How should one deal with the death of a parent?

mags asks: My mom died of cancer 3 months ago. I’m 16. Is it normal for me to only get sad when I am alone? What can I do when I get sad? This happens almost every weekend since she died.

Hi mags –


mags, I absolutely worship humans.  I think you’re the most amazing creatures ever.  I envy your brilliance, your imaginations, your inventiveness, and your opposable thumbs!


But one area where we dogs are lots better than you people is in accepting our emotions.  When we’re happy, we’re happy, and no one can take that away by shaming us into thinking there’s something wrong with that.  When we’re angry, we’re fierce, and while leashes and orders can hold our actions back, nothing and no one can take away our anger.


And when we’re sad, we’re just plain sad.  We mope, we whine, we howl.  We feel it fully, and it fills every molecule of our bodies, and every bit of our souls.  And I can think of nothing, NOTHING, that should make a person sadder than to lose their mother at such a young age.  I am so very sorry, mags.  It’s not fair at all.  It’s as sad as anything in the world.


You ask if it’s normal to only get sad when you’re alone.  That could mean two different things: are you saying that the sadness only comes when you’re alone, and not at other times, or that sadness is the only emotion you ever feel these days when you’re alone?


My answer, though, would be the same, to either one.  Which is that there’s no such thing as normal in this case.  What’s normal is that a 16-year-old should have a whole bunch of emotions about their mom: bothered when she tells you how you can’t dress that way, mad when she tells you to get off the phone and do your homework, deeply appreciative when she gives you some advice about dating that you can’t believe she understands, amused at the awful music she thinks is cool, and sometimes secretly glad that she has strict rules that keep you from doing some things you’re a little scared about.


What’s not normal is that you had to watch her fight and live through a horrible disease, and then to experience a loss so severe that it felt like someone ripped out the middle of your heart.  What’s not normal is that she’s not there when you come home every day.  That she’s not there at the dinner table.  That she’s not there when you wake up in the morning.  That she won’t be there when you go to your high school graduation, or when you leave home and come back to visit, that she won’t be crying by your side if you marry, or to be the fun grandmother to any kids you have.  Those things are not normal at all, mags.  And how any person deals with something that awful is completely individual.


And how you deal with them is true for you.  And that’s all that matters.


Do you cry every weekend?  How could you not?!  It’s only been three months my friend; you might cry for a year or more, and that would be totally okay.  This is your mom we’re talking about.


Do you only feel sad when you’re alone?  When you’re around other people, are you strangely unable to feel the sadness fully?  That’s okay too.  My friend Handsome had a grandmother he loved enormously, who died when he was fourteen – and he never cried once about her.  He missed her a lot, but his main emotion to her death was shock, and not sadness.  That’s okay too.  ANYTHING YOU FEEL IS OKAY.  Please remember that.


Then, you asked me something else, which is what you can do when you’re sad.  One of the really tough things about losing someone close to you is that you feel so helpless, since there’s nothing to do.  So yes, I understand, and think it’d be great for you to do something.  My suggestion would be to come up with a project.


Any are fine, but here are a few suggestions:


– Build a shrine to her in your room.  Put some pictures of her in a special place, with some objects that she loved or that you shared, and maybe a candle or two.


– Write a memoir about her.  What do you want other people to know about her?  Maybe even just a story or two that really tells who she was, and what your relationship was like.


– Can you draw or paint?  Make a portrait of her, one that shows what you love most about her.  You could even put things around her in it that she loved, or that her life was really about (and if you’re not a good painter, you can make it as a collage, using photos).


– Write a song to her.  Do you play an instrument, or sing?  Find something to put your gigantic feelings into a thing of beauty.  Have you ever heard a beautiful old recording called “Everything I Own,” by the group Bread?  That was a song a man wrote when his father passed away.  Or you might know the famous “Tears In Heaven,” which Eric Clapton wrote when his son accidentally died?  These are great examples of what you can do with these feelings, and they have done the amazing job of getting the whole world to feel what the songwriter was feeling.


– And last but not least, just talk to her.  Find a way that feels right to you.  Maybe there’s a place that feels to you like she could be there in spirit.  A place you could go to when you need to connect.  And you could just sit there and tell her about your week, about your feelings, about your fears and your triumphs.


And I know I’m only a dog, and not qualified to say such things for sure — but I do truly believe that if you do this, she’ll hear you.



Again, mags, I just want to emphasize, what you feel can never be wrong, and what you do with those feelings can only be wrong if you’re hurting someone else.  Otherwise, you’re Right.


As far as ‘normal’ goes, you can worry about that when it comes to clothes, to dating, to dance steps.  Not this.  This is something you never ever would have wished for, and which landed on you unfairly.


Time will heal, it always does, and the days will come when you can have fun on weekends, like other kids.  Which is just what your mother would wish for you.  But that can’t be rushed.  For right now, you’re doing exactly what you have to.  To get through this awful, awful time.



You’re Not Alone






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