Heartbreak

My Hardest Goodbye: Coming To Terms With Losing My Dad At 21

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woman grieving and crying

By Sam Decker

I never thought my father would die. In fact, I always thought dads wore an invincibility cloak and death only occurred at an older age.

I felt deep sorrow when someone my age lost a parent, I told myself “that will never happen to me.”

On March 28th, 2016, my father suffered an unexpected heart attack. After three days of endless praying in the hospital halls, he was removed from life support.

What was never supposed to happen in my life was happening, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

RELATED: 7 Things I Wish My Dad Knew About Me Before He Died

I always pictured my father cheering the loudest when I graduated college and pestering me about when I’ll start applying for my first job. Eventually, he would walk me down the aisle and then give me away after the father-daughter dance.

Maybe, even later, he would be wildly grinning ear to ear while holding my first-born child.

I thought of him as an elder and seeing him and my mom grow old together. I imagined them sitting on the porch in the backyard under the tree, happily in love.

I was never going to leave his side and I know he was never going to leave mine, but life had a different plan.

The day my Dad passed was the day I knew my life was changing forever and it was going to be the most difficult change I would ever encounter.

I am 21 years old, in college, and living away from home. It has only been three weeks since my father passed, but I’m already learning where my challenges will be for the rest of my life.

You don’t get a “how-to” guide with losing a parent. I’m not one to follow instructions word for word anyway, but during this time I have found myself reaching for every form of comfort and grasping on to every hopeful bit of advice.

There is no step-by-step process out there on the best way to cope with the loss of a parent and it’s frustrating as hell. Not being able to see how one day we will reunite is challenging, and sometimes makes my head feel like it’s going to burst; but then something hits me.

My father’s most favored advice to give my siblings and I was, “Don’t memorize it, understand it.” I was raised under a Catholic roof and I have found myself routinely asking God, “Why did you take my father from me, why now?”

I have challenged myself to apply his quote to our faith in hopes that someday I will find a way to understand some of these burning questions.

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The comfort of applying the words my father said almost every day to my thoughts gives me strength to carry on and to find peace in the unknown.

RELATED: 10 Things That Changed Me After The Death Of A Parent

I’ve also learned quickly that what I am experiencing is a gray area to many. The loss of a parent isn’t uncommon, but at the sweet age of 21 it’s pretty scarce.

Don’t get me wrong, my friends are all great and have shown nothing but support and I don’t doubt they will ever stop. But, I can feel the raw weight of the baggage that I now hold and how it creates a bubble of uniqueness to my college experience and personal life story.

People tip-toe around the words “father” and “dad” and steer away from talking about their times with their fathers. However, hearing these terms and stories doesn’t necessarily hurt me, it just reminds me that from here on out my stories won’t be the same and that’s OK.

An older friend recently told me, “your baggage doesn’t make you any less than the rest,” and he is right. What I am carrying is a cut created by the loss of a loved one.

Even though this cut is deep, rigid, and sometimes feels ugly, it is the most beautiful scar I’ll ever carry.

Lastly, in this short (but yet seemingly long) time without my father, I have learned that I am afraid of forgetting who he was. How am I supposed to remember everything we have done together from childhood to 21? How am I supposed to grow older and remember so vividly the memories I hold of him today?

I can hardly remember what I did yesterday. The thought of losing such valuable memories is frightening.

Every day I wake up with the mindset of “OK, Sam, let’s just get through this half-hour.” During every one of those half hours, he never leaves my mind.

I know I will never forget the man who raised me to be the woman I have become, so I should never fear it.

When I look in the mirror I can’t help but see his eyes staring back at me. I will always be afraid without my father here in person, but I know I am a cookie cut-out of him and that makes it not as scary.

This world is full of unexpected events. Life truly is a riddle and that is something my father guided me through every day.

It’s difficult riding these waves without him, but no matter what the strength of the wave is, I know I am his daughter and he has prepared me for the rest of my life, even if it’s without him.

RELATED: Why Parenting After My Dad Died Was Nearly Impossible

Sam Decker is a writer, contributor, and social media manager for Unwritten, with a focus on grief and loss. Visit her author profile for more of her work.

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This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.