10 Things You Learn When You Lose a Parent as a Kid

Sarah's Thoughts

As a foreword, I want to tell you that if you aren’t interested in my personal life, this really isn’t for you. This isn’t an inspirational piece about how you eventually get over the death of one of the people you’ll love the most in your life. This is raw, and painful to talk about. Partially, it’s therapeutic to write. But, it’s not really about me. If 100 people read this and judge me, and think I’m crazy, or just looking for attention, so be it. I just hope I can make this ‘grieving process’ or whatever you’d like to call it easier for someone else. Even if it’s just one person. I think that’s a fair risk. Also, if you have questions, feel free to comment or contact me, I’m pretty open for discussion. All I ask is for there to not be any pity or sympathy. This is part of my identity, and it’s something I had to deal with & use to grow as a person. Not a plea for help or attention, so thank you for understanding that.

For those who don’t know, or remember- today, June 18th, 2016 marks 10 years since my Dad was murdered. And coincidentally, 10 years ago today also happened to fall on Father’s Day. I was nine at the time.


The Elephant in the Room

First let’s address the elephant in the room. My dad was murdered. Gunshot to the stomach, standing a few feet away from his killer. No struggle, no physical contact between the two. Probably very few words were said before my dad was shot. He was standing by his blue Chevy pickup, in his killer’s driveway. His murderer, John, concealed his gun in his pocket until he decided to shoot my dad. Dad didn’t even have a chance to move before he was fatally shot. The bullet pierced his stomach, spinal cord and aorta, and then lodged itself in the passenger door of his old pickup (fun fact: we sold the truck seven years later to a kid who wanted to use it for parts, all we asked was that he not use the passenger door. He did end up putting it on his truck and now I get to see that bullet hole when I’m in town sometimes.) My dad was probably dead before he hit the ground. Dad was suspected of cheating. I don’t know if that was true or not, but I don’t think men shoot other men, openly say they killed another man to the authorities, and without much of a fight, let themselves go to jail for thirty years (Fifteen with good behavior), over a mere suspicion. Not only this, but his wife filed for divorce the very next day. Honestly, I understand where John Eversole was coming from. I don’t believe in shooting unarmed, unsuspecting people for reasons other than saving other lives, but I almost understand his emotions and actions. Almost.
The consequences for this? My family lost a husband, a father, and a brother. The church, our community, and his workplace lost a really good person. An unintentional comedian, an intentional friend, and a really special person in general. And John Eversole’s family? They lost a husband, and a father for a minimum of 15 years. He left behind three girls as well. But they weren’t as ‘lucky’ as us. We received empathy, love, and compassion. We don’t have to worry about driving to prison to see our dad. We don’t have to be labeled as a murderer’s kid. We don’t have to completely change the way we view our dad. My family lost a loving person, who we hold a special, loving place in our heart for. Their family was completely destroyed, and it’s not a loving, ‘pull your family closer together’ kind of event. They got the raw end of the deal in my opinion. And for them, my heart absolutely breaks in two.

Now, with all that information aside, here are the 10 Things you learn when you lose a parent.


Someone has to break the news

First, if you’re lucky enough to not witness the death of your parent, you get to have someone deliver the horrible news to you. In my situation, that meant my beautiful, strong momma found out early Father’s Day morning that instead of getting groceries (milk, toilet paper & grape juice) before church, her husband went elsewhere and was killed. She got to send myself and my two sisters, aged five and three, away to my godparents’ house for a few hours. When she sent for us to come home, to tell us the news, we had a big surprise. Our front yard, and large roundabout driveway was full of cars. As was the lane behind our house leading to the fields, part of those fields, and our thirteen acre field across the road- filled with cars. This meant our house was packed full of people. The crowd was massive, but spoke in hushed, broken voices. They all immediately came after our church made a big announcement during services. Our preacher and children’s minister managed to clear the living room of people so my mom could tell us three girls that daddy was in an ‘accident’ and he won’t be coming home, because he died today. This immediately meant that my reserved, quiet, self needed to get out of this mess of people so I could let this sink in and possibly cry. I ran upstairs to my room, only to find people making a line to my bed like I was the corpse and my bed was the casket. They filed in one by one to pat me on the back and tell me it would ‘get better’. I held off on crying until days later, finally after the funeral because I had a lack of privacy until then. Even then, I didn’t want to run the risk of my family seeing my tears, so I sat in the hallway closet full of blankets and cried quietly. My dad was dead, my mom was numb (and broken hearted), and my sisters were too young, and too naive to understand that he was gone. I felt that I needed to hold it together for my family. This seems pretty normal though, it’s typical grieving stuff, and you’re numb through the entire process really, at least, for the first six months to a year.

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You feel Crazy

Second, after your numbness wears off, weird stuff starts to happen. I heard God talk to me. I’be felt the presence of the devil. I saw my dad, or maybe a ghost, a couple of times. I went through sleep paralysis. And I saw a massive snake, one that kept mysteriously showing up, that only I would see. Sometimes at night, alone, and sometimes in broad daylight, with a group of people around me. I also sleep walk a lot. Just this week in my new home I woke up one morning on the hardwood of the kitchen floor. Bed sheets, comforter, and fitted sheet wrapped around me. I’d go into more details on these things, but that’s a lot of personal information that I feel would be judged by most readers who can’t relate pretty quickly and harshly. If anyone is interested in the details contact me.


Holidays are no longer joyful

Third, you initially want to avoid holidays and church and get togethers like the plague. Christmas is the worst. It is never the same again. Christmas still doesn’t feel right, even now. It’s too quiet, too awkward, and too much to handle sometimes. However, I really wouldn’t advise skipping it, no matter how painful it is. The hurt never, ever goes away. It does get better though. You just have to keep working that pain until it becomes permanently numb and hurts less. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can laugh about it and be comfortable. The thought of the empty space at church, at the barbecue, and on Christmas morning is forever in the back of your head, but now it’s at least in the back of your head as time goes on, and not your main concern like it was the first few years. The pain doesn’t stop, and it’s still just as powerful, but you start learning how to accept it & be stronger than the hurt. Just hang in there.

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It gets awkward, a lot

Fourth, you get lots of awkward situations, and you’ll botch them. A lot. The worst is when people ask about your parent, and you have to tell them they’re dead. The person asking instantly feels terrible, you’re embarrassed, and the whole situation gets awkward as no one knows what to say. If you’re sad, they feel worse. If you crack a bad joke, they think you’re a serial killer, and if you seem indifferent, for some reason, they keep apologizing for their question. Honestly, I’ve tried to avoid this several times with different methods. In middle school, a friend asked if my dad watched football. I just said ‘not really’. She tried making small talk then and asked if he played football or used to play football. I told her ‘nah, he just.. kinda lays around, he really doesn’t watch tv’. I eventually told her later, but at the time I really just didn’t feel like explaining his death again. I guess part of losing a parent means you acquire a strange sense of humor over time. There really is no good way to answer though.


People will say really insensitive things

Fifth, People will speak harshly about your parent. My dad’s death was not a ‘noble’ one, nor was it one that portrayed him as innocent. I got to hear people tell myself & my mother that he got exactly what he deserved. It hurts, and it’s extremely rude, but I thought that’s just part of it in situations like these. But I have a few friends who also lost parents to more inescapable, innocent deaths. One of them, was lost to skin cancer. His son actually overheard one of his mom’s friends saying he should have worn sun screen, and should have spent more time indoors with his family. They still blamed him for getting cancer, like it was his decision. People are brutal, and it’s something you just learn. And believe me, they aren’t people you would expect to say these sorts of things.


There’s a lot of hard days

Sixth, you’re gonna have really sappy, really emotional days. I don’t know if this is something only women go through, or if it’s universal, but it definitely happens. It’s pretty much PMS on steroids. One minute you’re happily sipping a glass of water, the next you spill it in your lap & go ape. Suddenly you’re crying and cussing because the entire world is unfair. And then other moments, you’re sitting around the campfire with good friends and someone makes a joke that sounds just like something your parent would say. Then you either escape for a minute to compose yourself, or you just grin ear to ear for a minute- thrilled- because it felt like you got a visit from him. Don’t feel crazy for being crazy, somehow I think that’s natural. There’s also gonna be lots of days you just lay down and don’t want to get up, and you won’t. Sometimes for days on end. It’s okay, but try to keep this under control, the longer you lay there and think over everything, the harder it is. Get really good friends. My best friends are guys, and they seem to always have perfect timing. I’d no more retreat to my room to hide & they’d be blowing up my phone to go to the garage or to go out for food, or to go to the fair, tractor pulls, just anything. They have no idea how much they improve my life. They never pitied me for losing Dad, and they never looked at me like I was lost. They looked at me as an equal and as a friend, and that made all the difference. So be a good friend, so you can have good friends. They might just save your life and give you some really great stories to tell.


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Your perspective on life is forever changed

Seventh, you really start to have a twisted outlook on life. I feel like I’m always in a rush to tell my sisters and Devin how to do things he doesn’t know yet. Because I want them to be as safe and prepared as possible when I die. As a nineteen year old, I shouldn’t be prepping like a ninety year old for my death. That’s the worst of it though. A side effect of this is that I really don’t take anything for granted. And I appreciate kind words & kind gestures so much more than I used to. Every good moment is like a high to me. I appreciate it so much & I try to gather it all up in my mind and heart and hold it as long as I can.


Someday you’ll understand it better

Eighth, you will someday see why this happened to you. You have control of your life and you will have several opportunities to make your tragedy a treasure. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Maybe you can talk to others who lost a parent and help them, maybe save a life. Maybe you develop a new personality, and become more independent. You may learn to be tough yet gentle, and it can be a huge relief to have that kind of ability in times of need. Just find what you can do to make a mistake into a good thing, the situations will arise to make these choices.


You can’t let yourself go crazy trying to figure out the purpose and the why

Ninth, now, keeping that last point in mind, don’t go overboard with it. Before your parent’s death- your life was a garden. You were growing up, and doing your best. After you lost this great love in your life- that was the pile of manure dumped on it. It sprayed your garden, it smelled terrible, it may have broke some leaves or a few weak plants. But… After some time, your garden started growing again, and now, your plants are bigger, and stronger, because they’ve been fertilized. You may be able to start harvesting your vegetables and giving them away. This is where it’s important to not try too hard to make too much good out of the bad. Yes. Your fertilizer was eventually a huge help, and it made your garden bigger and more capable. However, don’t try to harvest all your produce at once. You’ll prematurely kill off all your plants that you worked so hard to tend. Give a little here and there, but don’t mow down your garden in attempts to help everyone. You’ll get burned out and hurt yourself in the end.


You’ll feel responsible for it, even though you shouldn’t

Last, I think this is really important for you to know. You’re a really capable, really good person. If you’re like me, you have lots of regrets as to how you treated that person before they died. You might even feel responsible for it. You’re not. Please don’t let this get to your head. Tell other people about it, spill all of it. Probably don’t tell your surviving parent though. He or she is going through even more than you are. You need to keep it together for him or her. Don’t give them a reason for more stress or confusion. Just keep moving on and keeping yourself together as best as you can. You didn’t cause this. You’re loved. And you’re gonna be okay. Tomorrow may not be better than today, but it’s better to see tomorrow, and the day after, than to not know. As fast as your life can take a turn for the worse, it can turn around for the better- twice as quick. Don’t stop.
I hope this could help those who are missing a loved one in some way. If you have any other tips or questions or concerns, feel free to comment below or contact me privately. As always, thank you for reading.

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