At one time or another you’ve probably heard someone say that when a person you love dies, a part of you dies too.
I always knew this to be true, and each time when someone close to me left this world, a part of me left as well. At first I used to think that was just a beautiful figure of speech, a touching poetic image that spoke symbolically to the depth of our profound sadness and loss.
That was until last week—when I died all over again.
My father passed away suddenly more than 45 years ago, and I have been no stranger on this painful road I’ve traveled since then.
Last week I’ve lost my mother and again I find myself back at this winding road that meanders through The Valley of loss, the sticky swamp of emotions, and beautiful mountain top sunrises that fill me with incredible gratitude and love. It’s a roller coaster of emotions that climbs to beautiful heights, only to plummet to the deepest of depths shortly after. Over the years I have mainly grieved naturally, allowing my feelings to come and go and it’s a healing process for me to not try and control these moments.
Recently though, I came face to face with the me who also left for good, on the day each of my parents did.
Over the course of 55 years, there are many profound memories shared, although we lived so far apart from each other once I moved to the States. I remember special moments shared with dad only where it was just the two of us. The same thing goes for Mom, as I had much more time with her vs my Dad. As you do when you lose someone you love, I often find myself randomly rewinding to those places and times in the past, to remind myself of the love and adventures and the laughter we shared.
One of those cherished memories was playing cowboys and Indians with Mom and recalling funny stories and memories with Dad.
In the beginning it was an incredible struggle for her to talk about these moments because they were associated with her pain and the loss of her husband. Eventually those moments became easier and it was something special we shared, that could always be used to cheer her up.
These moments became priceless to me. Laughing about Dad answering the phone, announcing that nobody was at home and that he was asleep…silly, but that was just the point. To be silly and not take life too seriously.
Between all of that, and Mom gone too now, I find myself with her memory and the moments about her, that rest with me. They were precious times.
There are lots of other things that happened during those years. There are more stories, more conversations, more meals, more funny anecdotes—but I no longer have access to them.
That’s what people never tell you, about the real, fundamental, life-giving stuff you lose when someone you love leaves.
You lose the part of you that only they knew.
You lose some of your story.
It simply dies.
Mom and Dad were the only ones there with me during those special moments and now that they are gone there’s no one to go to to help me relive or revisit or remember them when I want to. There’s no one to help fill in the gaps of my memories, no one to give me the pieces of life that belonged only to the three of us—and I hate that.
Any part of those days that exists outside of my memory is now dead and buried.
If you haven’t walked the Grief Valley yet, just trust me on this.
One day you will miss someone dearly and when that cold reality hits you; the truth of just how much of you is gone too, you’ll grieve the loss of yourself as well, even as you live.
One of the great things about having people who love you and who’ve lived alongside of you for a long time is how they can surprise you, how when you’re with them they can dig out a story or unveil something about you that you had totally forgotten about or had never known at all. Mom would do that all the time, matter-of-factly tossing off a random memory that allowed me to see myself through her eyes. It was like having a small lost part of you suddenly and unexpectedly returned to you.
As much as I miss them both, I miss the me that they knew, too. I grieve the loss of our shared story.
I mourn losing the childhood me who napped in their bed, and all the special memories we have shared. I miss the silly stories and even the struggles we have faced. We had a few tough ones. I miss the laughs and moments of closeness that only a child and parents can feel.
Just as sure as they aren’t coming back, neither are those parts of my story because my parents were co-owners.
Friends, as you grieve for those who are gone, know that it’s normal to also lament the part of you that they’ve taken with them.
While those experiences form you and reside deep in the fabric of your very heart, in ways that certainly transcend your memories, the painful gaps will still be there in what you lose without their eyewitness testimony.
Those aren’t just flowery words meant to simply paint a picture of grief, they’re a vivid description of real, personal loss.
A part of you does indeed die when someone you love passes away.
May they, and the unique part of you they’ve taken with them, both rest in peace.