Imagine it’s graduation day.
You walk off the stage and catch a glimpse of your family in the crowd. Your mom and siblings gleam with pride. Still, all you notice is the empty chair where your dad should be sitting. The wave of grief you hoped you could keep at bay has released its full weight onto you; this is supposed to be a happy day and people won’t understand if you are sad. You halfway smile through the pain.
One out of seven Americans lose a parent before the age of 20, and most would trade a year of their life for one more day with their deceased parent (cofortzonecamp.org). With this statistic you more than likely know a person who has lost a loved one (or like me, are part of that number), but how often have you asked them about it? It wouldn't be surprising if you said never or only once.
Adolescent bereavement is often overlooked and it’s impact underestimated because no one talks about it. Our society is numbed by death and uneasy with our grief.
It’s difficult to talk about death especially if one hasn’t experienced it.
The only thing I can do is try to paint a picture based off of my experience. Holidays are difficult because everyone is excited to go home and spend time with family, except you. You should be too, right? It’s hard to be excited about seeing all the Christmas lights without mom—for the tenth time in a row.
Each year you forget a little more the way mom’s voice sounded or what her hugs felt like. Sometimes you meet a new person and become friends, and you truly wish your mother could meet the person that makes you feel a little more whole.
Everything kinda hurts when death enters your life. At night, when lying in bed, the thought will suddenly pop into your head that your mother won’t be able to go wedding dress shopping with you.
These feelings are such a small amount of what we feel and try to avoid everyday. Don’t get me wrong, some of us have great stepfamilies or heroic stand-ins, but they aren’t and never will be the real thing.
When asked if she felt she had friends who were comfortable with talking about her late father, Meredith Nichols, a senior international rescue and relief major responded, “Some close friends are comfortable talking to me about my dad. I'm thankful to have the friends that I do. Sometimes they know I'm having a rough time by just the look on my face. However, some friends I know I can't talk with about my dad. They get awkward and try to make me feel better or by the end of the conversation I end up having to comfort them. So I would say I have two or three friends I can talk to about my dad. Which is more than most people have.”
While it’s difficult to know what to say, sometimes a simple “Tell me about your dad/mom” will make the void inside not so big.
No one likes to be the person who “ruins” the good time you’re having with friends by speaking about the thing that tears you up inside.
So, we keep it inside. Wishing someone would say, “Hey, I know it’s Mother’s Day and you must be missing your mom. How are you doing?”
Many people say they’re afraid of hurting their friend by bringing up their parent. Honestly, we’ve already been broken. Little can be done to hurt us more. It doesn’t make us sad to share a funny story about your mom or show us a video you took of your dad last Christmas.
It hurts that we don’t get to talk about our parent unless someone asks.
We have memories to share too, but they make other people feel uncomfortable. We store them away and hope that one day the pain won’t be so unbearable. It doesn’t have to be that way forever though; you can reach out to someone you know who is hurting.
And you, the hurting, can talk even if no one asks. You don’t need permission to speak about something that has forever impacted the way you think and live.
Death doesn’t need to have a stigma so strong we can’t utter a whisper of support to those around us.
Many resources are available nationwide and on our campus that you or someone you know can take advantage. Comfortzone camp (comfortzonecamp.org) has counseling and summer programs to participate in or volunteer at. Mourning Hope (mourninghope.org) has grief support right here in Lincoln! If you want to know more, these are articles I found accurate and informative:
“My Would Would Be So Different If You Were Still Alive”-Holly Riordan
“We don't 'lose' our mothers – the reality is more violent than that”-David Ferguson
“The Untold Burden: One in Seven Americans Lose a Parent or Sibling Before the Age of 20”-prnewswire.com
Sally Becker is a freshman guest writer majoring in social work.