By Kaci Yoder
What is it about the one-year mark that’s so hard to swallow?
Maybe it’s that every loss seems more final when you start counting in years instead of weeks or months. Maybe it’s that, for a lot of people, the grace period to deal with your grief before it starts making others uncomfortable is over.
Last weekend marked one year since the last time I saw my best friend: my dad. After a 14-month fight, he died from brain cancer at only 54.
The year since then has, in many ways, been a blur. Some of it felt frozen in time, while some of it lurched by with alarming speed. The first 365 days after a tremendous loss or trauma can carry a numbing sort of intensity, but with it comes a bit of new insight. You’ve made it through to the other side, and when you look back on the ground you’ve covered, a few things become clear.
This is a list of 10 things I’ve learned from my experience. I’m passing them on to you because chances are you’ll be in a place like this someday, if you haven’t already. Whether it’s a personal loss, depression, a rift in your family, the aftermath of abuse — some things are universal.
- There is no good age for grief, but especially not your 20s.
Whether you’re in college or trying to hustle in the workforce, this is the time of life when you’re expected to be ready for adventure and focused on your future. When your life feels consumed by the past and present of your loss or trauma, it’s hard to feel connected with other people your age. But be patient with yourself and hope for the best in others. You’d be surprised how many people around you are carrying something heavy too.
- It’s time to cut the crap about therapy and mental health.
It’s 2015, people. Millions of us are dealing with depression in our everyday lives, whether it’s chemical or circumstantial. And for most people, the onset of mental health issues starts around college age. Screw the stigma of therapy and mental health treatment. From what I’ve seen, everyone — yes, everyone — can benefit from a good therapist. If you’re dealing with something, find one that works for you, and keep going.
- Some people are the worst.
At the beginning of my dad’s fight with cancer, he coined a new nickname for me: “gatekeeper.” Over the course of his sickness and the year since his death, it became so clear to me how toxic some people were to my ability to survive. You are allowed to keep the gate. Sometimes the best thing to do for yourself is to cut someone out of your life, even if it’s hard to do. Remember that your responsibility is also to take care of yourself.
- …But a lot of people mean well.
Having a support system in a time of crisis makes all the difference in the world. Don’t shut out the people who genuinely care about you. To the grieving: understand that for a lot of people, especially fellow young people, death and trauma are scary and hard to approach. Help them understand the best ways to help you. To friends of the grieving: listen.
- Listening to your own needs is crucial.
Sometimes this means cutting yourself some slack, and sometimes this means pushing through to get work done. Only you can tell what the most important need is — not always just what feels easy in the moment, but what will meet your mental, emotional, and physical needs at the end of the day.
- Stop trying to be somewhere you’re not.
Be aware of where you are emotionally, and don’t to force yourself into the next phase of grieving or wellness because you feel obligated to be “better.” There is no official time frame for recovery. Anyone who says otherwise has no idea what they’re talking about.
- Don’t let your imaginary future define your actual present.
A lot of us in our 20s set our eyes so firmly on the endgame of our five-year or 10-year plans, we forget that everything can change in a moment. Don’t base your personal worth or your happiness in life on where you think you could be one day. That’s much too easy to lose. Learn to love who and where you are right now. You can always count on that.
- You will be happy again.
No feeling is final. Don’t listen to the fear that you’ve already been the happiest you’ll ever be. You will continue moving through life, finding new experiences, finding love. It’ll be different, but happiness will find you again.
- Never, ever take your loved ones for granted.
Call them on your way home from work and ask them about their day. Make time for them. Make sure they know what they mean to you. Don’t let moments you skipped over them because it seemed tedious or inconvenient become regrets.
- Be present.
This is one I learned from my dad — my bright-as-the-sun, full-throttle, no-holds-barred dad: be present in every moment of your life. I know it’s hard for us worriers of the world, but try not to waste your energy worrying about what’s happening beyond this moment. Engage fully with the world in front of you and the people around you. Love hard. Take some risks. Radiate warmth to the people you care about. Don’t miss out.