How You Die, When Someone You Love Dies

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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 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 is, until this week—when I died.

My father passed away suddenly nearly two years ago, and I’ve written a great deal here about the road I’ve traveled since then. It’s one that’s meandered from the night-time depths of heaving sobs, to sweet sunrise moments of incredible gratitude. Most of the time I’ve naturally grieved his loss from my life; the absence replacing his presence.

Recently though, I came face to face with the me who also left for good, on the day that he did.

Over the course of our 44 years together, my dad and I did lots of really great stuff—just the two of us. 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 me of the love and adventures and the laughter we shared. One of those cherished memories was of the Saturdays in my early teenage years, when I’d accompany him to a local indoor flea market at the New York State Fairgrounds. Times were tough for our family then (though I was quite oblivious), and my father was selling athletic shoes on the side to help keep our heat on and our pantry full.

It was an incredible struggle for him and I’m sure from his perspective, a pretty rough time. To me it was like Christmas at Disneyland.

I’d get up before the sun on Saturday and help him load up the shoes into massive hockey bags and off we’d go. We’d usually eat breakfast from one of the vendors on site in the damp cold of the early winter morning. (I can still taste the bagels grilled on a huge flat top with gobs of butter and smell the bacon that had been crisping up next to them). Once things were up and running at my dad’s booth, I’d head off to explore the flea market, which may as well have been an amusement park to my ninth grade brain. I spent hours and hours looking through racks of record albums, digging through old comic books, trying out stereo equipment, making handmade buttons with silly catch phrases on them, and checking out cute girls at the other booths.

Between all of that, I’d hang out with my dad and watch him do his thing with customers, trying to be helpful where I could. Later we’d pack up everything and usually head back home after lunch. They were precious times.

There are lots of other things that happened during those weekends he and I spent together at the flea market; 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.

My dad was the only one there with me during those special Saturdays, and now that he’s 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 two 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. My dad would do that all the time, matter-of-factly tossing off a random memory that allowed me to see myself through his eyes. It was like having a small lost part of you suddenly and unexpectedly returned to you.

As much as I miss my dad (and I do miss him terribly) I miss the me that he knew, too. I grieve the loss of our shared story.

I mourn losing the childhood me who napped with him on his bed, the teenage me who spent those priceless Saturday mornings with him, the college aged me who fell asleep while he drove the four-hour trip back to college, the middle-aged me who made him laugh with silly stories of his grandkids.

Just as sure as he isn’t coming back, neither are those parts of my story because he was their co-owner.

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 formed 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.

 

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58 thoughts on “How You Die, When Someone You Love Dies

  1. I have lost my parents. My Dad over 20 years ago, my Mom, 10 years ago. I remember how surreal it felt, to have been speaking with them one day, and gone the next. It took me many years to grieve my Dad. I still miss my Mom and sometimes cry like a little kid when I remember them. Most of the time I am so grateful for the love they bestowed. I had such a happy life with them and am eternally grateful. I have dreamed of them, young and in love, and hope this is how they are now. Being Catholic has given me a new spiritual home and life and helped me to forge a close relationship with my father, Jesus, who has loved me before I was here and will for eternity. I pray daily for my parents and know they are with God. Even though time has marched on, I still feel close to them and find comfort and peace they are together and happy. I love you Jesus Christ.

  2. This beautiful piece brings to my mind the countless number of Christian parents I know who grieve the death of a child still living; my friends who have children who are transgender not only navigate the accusations and the harm thrown from society and from religious voices like the Nashville Statement writers and signers, they must also say goodbye to the expectations they formed and learn to adapt to the reality of their child, and their “new” identity, and in some cases never to refer to or bring up past memories of their now “departed” loved one. If mercy is to be extended to those in peril. I hope we, the members of the Body of Christ, will allow ourselves to reach out to the families of transgender individuals since the only guideline to who gets mercy and who doesn’t is this: Extend mercy as your Father in heaven has granted you mercy.

  3. This was beautiful, and I’d like to link to it on my Alzheimer’s blog. We family caregivers die a little bit every day, as our loved one forgets his/her life and our life together. In my case it’s my husband of 35 years.

  4. The idea you describe here is one that is very frightening to me. I have been married to a wonderful man (who is 12 years my senior) for 42 years. He is 74 and I cannot imagine life without him. There is so much of me that only he knows. I don’t know who I will be without him. I would never trade the time I have had with my husband, but I cannot contemplate losing him without great pain and foreboding.

    • I lost my husband of almost 50 years and each day I remember more we shared together every day. I loved him more than life but know I must go on. It is hard. People have tried to introduce me to other men. They do not realize I never want any one to take his place. He took my heart with him at least his part of it and I miss him so much. I don’t want anyone else’ not today or tomorrow. He was the love of my life and I thank God for the 40 years I had him.

      • I understand completely. Lost my husband of 40 yrs together for 44 Teenage sweethearts. Its been 28mths and I still dont lnow how to go on. I try everyday ..hardest thing I have ever done. Lost, mom, dad. Sister brother nana and friends. They all hurt tremendously. And miss them dearly, but
        My future was ment to be with my husband and that future died when he did. Cant wait till I see him hopefully one day ,I hope that is true. I hope i dont have to wait too long 💕

  5. Pingback: Who Knows Your Story? – Tea and Theology

  6. Well I think differently…. its the “me recall” that makes it real … its like looking back and seeing things you did that no one you are currently knowing shared with you… they are still real… to you… once that goes well … its gone… we also need to know that what we recall is possibly and probably not what anyone else present at that time recalls… its perspective… its a simple snap shot of a single second in time that no one else sees exactly the same.

  7. Stumbled upon this post, while searching something else. As a now “unintended expert” on grief, I found it an interesting perspective. Part of you does die with the person, probably a different part for each person depending on the relationship.

  8. I have traveled some of this same patch of road myself, as my father died at the age of 70 of a brain tumor at about the same time your father did. If you are ever in NE Ohio, look me up. Would love to share coffee and “dad stories”. Thanks for sharing intimately some of the very raw, gut-wrenching, and chaotic thoughts along the way fellow traveler. You post touched me, and I look forward (awkward) to reading the other writings on this you have made. David

  9. What an amazing gift you have. I feel as if you took these thoughts straight from my own heart and translated them into words. Thank you.

  10. Wow! I have been trying to explain for 5 years now, how it felt since my Mom passed away. You explained it perfectly! I am not only mourning the loss of my Mom, but myself that died with her. Our history that we created and shared is gone, except the brief fleeting memories that cross my mind on occassion. It is so difficult to recouperate from that.

  11. I felt like that the day my brother died and for years to come. But I prayed that God …would give me a glimpse of heaven and since then He has. I felt a complete healing and freedom. I know longer look at as part of me dying rather a part of me is in Heaven with him because he took a piece of my heart with him. I love that!! To think a piece of my heart is in Heaven has given me a great Joy. I get glimpses every single day!!! I will see him soon. One day closer. Alive for eternity. No more goodbyes.
    And I mean that in the most beautiful way I can only imagine!!

  12. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If
    you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  13. This is so beautifully written and felt, John! And knowing you and your dad it was like I was watching a movie of the two of you. Please never stop writing. God gave you an amazing talent for words, please continue to bless the rest of us with it.
    This article also made me think about the me that died with my brother… We had so many times alone that only he and I will remember. And I know that the parts that I forgot he would be able to remind me of. We talked so many hours on the phone, too, and even the precious moments that we shared the last two months when I was by his side in the hospital when he couldn’t talk because of the tube in his throat and I would talk and he would answer by writing sometimes, but even more so the many conversations that we just had with our eyes. We could always read what the other was thinking by looking into each other’s eyes. I imagine it was like the secret language that twins have. Used to drive my sister crazy… and make my mom jealous. But they never understood anyway. Wow, I didn’t think I was going to write all that!. My love to you, John, and all your dear family, on the amazing journey you are on.

  14. I lost my Dad 7 years ago from that day I have never been the same person I was. I found that I could truly relate to your post. I have many great memories of times I spent with him alone apart from my siblings, those meant the most to me. I found that after my fathers death I began to be more like him. I would find myself doing many of the things he did and voicing many of my opinions of life are very much the same as his were. My wife and siblings constantly remind me that I have turned into my father ( secretly I like it when they say this). Anyway, thank you for this thought provoking post and I will be sure to buy the book.

  15. I am going through this now. My Dad dropped dead Dec. 3. Yes, he was 91 and had dementia, but it was totally unexpected. Our Mom died 12 years ago so it was just us and Dad for those years. Dad and I were soul mates. When we were bored, or the weather was bad, we’d jump in the car and see where it took us. And after every doctor appointment and in between, I took him to his favorite place, the casino. He just loved to play the penny slots and watch the people. I’d sit next to him and watch. Our favorite snack was potato chips while playing Rummy. With his dementia, he was always amazed at the great taste of chips and that you could buy them in the store! And our ground bologna sandwiches. We always had those in the winter growing up when we were at the cottage, playing in the snow. And as adults, Dad and I always had them in the summer at the lake. No more road trips, no more casino trips, no more cards and chips, and I wonder if I’ll ever eat another ground bologna sandwich again.😢

  16. Yes! I feel this way about losing my sister a few years ago. We were in our 50s, and shared a lifetime of sister secrets, passions, disappointments and dreams. That’s the part of me no one else could ever know. I miss her and I miss our relationship, and now I know I also miss the ME I was when I was with her. Thx for putting the cries of my soul into words. ❤️❤️❤️

  17. My parents are both gone now. Dad 8 years and Mom 5. I love hanging out with my folks. Dad was a great talent and Mom was hilarious and the only one who really knew and understood me. While I agree that when they died a part of me died as well. The hardest part of them being gone though is facing my own mortality. I’m getting old. Something I never fathomed or realized until they left. I am now an old man with limited years ahead of me and my kids someday will be in a similar situation. So as Iook back on my childhood and think of all the great times with my folks. I also think of the ramification my passing will have on my children and try to build the best memories and impart what wisdom of my years upon them I can. So that when they recount our time together, it’s something they’ll always cherish.

  18. I know exactly the feeling, you have so elequently put it into words…..I have even had all these feelings since my 14 year old Springer Baxter died in April 2018…..a huge piece of me died with him….thank you so very much for sharing this writing….Blessings….❤️

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