LOST LINK: Losing a parent numbs your soul and makes you feel small and alone.
LOST LINK: Losing a parent numbs your soul and makes you feel small and alone. Think Stock

Losing a parent shakes you to the core

Last fortnight I travelled back to South Africa to bury my father.

His death came as a shock to me, interrupting the mundaneness of family life to announce its arrival in an unforgettable manner.

By all accounts my father's end came peacefully, a heart attack in the early hours of the morning that stopped his life and caused mine to falter.

Two weeks later, I have to still remind myself to breathe. It is easier to strangle the feelings of despair that stir than to choke on the reality should it bubble to the surface. I have yet to make sense of it all - do you ever? - so forgive me as I bumble along.

When you leave to make your home half way across the world, you give little thought to your parents aging. Perhaps the same is true if even if you just move across the same state. So caught up are you in your exciting all-consuming new life that there is little space to contemplate the fact they may be nearing the end of theirs.

Sure, you see the markings of time during visits - the wrinkles and lines that weren't there a year ago, the slight roundness of the shoulders, the slowing of pace - but even as adults, who know   otherwise, we can hope our parents are infallible.

But in the confines of economy class I had nothing but time to contemplate the years lost. I kept my head down hoping no one would engage me in conversation, kept my eyes closed so flight attendants offering food would pass by and just about managed to keep my tears at bay.

It was a lonely journey.

Like all of you out there I have dealt with loss before - uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. But there is something about losing a parent that shakes your foundations to the core.

It leaves you displaced and fumbling, a little confused even. It forces introspection - the kind you could do without - and insists you look those truths you have been running from in the eye.

Losing a parent, even when you have a family of your own, numbs your soul, it makes you feel small and alone, almost like you have lost a link to yourself.

Losing a parent, whether you expect to or not, sucks.

I left South Africa after just two nights, desperate to escape, to outrun the sadness. I couldn't bear to be near the memories, or in the arms of family whose raw grief was tempting mine to the surface. I couldn't face being in my father's house, smell his clothes or look at his room where sprawled belongings hinted of a tomorrow which, for him, would never come.

So I ran.

Back to a husband who will give me time and to my two little girls whose laughter and innocence will eventually bring solace.

But you can't outrun grief. I know that. Eventually I will have to let it in. But not today.

Today I will busy myself with work, with the school run, making dinner, ironing the sheets even. Anything I have to.

I never know what to say to a friend who has lost a loved one. Instead of tripping over words that unfortunately will bring little comfort, I take over food and flowers and offer a shoulder with that cup of tea.

And that's what my friends have done for me.

They have filled my fridge and my heart, making me ever so glad that they are the family I chose.

But despite their kindness and my eternal gratitude, every time I see those flowers - and they are everywhere - I want to scream. Their beauty is lost on me, their fragrance a constant reminder they are not blessing a happy occasion.

Psychologists and counsellors always talk about the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I don't know if I can still my mind long enough to really think about that.

I do know that death forces you to run the rule over your own life. It makes you examine how you live and love and whether you work too long and too hard in the quest for material things that don't matter.

It makes you think about the time you spend with your family and friends and has you promising to make changes for a life that is simpler but more rewarding.

Hopefully they are promises that will last even when the grief fades.

I don't know how you come to terms with losing a parent.

I suppose you live. Just one step at a time.



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