A Son's Story

By Mike Healy

Every fall we see numerous changes unfolding around us. With the end of summer comes the return to school for many and as Thanksgiving rolls around we see fall colours everywhere. This was a time of year my mother always loved.

It is difficult to believe that the biggest change in my life, her death from cancer, happened more than seven years ago. For those of us that have lost a loved one the changes in our lives from this person’s death seem, at times, almost impossible to adjust too. Unfortunately, in my case, I had to adjust to such changes both as a teenager and young adult.
When I was 14 my father died suddenly. It was my first year of high school and I was doing well at my new school with my new friends. Then everything came crashing down around me. Suddenly I was a teenaged boy who didn’t have a dad. I remember the shock at learning of my father’s death and all that accompanied that stark reality. I can still feel what it was like to have to return to school and face all the students and teachers.

I felt like I had an “X” on my forehead that said this kid is different. I didn’t know any one else who had lost a parent at my age. Most people said nothing having obviously forgotten why I was even away. However, I’ll always appreciate those kids and some teachers who just simply said, “Sorry to hear about your dad”. That was all I really needed to hear, that someone remembered and acknowledged the changes I was going through. I didn’t want any special attention. At that age a kid just wants to be like everyone else, not to be singled out.

My mother had a great deal of difficulty dealing with her own grief. However she was very focused on trying to find professionals to talk to, groups to attend and seeking out anyone who would listen to her. After awhile though, I just wanted to try and get through it all and lead a normal life. I almost resented my mother’s attempts to try and get me to talk to someone about my loss. As a fourteen-year-old I had no desire to share my feelings with anyone else. Perhaps it was because I felt nobody else would really get it.

Obviously a great deal changes in the life of an individual from their mid teens until their late twenties. I felt as though there was always something missing in my life because my father wasn’t around but my mother and other family members did more than their share to make sure I was loved and supported at every step of my life. Then, I almost resented my mother’s attempts to try and get me to talk to someone about my loss. As a fourteen-year-old I had no desire to share my feelings with anyone else. Perhaps it was because I felt nobody else would really get it.

Suddenly, it felt like I was hit in the head again when my mother was told she was dying, with less than a year to live. It was almost unbelievable to me. How could someone who had meant so much and seemed so healthy suddenly be dying? How could this happen to me again? I had anticipated that since I had been bereaved as a teenager, I would know how to handle my feelings this time. After all I’d already had time to practice the whole experience once before! Unfortunately being bereaved doesn’t quite work that way. When my mother died I felt as if I was thrown back into my grief much worse than before. Whether or not this was because she was my remaining parent, I was closer to my mother or because of how we had to watch her suffer, I’m not sure. All I know is that this time the changes I was experiencing seemed much worse.

Again I felt odd and out of place. Nobody I knew had lost both of their parents at my age. It was odd to think that even though I was not a child I was technically an orphan. This time I knew my grief was not something I could handle on my own. Although my father had died 15 years before I felt that I was living my mother’s death and reliving my father’s death.

Luckily I found Bereaved Families of Ontario where I met other people my own age who had surprisingly similar experiences. It is still rare to find somebody who has lost both parents at a young age but I was able to find a group where I could share my experiences about my loss and feel a little more “normal”. I wasn’t the only one who was going through this experience.

Now, as a volunteer peer facilitator, I experience not only the sadness but also the hope that develops as I see young adults progress through our groups. As any volunteer with BFO knows, every time you come in contact with a newly bereaved person your own pain always resurfaces at some level but, it is also rewarding knowing that you may be able to help the person sitting across from you to heal, even if only in a small way. I also know that by working at BFO I’m able to maintain my connection with both my parents and turn the most difficult changes in my life into something positive and helpful to others living through difficult experiences.