How to Deal with Grief and Self-Doubt in Your 20s (Lessons Learned After a Father’s Death)

“Dear God, please don’t take him away just yet. I need my dad. Please let me, at least, say goodbye.” – As I rushed to the airport with tears streaming down my face, I repeated this prayer over and over again. August 16, 2016 10:15am – was the day that my heart began to fill with a vast emptiness. I never knew I could cry and be filled with so much emotion in one day. I couldn’t believe it – my dad was gone. At the age of 25, I had lost my dad. This wasn’t what it was supposed to be like. He was supposed to walk me down the aisle, watch my two younger siblings graduate, meet his grand kids – it just wasn’t fair.

The next following days felt like a blur. I felt numb and empty throughout the next following months. Happiness seemed to ebb and flow in and out of my life. Why was I feeling this way? I should be so excited – I just turned 25, have a progressing career, an amazing boyfriend, and a life that only people dreamed of. But I still felt hollow inside. I tried to push the thought of my dad’s death far back into my mind. I did not want to grieve and I did not want to feel the pain of losing a daughter’s first love – her father. I tried to talk to other people about it and would end up getting upset because – even though I do not wish on death on anyone – I wanted them to feel the way I was feeling. I felt crazy, lost and scared. The one person who was my support blanket, my protector, my role model was gone. I couldn’t get over the loss, I just learned to live with the loss and he was never far from my thoughts. I walked around pretending I was alive, but inside I felt like I was dying. I lost my best friend and no one knows what it’s actually like to lose a parent until it actually happens to them.

As the days continued on without my dad, I questioned everything. I went from being this confident independent young woman to a woman that wondered if every action she took was the right one. I questioned all the decisions I made because I had left at a young age to move across the country and attend school. I resented myself for all the missed holidays, birthdays and time I could’ve spent with my dad before he died. I walked around feeling lifeless and hopeless. I was scared to grieve my dad’s death because I did not want to seem weak. Instead of crying, I grew angry – I grew angry at God for taking my dad away and I grew angry at everyone around me that did not understand what I was going through. If I wasn’t angry, I would hide away in a place where no one was and cry. Nothing in my life had meaning anymore.

The new year came fast and I left my current job in San Francisco to move to DC (where my family resides) to spend time with family for a bit. As January progressed, I got a new job and decided to make the move to Arizona to be with my boyfriend. I was excited to start a new chapter of our lives together. As soon as I had moved to Arizona, we broke up. I was stuck in a place where I knew absolutely no one – other than the people I had met through him. My anxiety started to get the best of me. I was nervous, scared and lost. I was scared that I would run into him and as with  most break ups – I became insecure. But as time passed, I started to go to church more and really focused on my relationship with God. For a long time, I questioned if God existed and if he did, how could he allow all of this to happen to me. As my relationship with God grew, I realized that this is exactly where I needed to be and I needed to make peace with who I was and my current situation. Here’s a list of advice that helped me get through my quarter life crisis.

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Focus on YOU:

Like most of us in our early twenties and just starting our career or getting out of college, life was a new adventure and your focus is on everything new and exciting. But then somewhere along the way, something tragic happens. For me, it was my dad’s death. It shattered me and derailed me. Then my former boyfriend appeared in perfect timing. In that moment, he made me feel complete. As like most exciting new relationships, it moved fast. It moved so fast that I had to take a step back and realize I felt like I was losing myself. I lost being ME and building ME and my own life. My aspirations became being the perfect partner for my boyfriend – which is not wrong at all – but it was not in my original plan for myself.  My attitude during conversations changed from positive and excited for what the future had in store to negative and constantly worrying about if I will ever accomplish all my goals before I die. I never needed a man to validate my existence, but that changed and I craved his attention and constantly needed validation that I was the one for him. When I was around him, I would be negative – thinking that everything will go wrong. Around my friends, I would pretend to be positive and happy. They saw the light while he saw my dark side. With the people you love, your defenses are usually down and you don’t try and hide your emotions instead you take it out on them. It is a tragedy – when they should be the ones that you try even harder to show your love.

We all lose ourselves in relationships because we are too busy trying to be ONE with them versus being a partner. No man/woman should ever complete you, instead you should compliment each other. Every man/woman that comes into your life has a reason and mine at the time came at perfect timing. He was sent to me to help support me during my time of need, but somewhere along the way I lost myself and became a person that was fragile and difficult to be around . He brought me to my feet and now it’s my turn to get myself walking again.

Now is the time to focus on YOU – everything about you! Understand you are not defined by your degree, your past mistakes, your past relationships and the events that happen in your life. You are define by how you react to these events, your resilience to get back up when something so life altering has hit you, your faith and how you love yourself and the people around you. As someone who is so career oriented – I realized that sometimes we are so focused on our career that we forget to love ourselves.

Accept your past:

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At a young age of 16, I moved out of my parents house to live across the country and moved in with my aunt and uncle. My dad was so heart broken. For the following 9 years, I missed many holidays, birthdays and life events. After my dad passed away, I blamed myself and resented myself for the time that I could have spent with my dad. I started to wonder “what if I didn’t leave” or “what if I was there during all his birthdays or holidays” or “what if I didn’t drop out of school and continued to follow in his footsteps in the medical field”. This haunted me and made me feel so insecure. I kept thinking of all my mistakes and if it would have changed the outcome of my dad’s future. The truth is, probably not, but I had to forgive myself and accept my past. It will not do you any good wondering what if. We all make mistakes but it is how we correct or move on from our mistakes that matters the most. Sometimes mistakes lead to improvements or growth opportunities. Don’t push your mistakes or blame other people, but instead learn humility and resilience. So many people tend to blame the other person or take full blame for themselves. Do not do this. Instead accept the current situation, and learn from it. Don’t live in the past and dwell.

Keep it Simple:

Linda Stone coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe how our current generation is constantly focused on everything without fully concentrating on anything. We live in a distracted world where distractions are both good and bad. During my dad’s death, I filled my schedule up so much that I would be so distracted in hopes that I would not think of the tragic event. It ended up backfiring and I became a pessimistic person that believed so much in Murphy’s Law – what can go wrong, will go wrong. I would be worried about the future and would automatically think something bad would happen. Keeping it simple means to be content with your situation. Don’t think about the future too much. Have peace of mind that everything’s good the way it is – that you are who you are and where you are right now is for a reason – but still have a desire for a better future. Don’t ignore your positive inner voice and crowd yourself so much that you start to ignore it. Your inner voice – your intuition – can lead you to the right and positive path for your life. Don’t be so distracted that you forget that where you are now is a necessary step in your evolution. Remain content with where you are while executing a strategy for getting to where you want to go. Don’t just think of the outcome, focus on the journey. This will immediately simplify your life.

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Stop with the expectations

I swear I have been seeing everyone on my Facebook timeline either getting married, getting engaged, or having kids. As someone that is single, with no kids, I was constantly comparing myself – “They look so happy. Why can’t I be that happy?”, “Why can’t I find a love like that?”, “Gosh, I’m 25. I should be engaged by now”. We are so prone to constantly compare ourselves and our lives to other people that it affects us mentally. When I was in a relationship and after my father passed, I was constantly asking my boyfriend about marriage. Though he planned for marriage, I always wanted to know when it would happen and needed validation every week – even though  I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to get married at the time. I let social media and my fear of the future ruin my relationship. I knew deep down I wasn’t ready, but I was too focused on wanting to feel whole again and comparing my life to other people’s lives without realizing all the blessings I currently have. I had expectations that I had to get married at this certain age or life had to be a certain way at this certain time, but in reality it doesn’t matter what time. Expectations are basically preconceived resentments. Let everything happen on its own time. We are not all guaranteed tomorrow, but that should not give you a reason as to why you rush certain things. Don’t conform to society and compare yourself to other people. Be happy with who you are and where you want to go. For a week, carry an index card and for every time you compare yourself to someone else or think of an expectation that should’ve happened in your life, write a check mark. It is amazing how many times we don’t realize how much we compare ourselves or have these expectations for ourselves. Now plan a strategy to stop comparing yourself and whether that is removing social media or stop hanging out with a certain crowd – do what is best for you.

Talk about it

When my dad passed, everyone kept recommending therapy. I had gone through therapy once before, but to me it did not really help. I was scared and nervous to go to my first session. After going through my first session, I felt relieved. Everything I was feeling was normal. I had talked about it with other friends, but when you get professional advice, it’s truly relieving to know you are not the only one feeling this way or have felt this way. For a while, I bottled up my feelings and did not want to talk about it. All I wanted to do was numb the pain. I tried to ignore the loneliness by surrounding myself with people who didn’t really care for me. I worked and filled my schedule to hide behind my accomplishments and to keep my mind busy. So many others have used other ways of hiding behind the pain with sex, alcohol, and drugs. But ignoring the pain just silences our screaming need for help and instead of freeing ourselves, we imprison our souls. Instead pour out your feelings, and allow yourself to feel the way you feel. Pain is not a bad thing. We must feel it in order for us to heal it. Pain is an important aspect of our lives that motivates us to fight for determination and perseverance to get through this tough time knowing that there is healing on the other side. So, don’t keep it bottled up inside you, because it will backfire in the long run. Understand that this is your teacher and soon you will be able to be YOU again, but a better and newer version of you. It will take time to heal, and that amount of “time” is different for every person. Be patient with yourself.

Remember, we all go through hardships in life. As long as you remain strong in heart, you can undergo a lot of trauma 💜

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3 thoughts on “How to Deal with Grief and Self-Doubt in Your 20s (Lessons Learned After a Father’s Death)

  1. Thanks for this post 🙂 I’m struggling at the moment with the break-up of a very long term friendship. We’re still friends but it just does not feel the same. I guess I was a little like you and wanted to suppress the pain and it worked upto a point. But recently things just keep on reminding me of that period so I’ve decided to seek help for it. I was reluctant on pursuing counselling because I have started counselling before and it made me realise I had issues in my life, but because I stopped so suddenly (due to life circumstances), I felt like I had opened a can of worms, and did not really know what to do with the awareness of such issues. Again, I suppressed them. I’m only trying to deal with it now because it’s affecting my present.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that everything has made you into a much better and stronger person. All the best for the future x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment! I am so glad that I could help. I truly hope that everything works out for you. Sometimes its scary to go into counseling first, but when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up! Please keep me updated on your journey of growth and healing!

      Liked by 1 person

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