real life

'I didn't experience grief until I was 34. I don't know how to cope now.'

I'm 34 and I've never really experienced loss

There was that time when I was 13 and my childhood dog died. We shared the same birthday. Anyone who's ever lost a pet knows the very real heartache that comes from losing man's best friend. I've lost a few people on the periphery of my life, who I loved and really do miss, but no one whose absence would floor me on a daily basis.

I've stood by friends as they've said goodbye to loved ones, attended funerals of acquaintances out of respect, shed a few tears and then enjoyed some egg sandwiches and then gotten on with my day, and my life.

Watch: What no one tells you about grief. Post continues after video.

Video via Psych2Go.

I've left heartfelt messages of sympathy on social media posts that would cause a moment of reflection, sometimes it would be the catalyst for an extra call or visit to a loved one that week. I could sympathise with people and feel truly sad for their loss, but I couldn't possibly understand what they were feeling. 

And then, almost a month ago, my Dad died.

Here's what his death has taught me so far.

1. Losing a parent is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Firstly, I've had two caesarean sections and broken my femur. I've felt physical pain. None of these compares to the gaping hole I currently have in my chest. Worst still? I'm expected to walk around and live my life like it hasn't been completely turned upside down. 


When the numbness started to wear off, I found myself saying 'This has ruined my life'. That's how I feel. I spent 34 years walking around and enjoying my life, never really knowing what pain and sadness was. I thought I did, but those things were temporary and easily fixed.

A breakup? Eventually, you move on and find happiness and love with someone else. A good friend ghosts you? The sting wears off. Of course, like anyone, I've had challenges that have been painful to work through, but death is so permanent.

I still can't believe that I can be in such physical pain without a cure, without the promise of it ever getting better (just more manageable, I hear). Because no matter what I do, my Dad is always going to be gone. Nothing can bring him back.

2. You become part of a club you really wish you weren’t in.

When Dad passed away, there were several people whom I've met over the years or were friends with growing up, who reached out to me to check in. These people were random in the sense, they were from all walks of life, but one thing connected them all. They too, had lost a parent at a young/ish age. 

I wouldn’t say I've considered myself young the last few years, there's a whole new generation underneath me. I'm used to issuing employment contracts to people who were born in a year that starts with '20'. However, I know I'm too young to have lost my Dad. 

At 64, he had so much more life to live. More memories to make. He had both of his parents until he was 58. I deserved, we all did, to have our parents for longer.


Image: Supplied.

3. As a society, we’ve forgotten how to grieve.

Grief used to be communal, there are cultures and religions that observe rituals around death that go beyond the week of the funeral. Growing up, I remember my neighbourhood friend's mother wore black for over a year after her parents died. I have never related to that more than in his moment. It was a visible sign, showing to the world 'I am not okay, I am in mourning'.

In Australian culture? We spend a week walking around making decisions about coffin styles and picking out music. We plan a party that has every single person our loved one would want to see, yet they have to miss out.


I have been to funerals before where the closest loved ones had dry eyes the entire service. I used to think it was strange. Now I know that having everyone around you is what makes all the difference. To share stories and memories, to be supported. 

In a way, a funeral is a fun event. I know that sounds odd. My Dad's service was full of laughter and incredible stories. Having his friends and family around me, I could almost feel his presence in the room. I heard stories I'd never heard, met friends I hadn't seen since I was a child, it truly was a celebration.

Once the funeral is over and everyone returns to their normal lives, the reality sets in. And it ain't pretty. You can no longer spend time surrounded by family and friends. My siblings and I couldn't see each other daily. They left their makeshift beds in my living room and went back to their lives, their jobs, their kids. The world keeps moving and you will remain, stuck in a suspended sense of reality, in agony.

4. Never have I ever been more desperate to believe in the afterlife (or needed the number of a great psychic medium).

My Dad was one of my favourite people. We had a unique bond. He was such a big presence not only in my life but in those of almost everyone who knew him. He was loud, social, and inappropriate. He was a true character. It's hard to think that he's not anywhere. I've found myself wondering out loud, 'Dad, where are you?'

I'm not particularly religious, or overly spiritual, although I can see why it would be handy in situations such as these. 

Prior to this, I'd never given too much thought to the afterlife. I'd been too busy living my life believing (as young people do) that I was invincible. I've heard a few good ghost stories in my time, had a few encounters that mean I'm not completely sceptical that something else exists out there – I'm just not sure what it is.


One of the first questions I asked the funeral director was if he knew a good psychic medium. My recent Google searches may or may not contain the keywords 'how long should you wait for your loved one to settle in before reaching out to a psychic?' 

Apparently, it's a year, but that's too long. I want to talk to my Dad now.

Listen to No Filter where Rebecca Sparrow talks about loss and grief. Post continues after podcast.

5. The mental load just escalated to a whole new level.

As the mother of two small children, I'm often complaining about the mental load. All the things on my to-do list, everything I have to juggle and anticipate. I'd prefer arranging swimming lessons and remembering to transfer mortgage repayments over notifying telcos of my Dad's death any day. 

There is so much admin to do when someone dies and you're in charge of all the things. Life doesn't suddenly stop, bills still need to be paid, and logistics need to be worked out. Everything is almost as they left it, and you have to pick up and organise the pieces. 

Today, I have to take a trip to the post office to get certified copies of a death certificate to prove that my Dad really is gone. And it's a painful reminder, the one thing you're trying to ignore, you have to address, over and over again.

6. Flowers really do help (so do hugs, sugar and home-cooked meals).

I've never really been a flower person. I can appreciate them, but have never particularly been excited by them. When I got married, I didn't even have flowers at my reception; I opted for floating candles or something sensible. Yet walking into my house and being hit with the smell of vanilla honey, was a visible reminder that I was loved and supported.


 Sending donuts, cookies, home-cooked meals, vouchers, text messages. All the things that brought a bit of light into the darkest of dark days.

People's kind gestures made all the difference.

7. Get ready to cry at the most random and inconvenient times.

There are the obvious places where you can freely show emotion; the car, the shower, your home. Sometimes it won't happen there though, you'll never know when a trigger might hit you. Like when you're sitting at your desk and the shared office playlist starts booming out Brown-Eyed Girl (my dad's favourite) or attending an Easter market at Bunnings and see a stall for 'men's sheds', or at the supermarket, doing something completely mundane and this thought will hit you: "The last time I was here, my Dad was alive."

Something will happen and your brain automatically thinks "I'll have to tell Dad" and then you realise you can't. This may be the most painful thing of all. And I haven't even hit any milestones yet. It hasn't even been a month.

8. Life is too short not to choose what brings you joy.

I had to leave you with something profound. Even though I'm sure I'm stuck in the fourth stage of grief (depression). I've been told it gets easier to manage as time goes on. That's something I am holding on hope for. 

It's cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. Time really does go too fast and before you know it, you can't make that call, or that trip, or give that hug. So little is in our control, but we can choose how we spend our time and we should spend it on things that bring us joy. Whatever that means for you.


Image: Supplied.

Cut off those toxic family members who disrupt your peace, heal a repairable rift with a true friend, enrol in that course, take that holiday. Spend this Easter weekend present and soak up time with your loved ones because one day, no matter how much we want to pretend otherwise, all we will have are these memories.

Feature Image: Supplied.