Finding Strength in Loss: A Journey of Grief and Growth

Dedication: My father

Losing someone you love unexpectedly changes everything. It’s like the ground beneath you shifts, and suddenly, life feels completely different. For me, this journey started on February 17, 2022, when my dad passed away. My father meant the world to me. He was my best friend, tennis coach, and mentor. He had an uncanny ability to understand me, and to him, I was his precious “gem” or as he affectionately called me, “t-bird”. His sudden death rocked my world, leaving behind a hole that seemed impossible to fill. Since then, I’ve been dealing with a whirlwind of emotions, from shock and disbelief to deep sadness and longing. As I try to come to terms with his loss and figure out how to go on without him, I’m reminded of just how much he meant to me and the important lessons his passing has taught me about love, loss, and finding strength in tough times.

The memory of that day is still as fresh as if it were yesterday. My dad had struggled with alcohol abuse for a long time, but I never imagined it would lead to his death. The last time I spoke to him, I didn’t believe my mom when she said he was dying. Instead, I sought comfort in my boyfriend at the time. I can’t even recall what we talked about during our last conversation. Soon after, he was placed in hospice care, something I didn’t fully understand at the time. We were told he might have six months left, all of a sudden, he passed away less than a week later. The day began like any other; I had just finished getting my hair done at Mane18 Studios in Evans, GA. I still visit this salon whenever I’m back home, as it holds a special emotional significance for me. However, everything had changed when I arrived at our modest two-bedroom apartment, where five of us had resided. My youngest brother was crying hysterically as he descended the stairs in his pajamas. I couldn’t believe it, and I kept telling him he was lying as I was gagging. Stepping into our apartment felt like walking into a nightmare. I’ve never screamed so loudly in my life, and those screams still echo in my mind. I took too much melatonin that night in an attempt to sleep through the pain, but my mom ended up calling 911. I stayed in the hospital until 1 am and then spent the night at my aunt’s house. Strangely, I was the only one who didn’t witness his passing, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Following my father’s passing, I found myself viewing life through a different lens. I came to understand its delicate nature and the significance of treasuring our loved ones. Previously, I may have overlooked the time spent with him, but his absence taught me that every moment holds immense value. My advice is to embrace everyone a little tighter, be present and express love more often, avoid leaving anyone in an argument, and capture moments with your loved ones in photographs. You never know when it might be the last time you see them. Don’t take any second for granted. I would do absolutely anything in this world to receive another phone call, and I feel as if I’m counting down the days until I see him again. Although I long for more time with him, his departure has also fostered a deeper appreciation for the relationships I hold dear. This newfound perspective extends to my mother and my two brothers, who have become even more precious to me in light of our shared loss. Witnessing my mother’s resilience amid her grief has been both inspiring and heart-wrenching. As a single mother, she shoulders the responsibility of providing for our family while grappling with the profound loss of her husband. Despite her outward strength, I am aware of the burden she carries, and it saddens me to see her struggle. Nevertheless, her steadfast strength serves as a guiding light for our family during this challenging period.

Navigating the loss of my father has been a transformative experience, shaping both my outlook on life and my approach to adversity. Some days, the burden of grief feels overwhelming, and the longing for my father threatens to consume me entirely. Screaming has become my outlet for releasing emotions. Throughout my freshman year, I’ve lost count of all the times I would escape to my car from my dorm and just scream for what felt like hours. However, amidst the darkness, there are also moments of unexpected comfort and solace, as memories of him bring warmth to my heart. Learning to navigate the complexities of grief has been a process of trial and error, marked by moments of vulnerability and strength in equal measure. Despite the pain, I’ve found solace in the enduring memories of my father and the unwavering support of my family, coaches, and teammates. I’ve come to realize that grief doesn’t follow a straight path; it’s more like a winding road full of twists and turns, unfolding at its own pace and in its own time. Moving forward, I am committed to honoring his legacy by living each day with gratitude, compassion, and resilience. Through this experience, I’ve discovered that even in the face of profound loss, there is beauty to be found in the journey of healing and growth.

~ Photo credit: Images provided by the storyteller

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Taylor Rieckert

I am an second year undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. I'm studying Hospitality Tourism and Management and I am also on the Virginia Tech Womens Tennis Team.