When You Lose a Parent

Author: Michelle Ioannou, Real Life Stories

I lost my father to Multiple Sclerosis when I was just 18 years old. I was just two months into my freshman year at Fordham University, still in the midst of midterms in fact. I had watched my father get diagnosed when I was just six years old. I had watched the disease progress and him start to need a motorized scooter to get here and there. I had watched him need to go into a wheelchair full-time, but still be able to use the chair lifts in our house to come upstairs. And I had watched his body become so stiff from the disease that he could barely get out of bed. I then watched the disease take his life.

No, this is not an easy thing. Losing a parent in general — or losing any loved one — is not an easy thing, and will never be. And an extremely important thing to note is that everyone handles it differently, and I want to share some things that I wish people would know. You may not agree with all, but I’m sure you’ll agree with some, and I want you to know that if you’ve lost a parent, especially when young, you’re not alone.

You don’t want to hear “I’m sorry” 
The words “I’m sorry” will not bring my father back. Your pity won’t change anything. I know that can sound harsh, but it’s the truth. What you can do is be there for me. Let me cry. Let me talk about my father and cherish the memories. Reach out on days you know will be rough like Father’s Day or the anniversary of his death. But please don’t tell me you’re sorry. It won’t change anything, and it won’t make me feel better.

The emotions come out at different times
There’s no textbook answer for when your pain of losing your parent will hit you and come out. I remember the first Valentine’s Day after my dad passed. I was in college and went out with my friends like normal. All it took was one memory to hit me while I was sitting at the pizzeria at 2a.m. of how my mother just spent her first Valentine’s Day without my father to make me start crying nonstop. I broke down in the pizzeria, and it continued for a while. It’s been seven years since my dad has passed and all it takes is that one song or one memory and the sadness just comes rushing back. I could be in the middle of a conversation with someone and it can just hit me. Please don’t take it personally, it just happens.

I have limited sympathy
I chatted about this a bit when I wrote about what it’s like being too strong — but it’s important to note again. I am so sorry that I can come off as insensitive when you’re trying to vent to me about how your boyfriend upset you, or how you got ghosted. Please don’t take it personally, but after losing a parent at just 52 years old, you have a high emotional tolerance and a high sensitivity tolerance. You’ve been through one of the worst things that could happen, and you have a high threshold now.

Let me talk about him
I know there are a lot of people who have lost a parent that don’t like talking about them, or for whom the memories are too much to handle. Yes, it can get to me too, as I still haven’t brought myself to watch our old home videos. But, I love talking about my dad. It makes me feel great when I do — and it reminds me how fortunate I am to have those memories of him, and to share those memories both with people who have met him, but especially with those who never got the opportunity to meet him.

There are some days that are harder than others
Yes, the pain can hit at any time, but there’s just some pain that happens constantly. My father’s birthday, Father’s Day, the anniversary of his death, and the last day I saw my father, Christmas, Easter, holidays in general — they’re all really, really hard. And they don’t get much easier. Reaching out to a person on any of these days can go a long way; I’m so appreciative of the outpouring of love I receive by people on any said day.

There are some moments that I just can’t handle
Father-daughter dances are one of them, which I’ve already opened up about. Hearing certain songs on the radio are other moments I can’t handle. Heck, I even cried when the Mets clinched back in 2015 because it was just so unfair to me that my father wasn’t here to see this playoff run happening. Everyone’s moments are different; again, there’s no textbook answer. And as mentioned above, they can hit at anytime.

You feel an immediate connection to anyone else who has lost a parent
No, it’s not the same thing, and no, not everyone handles things the same way; but when you learn that someone else has lost a parent, you feel a sense of connection, because they can better understand than anyone else. If you hear that someone has lost a parent, you reach out to them to be there for them, as you have already gone through it.

You learn who your true friends are
It’s in times of obstacles and turmoil — that’s when you learn who’s really there for you, and who isn’t. When my father passed away, my best friend, who I hadn’t spoken to in months due to an argument, came to my house just to sit next to me. Our friendship has been back on track ever since. Unfortunately, I also learned who wasn’t there for me — those people who sent a generic text message, or those people who didn’t even bother to reach out. Heck, I even had someone tell me that this means I’d automatically get at least a 3.5 GPA at school because professors would feel badly for me! You truly learn who’s there for you, and who’s not. It’s one of the truest definitions of actions vs. words.

You learn how strong you really are
I always knew I was a strong person. Again, growing up in a house with two wheelchairs that will do that to you. But true strength is having to tell your 15-year-old handicapped brother when he comes home from school that his father has passed away. True strength is holding your mother’s hand while she’s talking about funeral arrangements for the love of her life. True strength is walking into a funeral parlor and seeing the open casket and somehow remembering to breathe. True strength is attending your father’s funeral, and getting through the day — and trying to continue on with everyday life, just as your father would have wanted.

Again, everyone handles loss differently. I just want you all to know that if you have lost someone and felt any of the above, you’re not alone. It’s not easy, it’ll never be easy, and no one ever expects it to be easy. In fact, some may say it’s even harder as time goes on because then there’s so much your parent (or loved one) has missed. I still cherish the memories I had with my father, but there’s still so many memories I wish we could have made.

If you’ve lost someone, and you want to chat with someone who can somewhat relate, please reach out to me. Tweet me, email me, leave a comment below. It’s not an easy thing. It’s okay to ask for help — it’s okay to ask for someone to just listen. And I want to be there for you.

A Friend Like No Other

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Real Life Stories

My parents and I went to see My Dog Skip when I was 11. I’m sure my fellow millennials remember that movie from our childhood days.

I dragged them to see the movie because I’m an only child and I wanted a dog. Simple as that. They’d promised me that we would “maybe” get a dog once I turned ten. When I was ten years and one day old I played my ace card and reminded them of their promise. It took over a year, plus watching the movie, before they were convinced.

We brought Fagin home as a companion for me, but we all fell in love.

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Me, age 12 and Fagin, age one (2001)

Every dog-owning family collectively believes that their dog is the “best dog ever.” The happiest… the kindest… the smartest… the friendliest… what have you. While we’re clearly biased, Fagin was always happy, kind, overly friendly, sharp as a tack and blindly loyal.

The 16 years of love and joy we shared with Fagin brought more memories than could fit into a blog post, but he was a member of our family from day one and acted as though he was a human. Before I could drive, he would ride in the car with my mom to pick me up from school most days, and he knew what was happening once my mom announced it was time to go to “school.” He also knew when it was time to go for a walk or to visit my aunt’s dog, whom we referred to as his “cousin.”

Once I was in college and I wasn’t living at home full-time, Fagin would knock me over in the doorway when I would come home to visit. And when I was out of commission after a fall that landed me in the hospital, he didn’t leave my side… except when my dad came home.

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Dad and his best bud (2015)

My dad was the one member of our little family who didn’t want a dog, but it took him all of 30 seconds to fall in love with Fagin. The ironic twist of fate? My dad fell in love the hardest of the three of us. He bonded with Fagin differently. They took long walks together, he would feed Fagin many foods that he wasn’t supposed to eat and they would even go to my dad’s office together.

I could continue to discuss memories, but I also think it’s important to note that for people who have never owned a dog, it’s difficult to explain how a furry family member enhances your life. They don’t understand that you’re dealing with a genuine presence — a real spirit — with thoughts and feelings. While you can’t communicate verbally, dogs and humans find other forms of communication that ultimately result in expressing love and loyalty.

And you reach a point where you can’t imagine life without your dog.

We lost Fagin to cancer on July 31, 2016 — and I don’t think any of us were ready for the feelings of emptiness that would come afterward. While the day was inevitable, the reality was altogether different.

With losing a beloved pet comes true grief — don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s “just a dog.” As I live at home, it had been so long since it was just the three of us in this house. And I realized I’d spent more than half my life spent with a dog.

Forgetting about my life, Fagin has touched the lives of our extended family, our neighbors, my parents’ friends and my friends. I can think of three people off the top of my head who all said that Fagin helped them get over being afraid of dogs.

It’s been a grieving process for my parents and me — one that I never would have expected.

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Mom and Fagin having a meeting of the minds (2013)

I don’t like to be at home by myself. We won’t sit in the blue recliner chair that became “Fagin’s chair.” We keep meaning to donate the big trash bag filled with dog toys to the local animal shelter, but it continues to hang in the closet. The slew of pet sympathy cards sent by those close to us have not been put away, and sometimes I’ll read them all for the 12th time when I think no one is looking. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the blanket that Fagin would sleep on when he came to visit my dad’s office still sits under his desk in a ball.

But what I am starting to feel is thankfulness.

Thank you, Fagin, for showing our family a love we never thought possible. For believing that we are people deserving of a tail-wagging, high-pitched barking welcoming committee every time we walked in the door. For never leaving my side when I couldn’t walk. For always wanting to be part of the family hug. For loving food as much as we do. For cheering us up when all seemed lost. For helping my parents when they became empty nesters while I lived away. For never staying too angry with us for long when we left you at home for hours on end. For your bravery and strength and spirit that you showed right until the end of your life.

There will never be another one like you.


If you’re dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, seek help at www.aplb.org.