|True Tales: Daniel's Story
When we lose someone quickly and unexpectedly, our grief takes many shapes. Meet Daniel, who's 13. When he and his family were at a wedding in April 2001, his father died of a sudden heart attack. Here's his story
Daniel: I was supposed to go to the reception, but I didn't want to, so I stayed in the hotel room with these two babysitters. It was just me and my brother and my baby cousin, we were all hanging out just watching TV. Around 7, I started to feel kind of funny, like kind of an uncanny sense that something bad was going to happen or had happened. Around 10, they made us go to bed, but I couldn't sleep. And then these two people came into our room. I guess they were family friends. And I was like, "Whoa, are you guys here to tell me what happened?" and they were like, "Oh, everything's fine." They dismissed the babysitters, and just stayed there. I knew they weren't telling the truth, and that was frustrating. Around like 4 am, they took me to my mom's hotel room. I sat in my mom's lap, and she was like, "Daddy died." My mom said that he just, like, dancing, and all of a sudden he just fell on one knee. Basically, I was just crying the entire next day. Then we tried to go eat something, because we knew none of us had eaten, but we couldn't.
Daniel was filled with more than just ordinary sadness. The grief of losing his father led to many different thoughts and feelings.
Daniel: I started crying a lot. I guess it was shock and sadness combined in a way. I was mad at the people who had told me nothing had happened. I was just uncontrollably angry at them. I felt confused, like, "What's gonna happen? What's going on?" I remember there was one instance when I was angry at my dad for dying. I punched my bed. I thought, "Why did you have to die?" I thought we were going to have to move to an apartment, but fortunately, we kept the house. I went back to school, two or three days after it started again. I heard people say things like, "See that kid over there? His dad died." And that was just overwhelming. People would go up to me and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry," and "Oh, I know how you feel," and I thought, "No, you don't." I was kind of angry at them. But my good friends were hanging out with me the whole day. We didn't even talk half the time. They knew where I was at.
Both Daniel and his mother decided they needed to see therapists to help them deal with their feelings. Talking to his own therapist, Daniel was able to express himself, and let his emotions out, in ways that he couldn't with family members and friends.
Daniel: I was relieved that my mom started therapy. She was angry and sad a lot, and I thought, maybe if she went to a therapist, she wouldn't be as much. Therapy was good. I just talked to a person. I could be more emotional with him. It's really important.
About a year after his dad died, Daniel started going to group sessions at Our House, where he met other kids who had a parent that died. He never felt the need to cry in his sessions, like so many of the other kids did, but the many creative activities did help him work on his thoughts and feelings.
Daniel: It was a little overwhelming the first time. I didn't really know what to say or do. But they had a game that you play where you draw a card from a deck, and it's an emotion. You have to describe when you felt that and why. Like, you get "anger" and you have to describe when you felt anger.
Daniel has stopped going to therapy and to his group sessions at Our House, and feels like his life is back on track. He enjoys being with his friends, and is doing well in school. Part of what helped is knowing that many of his friends are living with just one parent.
Daniel: I didn't think that we would ever get back to normal. But we did. My best friend, it's just him and his mom. And my other good friend, it's just him and his mom. A lot of my friends don't have nuclear families.
Even though Daniel feels like all is going well now, there are still many things that make him uncomfortable, like the idea of his Mom starting to date someday. Looking back over the past two years, Daniel feels the sadness, but the grief is no longer overwhelming. He also has many good memories of life with his father.
Daniel: I definitely have happy memories, and I have sad memories. I think they're both separate.