Grief at any age is difficult to face, but when you lose a parent at a young age, it makes the path to adulthood all the more difficult. For myself and four other Ohio University students, grief still takes up space in our everyday lives.
My dad died 10 years ago today, two days before my 11th birthday. He was sick with bile duct cancer for only six months. He died suddenly, but also not so suddenly. By the time I acknowledged he had cancer, he had died.
Being so young at the time of his death, I didn’t fully comprehend what had happened until years later. I didn’t necessarily deny that he died, but I definitely knew it was too painful to address for the first few years. I don’t know how I finally came to a place of acceptance and peace, though I know time helped me do so.
After the loss of my dad, I became a very mean kid. I was horrible to be around, and I treated everyone in my path like utter garbage. I was truly miserable in the years following his death.
I wish I could say more about how I coped. I wish I could share more about the days he was sick and his funeral and everything about him, but my brain repressed it all. I hardly remember anything from the time of his diagnosis to around two years after he died because it was so painful that my brain subconsciously decided I didn’t need to remember it.
“You do feel like an outsider as a kid … it’s not a normal occurrence for most kids,” said Brendan Schoening, a senior studying social work.
“Growing up (as) a Catholic, that’s a big thing … questioning your religion… and questioning why God or whoever you believe in (did this),”-Brendan Schoening
Schoening was a few days short of turning 12 when he lost his dad to leukemia. He didn’t necessarily deny his dad’s passing but rather skipped to anger. That anger made him question the world around him, including his faith.
“Growing up (as) a Catholic, that’s a big thing … questioning your religion… and questioning why God or whoever you believe in (did this),” Schoening said.
Similar to myself, Schoening ignored facing his dad’s passing for two or three years.
“I was always trying to do something every night with friends or family or anything that could get me not alone,” Schoening said. “I think (this) has ultimately led me down a bad hole because at some point it does come back.”
As for the aftereffects of his dad’s death, Schoening was more hesitant to get close to people because he didn’t want to lose them too. He didn’t start to fully face the loss of his dad until he was 18 and a freshman in college.
“The longer you take time dealing with it, the more acceptance you get from (it),” Schoening said.
Schoening believed that continuing to have negative feelings toward the loss of his dad would only make him a more negative person in the long run. He emphasized the importance of acknowledging when you’re sad because the situation will not improve otherwise.
“That not only hurts me but it hurts the people around me…(but) you can’t control a situation; you can control how you respond to it,” Schoening said. “Unless you want to be negative for the rest of your life, at some point, you have to find peace.”
Anson Battoclette, a senior studying communications, was 11 years old when he lost his dad to heart complications. After the loss, he remained in a state of denial for many years.
“I didn’t really want to confront those negative feelings. It was easier (and) more comfortable to stay in that phase of denial,” Battoclette said.
In the days following his dad’s death, Battoclette remembers passing his sister's phone back and forth, taking turns playing Subway Surfers as a way to distract themselves from the loss of their dad.
Battoclette recalled the day of his dad’s funeral as a day containing a silver lining to his dad’s death. It’s hard to find positive aspects to the loss of a parent, but they’re there, and Battoclette found them.
“I remember thinking … (how) beautiful (it was) just seeing a room full of people from every corner of my dad’s life … as an 11 year old in that moment taking note of how many people (had) been touched by this one person,” Battoclette said.
After losing his father almost 10 years ago, Battoclette believes he has reached peace. However, he couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment when he came to a state of acceptance, it was something that happened gradually over time.
Grief is an ongoing aspect of one’s life; however, certain things can ease its weight. Battoclette has a blanket made out of his dad’s old shirts, which he said helps him feel like his dad is still with him.
“It’s easier to cope with a loss when you have things to remember (them) by,” Battoclette said.
Chloe Cosmo, a junior studying early childhood education was 18 years old when she lost her mom to pancreatic cancer. With the loss being only two years ago, Cosmo said she is still working through certain aspects of grief.
Cosmo said when losing someone to cancer specifically, the denial phase looks different from what one might think.
“I feel like with cancer, the denial part comes (in) thinking they’re going to get better,” Cosmo said.
When you grow up grieving, it’s hard not to think about what the future entails. For myself, I often think about who will walk me down the aisle and who will be a grandfather figure for my kids.
For Cosmo, she said she is still working on acceptance every day, though some days are easier than others.
“Thinking about the future, and thinking about how she won’t be there, it makes it hard to want (a future),” Cosmo said.
Kaia McKinney, a sophomore studying biological sciences, was 7 years old when she lost her mom to ovarian cancer. McKinney said the anger and depression phases of grief hit her the hardest.
“I was really angry at my dad for a long time … I needed somebody to be mad at,” McKinney said.
After the loss of her mom, McKinney and her family moved to a new town. Having just lost her mom and moving to a town where she didn’t know anyone, McKinney said the loneliness and depression really set in.
People may not realize the memory loss many people experience after losing a parent.
McKinney said her entire childhood is a blur, and that she even struggles to remember the happy memories with her mom.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve missed that aspect of having a mom," McKinney said. " I’ve always been a girly girl … I always wish I (could have had) that person that I could relate to.”
To help herself cope with the loss of her mom, McKinney writes letters to her. She tells her about what’s going on in her life as a way to keep her updated because she can’t physically be here.
McKinney has found other relationships that have filled the hole her mother left in her life. As for acceptance and finding peace, she believes she has done so through other relationships.
“It’s been so long since she’s passed, I’ve had time to cope with (it),” McKinney said.
Right there next to you
Grief hurts. People process grief by running from it. I ran from it and hid from it until it found me in the little places. It found me in the middle of the hand soap aisle at Kroger, as my eyes glanced over the scent of lemon and basil. I felt sick to my stomach and my eyes started to burn with tears because that’s the scent my father loved and always bought.
Grief is sewn into periwinkle polo shirts because that’s the color my father always seemed to wear. It brought out his blue eyes. Grief tastes like the homemade strawberry lemonade he made every summer. Grief sat in the empty chair next to my mom at high school graduation. Grief found me when my roommate’s dad offered to install the air conditioner in my window because my mom didn’t know how and I lacked the parent who did.
“Growing up without that masculine presence … I had to learn how to tie a tie (from) watching a YouTube video,”-Anson Battoclette
“Grief is always in the weirdest places,” Schoening said. “(I) recently saw a video with (my father). It had his voice in it. It was a reminder of what it (sounded) like,” Schoening said. “How do you forget a voice that you heard every day?”
For Battoclette, grief showed up in the lack of guidance.
“Growing up without that masculine presence … I had to learn how to tie a tie (from) watching a YouTube video,” Battoclette said.
The older you get, the less you’re supposed to rely on your parents. Nevertheless, when you lose a parent as a child, it seems you actually need them more as you get older.
Grieving looks different at different points in life. There’s the final stage of grief, which is acceptance, but grief never goes away.
“It’s kind of like a hole that never really closes, but you really get accustomed to it and (learn) how to operate with that feeling,” Battoclette said.
No one moves on from grief; they move forward with it.
Grief won’t always be a negative feeling. Grief changes over time—warmth melts the ice. Now, I throw the hand soap in my cart, and I continue on with my shopping. There’s a point in the grieving process where tears turn to smiles. Cries turn to laughs. Life turns beautiful again.
Schoening said his dad loved Honey Buns.
“I think that’s part of acceptance … seeing that and not being sad about it, but laughing (at) a good memory,” Schoening said.
For Battoclette, it’s the song “Alive” by Krewella. For Cosmo, it’s birds and butterflies; she has three butterflies tattooed on her shoulder as a reminder of her mom. For McKinney, it’s hermit crabs and dogwood trees. These are all the little reminders we have left of the parent we had, the parent we cherish, the parent we love.
Grief can be extremely isolating, yet it somehow strings strangers together. Schoening and I both lost our dads to cancer a few days before our birthdays in 2013. Battoclette and I both have basketball hoops back home that were installed by our dads that we both feel guilty about not using anymore. Cosmo, McKinney and I all have tattoos in remembrance of our parents. Battoclette, Schoening and I all wrote our college essays about our fathers.
Schoening, Battoclette, Cosmo, McKinney and I all experienced a certain type of childhood that was suddenly stolen, not gradually lost.
“Just (know) not (only) that you can be happy, but you also deserve to be happy... That love that you (had) for them doesn’t go anywhere and that love they had for you doesn’t go anywhere either … try not to forget that you have the ability to love and also the capacity to receive love.”-Brendan Schoening
There is a life of joy and laughter after trauma. Why? Because it’s just the way things are. That’s the way life works.
How do we find peace? How do we find that happiness again after the loss of a parent? How do we move forward with grief? Where do we go when a parent dies? We go on.
“Just (know) not (only) that you can be happy, but you also deserve to be happy,” Schoening said. “That love that you (had) for them doesn’t go anywhere and that love they had for you doesn’t go anywhere either … try not to forget that you have the ability to love and also the capacity to receive love.”
Grieving the loss of a parent can be less isolating when you know there are others around you who went through the same thing. Comfort, advice and simply knowing you aren’t the only one grieving can be a huge help.
When asked if she had any advice for someone who has recently lost a parent, Cosmo suggested doing things that would make that parent proud. She emphasized how she wants to make more of her life in honor of her mother.
“I feel like I want to live for her and live my life to the fullest,” Cosmo said.
Life is fragile. Life is short. Somehow, and in some way, it’s still worth living even when those you love most are not there. However, they are still living right next to you in spirit.