experienced a similar loss, you would not understand the physical ache I get in my body when I see someone take his or her parent for granted.

Mother's and Father's Day are the two days in a year where I can relish in the thought that parents are being appreciated properly. And when it's Christmas or Easter, I'm elated to be surrounded by people who remind me of my dad in some way, or who can share stories about who he was to them.

The hardest moments for me usually occur on a day when my routine is so average, so eerily ordinary that I forget such a vital part of myself is missing. It's when I hear a new song on the radio on a Wednesday afternoon that I know my dad would love, but I cannot text him to go on “The YouTube” to listen to it. It's when I'm doing work and search for an email in my archive, and an old email from him that reminds me he loves me pops up. It's when I imitate him stomping through the house with his muddy shoes on after work, knowing I'll never be able to hear that again.

So if your worst day is an ordinary Tuesday, and not Christmas or a birthday, just know I get you.

2. It gets easier to talk about the person.

When you first lose someone, there is a period of time where every conversation you take part in revolves around that person. However, as time goes on, people may want to avoid upsetting you, and so they avoid bringing up your loved one all together.

There was a time when I would tense up at the thought of participating in a conversation with anyone, fearing the person would bring up my dad's name. My emotions were so bottled up and so buried that the sound of someone merely mentioning his name would instantly evoke tears. But, not talking about our loved ones, in my experience, impedes our ability to heal. It is how we keep their memory alive.

Now when I hear one of my friends tell a story about a parent embarrassing him or her, I am eager to jump in with a story about how mine did something similar. Talking about him (especially telling funny stories) is therapeutic, and it makes me feel like my dad is still present in my day-to-day life.

So, if you have a hard time talking about your loved one presently, I get you, but it is definitely worth trying.

3. Everyone has different coping mechanisms, and that is OK.

When I lost my dad, I was in a constant state of being overwhelmed. Mostly, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love my family received. However, I was also somewhat surprised by how quick people were to make assumptions. I know curiosity is part of human nature, but making assumptions about someone for how he or she copes with loss is showing a lack of empathy.

The first thing I wanted to do when I came home to the devastating news about my dad was to immediately be surrounded by my friends. People may not understand this, but I've had the same friends virtually my whole life. Aside from my immediate family, they are my safe place.

They allowed me to experience a sense of normalcy when no one could look me in the eye for fear of having to partake in an awkward conversation about me losing my father. They forced me to get out of the house and go to lunch with them when I had not been outside in days. They stayed the entire duration of my dad's visitation because I was scared to face it alone.

Going out with them and being with them is how I cope with all of the curve balls life has thrown my way. No one's coping mechanisms are identical, and you should never let anyone make you feel like yours aren't appropriate. So if you're struggling with this, I get you.

4. Don't be so hard on yourself. You're doing great.

When you lose someone who played such an integral role in your life, it's not uncommon to become overly critical of yourself. You will second-guess your decisions, question if your loved one would be proud of you and be overwhelmed with self-doubt in times where he or she would normally be there to uplift you.

I have yet to completely overcome this myself. I think this can be attributed in part to me always wanting to include my dad in big decisions in my life. I certainly have learned to trust in myself more, but I'm not sure if the self-doubt will ever completely subside. I'll have to let you know. Regardless, if you occasionally find yourself filled with self-doubt, I get you.