Grief is one of the most powerful emotions anyone can ever experience. We’ll all go through it sooner or later, one way or another. People often associate grief with death, but it’s synonymous to loss, I think. It’s when you lose someone or something you love — be it through death, heartbreak or disappointment. Sometimes people choose to leave, or sometimes they don’t have a choice. Either way, there’s no escaping the pain that comes with it. Perhaps that’s the price we pay for loving someone so deeply?

It’s been two years since I’ve lost my father. After what we all thought had been a successful operation, I honestly believed we’d have so much more time together. But then, the news came — all too soon, too sudden, too unexpected. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. What happened to walking me down the aisle? Meeting your soon-to-be-born grandchild? Celebrating the milestones you’d be so proud to see me in? Or visiting the places we planned on going together? It’s like you begin again, learning to live in a world without them.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it helped me put life into perspective. There’s so much that can be learned, if you lean into it. There’s no magical way around it. Sometimes we just have to make peace with ourselves and try our best to move forward. I’ve learned to honour him and be grateful for the special ones who are still in my life. After all, I’d like to think that this is how he would’ve wanted me to live.

1. Time does not always heal all wounds, and that’s okay.

It’ll get easier over time,” they say. It does, until it does not.

Just as you think you’ve accepted that they’re gone forever, that you’ve grieved enough and that it’s “fine” again, something will remind you of it. And it’ll feel like losing that person all over again. Grief comes and grief goes. Sometimes we just need to let ourselves feel what we feel, whenever we feel it. The five stages of grief — you could experience them one by one or all at once.

Grief is forever, and I don’t think it’ll ever “get over”. There’s no timeline because we’ll never stop loving them even after they’re gone.

2. There’s no one way to grieve, and that applies to both yourself and to others. Respect that.

Each grief is different. It’s personal and we all grieve in our unique ways.

Don’t compare yourself to others and certainly don’t compare others with yourself. I’ve learned that we all process grief very differently, and sometimes at different paces. This could be a result of our experiences, age, culture, or personalities. But just as no two individuals are the same, no one grieves in the exact same way. Just because someone’s grief isn’t manifested in a similar way as you doesn’t mean they’re not grieving. It’s learning to acknowledge that others are hurting too, even if they don’t act according to how you’d imagine it to be.

There’s no rule book as to how or when one should grieve. Go at whatever pace feels right, one step at a time. In your own way, and in your own time.

3. All I want is to remember.

He may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared that these memories could slowly fade with time. As the years go by, there’ll be new experiences, but he won’t be there. He’ll not be there to celebrate the holidays, to share the good times, the bad times. Oh, and you know how we’re taken down the memory lane when photos of years ago today show up? Well, there won’t be new ones of him again. That’s it — death is the inevitable finality. It ended at some point, and it hurts as you learn to grapple with it and accept it.

It’s comforting to hold on to the tangibles — every little object or digital trace you have of a loved one who passed. But maybe it’s also learning to treasure the moments you’ve had as you move into the future, and to continue to love them despite their physical presence. And just because they’ve passed on doesn’t mean they don’t continue to impact your life. Their legacy will live on, through you and others.

A part of me likes to think that wherever I go, he’ll always be there with me.

4. Make time to grieve.

If you’re like me, you’ll feel the need to pick yourself up again and get on with life (asap).

I was 25 when I was working my first job, just moved to a new city, while dealing with the sudden loss of my father. Late nights, early mornings, long hours with big dreams. It was tough to balance logic with emotions. In hindsight, maybe I tried to bury myself in all that work to forget and numb the pain. And yes, I’ve certainly tried to find my own way to mourn and embrace it when it comes, but the truth of the matter is, I’m not sure I gave myself enough time.

Don’t get me wrong, busy can be good — for us to leave the house or get outside our own heads, but it’s also important to find a balance. Because sometimes it may be “easier” to throw ourselves into work, welcome the distraction rather than face our own grief. For some, it could be taking a walk, talking or writing about it, creating art or making music. Do whatever it takes to take care of yourself, to honour the pain, but also have the wisdom to seek support when you need.

At the end of the day, there’s no fast cure. You need this time, and the people you care for will only be happy that you take this time to care for yourself.

5. It is emotionally and physically exhausting.

We sometimes forget that grieving can be an utter exhaustion. It wears you down, drains your energy and takes a toll on your body, mind and spirit. The intensity of our emotions leave us feeling physically and psychologically depleted.

It’s important to look after our physical health, listen to our body and the cues it gives us. To eat well, drink plenty of water and get tons of sleep.

6. You’re so much stronger than you think.

The truth is, we don’t really have a choice but to be strong. But we also never realize how strong we can be until we endure the unimaginable. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt when the news broke. It was a whirlwind of emotions — the sorrow, the anger, the frustration, the denial, the helplessness, the fear, the disappointment, the pain and the “what-ifs”.

Perhaps, the strength lies in letting myself be vulnerable, and letting others see it too. Knowing that you have this strength is empowering, because you never know when you might need it again.

7. People care, but sometimes they just don’t know how to.

When it comes to talking about something as tragic as the lost of a loved one, I’ve noticed the amount of silence that comes creeping in the room. People sometimes steer away from the subject because they may not know what to say or how to respond. They’re probably unsure of how to comfort and don’t want to risk saying or doing anything wrong.

I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for the love and support of friends who were there, physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, I’ve also realized how important it was to reach out and openly express how I feel and what I need —whether it’s someone who can listen or simply to spend time with. It’s times like this where we should let ourselves set aside our ego of staying strong, and instead lean on those who care for us.

8. Death is something we need to talk about.

How often is it that we have a conversation on death and dying? Have you ever thought about your fears, your hopes or how you’d want to be remembered? The subject makes us feel uncomfortable and some choose to shy away from it. But the truth is, all of us are going to die and we know it. It’s important to talk, to ask questions, to listen and to know what our loved ones would like when death comes. There’ll never be a “right” time unless we find the time, and we shouldn’t wait because later may become too late.

It’s not easy, but we should learn to talk about our mortality — to have these difficult conversations that may change what we think about death, but also how we choose to live.

9. Life is too short — act on what truly matters to you.

Death reminds us all that life is indeed too short and too precious. We spend time thinking about the past, worrying about the future, often forgetting how important it is to live in the present, to try live life to the fullest.

Losing my father made me acutely aware of what really matters in life. I’ve learnt more about myself, my priorities and to live according to what I deem truly important to me. To invest time with intent, because there’s no buying back time, nor time for regrets.

Grief changes you, you do come out a different person. And I’m thankful for the people I’ve lost that has allowed me to grow and build this resilience.

To my dearest father, there’s not a single day that I don’t think about you. Thank you for being my greatest mentor, my inspiration and my motivation. Thank you for showing me what love and kindness is, and for being the best father you could be. I’m eternally grateful for all that you’ve taught me in life and in death.

I love you dad, always and forever.

Lawyer and designer, passionate about designing humane interactions that help us live more meaningfully. www.feikwok.com

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