I was fortunate enough to have a very good childhood. I had two loving parents, a younger sister and an older brother who were the perfect siblings. I was given the opportunity and platform to thrive. I was lucky to be talented at several sports, having played football, cricket, and badminton to quite a high level. I also performed well academically. I had a loving family who always looked after each other. We shared amazing holidays and memories. What happened next is the kind of thing that you think would never happen to you. It’s something you see in the news and are never able to imagine it happening to you. The difference for me was that the unthinkable was about to become reality…

On a normal day at university, I facetimed my Mum as usual, we were bantering, knowing I would be back home for summer soon. However, towards the end of the call, she mentioned that my Dad hadn’t returned home yet. At the time I didn’t think much of it after all my Dad was a bit clumsy with his timings and was probably going to be late home. After all, he always gave his time to talk to people. As the day went on, my stomach began churning, something didn’t quite feel right. I went to bed that night with no word of my father’s whereabouts, and there’s no prize to guessing I didn’t sleep. The next morning, I raced home along with my brother, sleep-deprived and anxiety-filled, our minds spinning. As we arrived home, the front door was open and my Dad’s missing car on the driveway. My head phasing in and out of despair and hope. My Mum greeted me at the front door and it was then I knew. I was told the news that no one, never mind a young son should ever have to hear.

The weeks that followed were without a doubt the worst weeks of my life. I had so many questions and so few answers. Questions that would be left unanswered for the rest of my life. A stalwart of my life taken from me way before his time. Some days I would be in complete despair wanting this to all be a dream, I still didn’t believe it was real. To this day, nearly a year on, it still doesn’t feel real. I still expect a phone call, or to hear his joints clicking as he’s walking down the hallway at home. Luckily I had a very supportive family around me. I was fortunate that I was receiving counselling before the event for my own mental health issues. So I continued my counselling and it was incredibly healthy for me. Having a professional, outside of my family/friends who I could talk to was mentally healing for me. Someone who I could dump my emotional baggage on and could help me process my thoughts and feelings and understand them. I will be forever thankful to my counsellor in helping me come to terms with what happened and process my emotions. I am not stating that counselling is the best way to deal with grief but it was the best way for me. Everyone is different and some prefer to not talk to anyone and retract themselves. And this is okay as long as they are looking after their wellbeing.

There is no simple answer to dealing with grief. I wish there was a universal substance to heal the wounds but there is but one thing that helps with the dealing of grief and that is… TIME. I know this is not the answer that people will want to hear. But the cliché is true here. The pain does ease over time. You learn to become more at peace with the situation. The most important thing is to look after yourself during this time and do not neglect yourself. DO NOT let the world that you live crumble around you. DO NOT stop doing the things you love doing. DO NOT stop yourself from going on walks or leaving the house. DO NOT let the world stop around you. You spent so long fighting for it. In my case, my Dad was there for me for years and developed the platform for me to thrive and get into university. So, I continued my studies. I found the gym my “safe space” where I wouldn’t be pestered and could get my head down, workout and build a body that I wanted. That was my coping mechanism for the following weeks and months that followed, and still is to this day. My Dad wouldn’t have wanted me to stop what I loved doing or the stuff I would normally do. Looking back, I was glad that I didn’t stop. I still allowed myself time to grieve and to cry when I needed to. I took myself away when I felt overwhelmed and claustrophobic. I went to people when I needed comfort and reassurance. This isn’t me telling you that you have to continue with normal life. That was just my way of coping with it. If you need time out, that’s perfectly alright. Your wellbeing is paramount. But, if you decide to continue with normal life, make sure you know that it’s okay not to feel alright some days, allow yourself a break. Make sure when you need that assistance; whether that be an extension to university/work deadlines, or taking time off when you need to, that they are in place and available.

The most important advice I can give is that which my brother gave to me: “When you’re feeling okay, don’t feel guilty for feeling okay.” Grief occurs in cycles, but they follow no set pattern. You will cry one minute and be angry the next. You can’t control it so don’t be confused when your emotions change unexplained, it is completely normal, just roll with it. If you’re feeling good, go with it. Don’t try and make yourself upset or make yourself feel guilty for not being upset. What happened is traumatic to say the least, so be kind to yourself. Whatever emotions you are feeling, be open to it and it will pass. I engulfed myself in guilt for what happened and held myself partly responsible. How I wasn’t able to look after my Dad the way he looked after me.  I was angry about what he did. This is where hindsight becomes dangerous. The past will not change so don’t try and edit it in your head. Yes, there are cues that I can see now, that insinuated that my Dad may have been struggling. However, they were subtle and invisible to me at the time. Noticing these cues wouldn’t have prevented the following events to have unfolded. So I learned to become at peace with the guilt.

What happened to me and my family is heartbreaking, but we are forever stronger and more united because of it. I am more attuned to my emotions than ever before. The events remain fresh and traumatic but in time I learned to cherish the incredible memories that I had with my Dad. What happened towards the end wasn’t the Dad I knew. But I will forever love him and cherish the precious time I was fortunate to share with him. Cherishing and holding onto those memories is what drives me forward to this day and to forever strive to make him proud. The grief won’t disappear, but having the right people around you and being aware of your emotions is what lessens the pain. I promise you, if you are going through the seemingly endless cycle of grief, it gets better, and you will be alright!

Luke Sullivan