Dealing With the Loss of a Parent

· 5 min read

The last four years have been the most influential in my life and are characterized by my darkest days; the loss of my dad to leukemia in 2012. The purpose of this post is to help people who have found themselves in a similar situation.

In 2010 my dad was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS); a pre-state of leukemia. I was worried, but trusted what everybody said. Everything will be okay, they said. But as it turns out, sometimes it just isn’t.

Fast forward to 2012. Some good news for a change, they found a matching bone marrow donor! We became grateful and full of hope. Over the next few months my dad finished chemotherapy and received the new bone marrow. It seemed like everything would indeed turn out fine, but a few months later the doctors confirmed the worst. His cancer was fighting the new bone marrow.

Cancer is well-known to relapse, even after many years. The wide variety of cancer types makes it harder to treat. What worked for one person, won’t necessarily work for someone else.

The success of a second bone marrow transplantation is significantly smaller, but my dad was someone who never gave up. Early in his life he co-founded a company that became a mid-sized industry leader. At the same time he was building our family home. He got things done, was extremely positive, and hadn’t a second thought about undergoing the chemotherapy again in order to receive a second bone marrow transplantation, if another donor was available.

The year went by fast and only days after new years eve, his condition turned worse, leaving Christmas 2012 as the last time I experienced my dad like the man who had raised me.

His second chemotherapy began in early January 2013 and for weeks it looked like a second transplantation could be possible. I believed it was possible until the day I received the phone call that I should come home. Everything seemed a blur as I seated myself beside my sister on a night train across Germany to visit my dad who, suddenly, seemed to be losing his fight.

He continued to fight hard, regardless, until the point came where we knew it was time to say goodbye, followed by weeks of goodbyes where we were too scared to sleep. It was the darkest time for my family and me. Seeing your parent losing his strength, voice, and consciousness is horrible.

My father waited until we’d all fallen asleep from exhaustion before he passed. He protected us to his last breath. I can’t describe how thankful I am that I was able to be at his side when he needed me the most, and I’m proud to call him my dad.

What helped me process my loss

I accepted it

When my dad’s condition worsened, we felt that the point came where it was better for him to be released from his pain to allow him to go to a better place. We accepted it.

I said a proper goodbye

The last days can often be described as a roller-coaster and at least in my experience the first time you think it will come to an end, a better day will follow. People have unbelievable reserves. My dad fought a long time to ensure we could say a proper goodbye to each other. Do anything to be there!

I spoke about it

I’ve a more introverted personality, and I’m not an open book when it comes to feelings. I prefer to analyze problems in solitude first, and I’m very selective with who I share my thoughts. I tried to speak about my loss with a few friends, but it’s a tough situation for both. I felt closer with friends who had experienced similar losses, but didn’t wanted to remind them. For me, the best support came from my mom and sister. We all helped each other. 

Regardless of who you speak with, I think it’s important for you to open up to someone. It helps you to process the situation and unfold new energy.

I was grateful and looked forward

You’ll feel like shit for a long time (and by that I mean for years). The important thing is to remember that at the end, it was better for that person. It’s okay to be sad and not able to do stuff you did before. For instance, I still tend to avoid nightlife. But don’t get caught in the pity trap! Pity doesn’t do anything but harm to you and the people around you. Don’t waste your energy on it. Look forward and be grateful for the time you had together, or as Dr. Seuss put it:

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

I did anything to stay healthy

In many areas I now feel responsible for my mom and sister. Likewise, I have to learn to live without a strong dad who was always there for me. It’s easy to lose your appetite in such a time and to give-up exercising altogether, but you should do anything to stay healthy. Processing the loss of a loved one takes time. It demands a lot from your body and mentality. Master the things you can actually control, like your diet and exercise.

I followed my passion

This is something I can’t stress enough. I find it extremely important to have something I’m passionated about and look forward to wake up for. In my childhood it was all about skateboarding, today it’s the products I’m working on and travel. My passion and focus became my lifeline and helped me to process the death of my dad and gave me new strength and faith.

Our life is limited, and death is as essential as birth. Use your time right, and live your dreams while you’re young and healthy. Don’t hold them back until you retire!