How I Processed Losing a Parent
Your Biggest Vision
Season 3, Ep. 8
On March 3, it will have been 3 years since my father passed. So, I decided to open up and share this very vulnerable podcast episode, sharing my experience with grief and answering your questions about loss. Tune in to this episode to hear the top four things that have helped me make peace with his passing and how I have processed his death over the past three years.
Tune in to hear:
- Lessons from my grief process that I have applied to entrepreneurship
- The top four things that have helped me make peace with his passing
- Perhaps the most open and vulnerable episode of the Your Biggest Vision show yet- this one’s a little piece of my heart
Hear the Episode
Share on Social!
Pin these Pin-ables or share on Instagram! Don’t forget to tag me- @leahgervais_.
Leah Gervais: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for being here for this very vulnerable podcast episode. This very personal episode, I decided actually to also do it live because I wanted to see if anyone had any questions on grief or loss that I could potentially answer. I’m a little nervous right now. This is a very sensitive topic, obviously, as you can tell from the title, I am sharing the, um, the reflections on the loss of my dad. Thanks Ashley, I know I’ve been like very social today. I’ve actually been on a lot, but this is obviously a more serious topic. So what I want to share today, first of all, I want to say that I was very touched because I didn’t know that I was going to do a podcast episode about this because it’s so different than what I usually talk about.
And I didn’t know if anyone would be interested, but I got an overwhelming response on my Instagram polls that people were interested in hearing about this, um, like more than I’ve ever gotten answered on a poll. So I really appreciate that. That means a lot to me. And I’m definitely, um, excited. Isn’t quite the right word, but here to talk about it here, to talk about what, what it’s been like and how I’ve processed it. So before we dive in, I want to just fairly give two trigger warnings, or I guess mostly one, however you want to think about it, but I am going to be very vulnerable with themes of loss, themes of grief. I’m feeling shaky already and so if you have recently lost a parent, uh, you know, I think in some ways this would, might not be something you want to hear because I’m just going to be really raw about how the last three years have been.
But I think it also might give you a lot of hope because I know that I would have wanted to hear that I was going to end up okay. When this all happened. So I just wanted to be upfront with that and, um, you know, give you a clear look at what to expect from this. So when this is released, it will be March 1st or March 2nd, March 1st. And my dad passed away three years ago on March 3rd. So it’s right around the time that he left us and what I want to do is share with you guys. I took some notes. I’m not usually a big note taker because I like to just kind of speak from the heart, but I’m getting a little choked up already. So March 3rd is here and this is probably the worst day of the year for me every year.
For two reasons, two main reasons. The first is obvious. I miss my dad. You know, it’s the loss it’s missing my father and, um, missing being with him and accepting all over again that he’s not here for the things I thought he’d be here for, and that he never will again. And that’s really hard, but the second, and for me, the actual harder part of this time of year, the harder part of remembering this day is, and what I wouldn’t have expected at all, I never would have thought about this before I went through loss. Let me give a little bit of background. I had lost my paternal grandfather before, so my dad’s dad, I had lost him 15 years ago, a while ago. I was pretty young. Um, and that was really the only kind of major loss I had dealt with.
And I don’t mean to sound insensitive. And I know that this will not be the same for every single person listening to this, but losing a grandparent is not the same as losing a parent. So I never had gone through anything so traumatic in my life, obviously. Um, so that is, what’s harder actually now at this time of year is remembering how traumatized I was when it happened and remembering the kind of aftermath of it and remembering what that like that, what getting the phone call was like, what, seeing his body was like, what going to his funeral was like, what it was like, you know, being on a plane on my way to my dad’s funeral, just realizing that like, I would never see him again, going into our house and realizing I’d never seen him again, thinking of my mom alone. That is what really is still very, very hard for me to process.
So that’s what I didn’t expect. I thought that grief and loss would be about the loss of the person. And I’ve actually been able to find more peace with my dad’s passing than I’ve been able to find peace with like what we went through, my mom and sisters and I, after it happened. So that was my experience. I don’t know that everyone’s experience will be this way. But that is kind of where I’m at. And I want to talk a little bit about how I think I was able to find some peace with his actual passing and then some of the kind of reality of what it was like after and why it’s been so hard for me. Thank you guys so much for all your support here on Instagram. You guys are so sweet. Let me know that you’re here.
Okay. So I’m going to set the stage. I’m going to share the story of what happened. So I can’t big trigger warning if you aren’t willing to hear, um, I won’t get too into it. I’m not trying to bring everyone down, but I just want to be open about the whole thing. So, Oh, here we go. Um, the story was that I was out at, out to dinner with my now in-laws and my now husband on a Saturday night in New York at Catch which I can never go back to whatever in the meat packing district. And my dad was skiing in Leadville in Colorado and my dad was like the healthiest guy ever. He was pretty much an all paleo diet guy. He was like the ultimate Colorado mountain man. Like he mountain bike to work every day. He skied all the time. I mean, at least once a week in the winter, he would usually, he was known to take four hour lunch breaks to ski.
Hopefully that’s okay for me to share, but, um, he just really took care of his health. He was the last person I ever could have imagined, would suddenly lose his life at 58, really young and so I was out to dinner on a Saturday. He was not sick. He was not- it never would have crossed my mind. And, um, while he was skiing, he, um, he passed away. That’s all I want to say about it. Um, due to an untreated and, um, um, diagnosed health conditions and he was only 58. So I got this phone call. I was at dinner and literally, I remember just like my body locking my legs, kind of locking from underneath me. Like I couldn’t bend them. And I just completely teetered over to the side and fell on the ground.
And I was in the kind of bathroom area of Catch. Like I was outside of the bathrooms, which is also near the kitchen. So I was like, and it was a Saturday night rush. So I was in the way of like all the waiters that were trying to get in and out of the kitchen. And they were really compassionate with me. And, um, they helped me get into like a stairwell that, because I needed to get out of the way. And they got me a chair and my husband went and got his parents and I just remember wailing in that stairwell, like just completely in disbelief of what happened. And then my now in-laws.
I’m sorry, you guys, I didn’t think I’d get so emotional. So I got me outside and my sister who lives in New York also, we talked to her and I went to see her and went and got her. Hi, everyone who’s joining. I’m sorry. I’m already crying and I’m on the way to see her. I called my best friend Ariana and she, um, I thought she didn’t answer and I’m sorry, you guys. And I thought she didn’t meet her. I thought she didn’t answer. But she now tells me that I barely remember this all, you know, it’s kind of in a blur, but she now tells me that, um, she did answer and she could hear me and she could hear me like sobbing. And it was like 10:00 at night on a Saturday at this point. So she’s, she’s super worried. And she called me back and all I remember was like crying in this cab, crying into the phone.
Like my dad died, my dad died. I just couldn’t say anything other than that. And so I went and got my sister and we booked tickets to go home to see our mom and obviously our dad and our other sister in Colorado for the next morning. And I didn’t sleep at night obviously. And I just was in such disbelief. And I just remember being up all night and I waited until my other best friend Tanya was up. Cause she lives in Ireland. So I knew she’d be up early. So she was up at like, I think three 45 New York time. So I was up then and I called her and I remember calling my boss and like telling her I wouldn’t, I was still at my nine to five and telling her I wouldn’t be going into work anytime soon. And she was great, she was so understanding.
And then my husband and my sister and I went and met at LaGuardia to fly home to Colorado. And I just remember, like I had barely talked to my mom because she, like, couldn’t talk, um, like my have been married for 32 years at this point. And my mom found out by the sheriff coming to her house and telling her cause she was alone and he just like, that’s what they do. I guess if you know, they find your spouse. So she like, you know, had gone through all her own trauma. And I can’t even imagine what that night was like for her. We just wanted to get to her as soon as possible. But I remember her calling me and, um, it was like the first time I really heard from her. And she was like, trying, I’m sorry, you guys I’m like balling.
She was trying to, um, talk to me about like what to do with his organs, like what he wanted, my mom, she just popped on and I’m like balling kind of reliving the story. I just remember hearing my mom’s voice thinking like what, what should we do? And when I realized that, like, that that’s the conversation we were having about like what he would want. I just remember my knees buckling to the ground in LaGuardia and I’m looking at me. I mean, it was, it was so, so traumatizing.
So anyway, I’m not going to go into the full details of what the next few months or like, but I was able to stay in Colorado for about two weeks, which was really great. And it was able to be with my family and we had a beautiful funeral for my dad and we were really so lucky to have so many people there.
And so many people come together and my sisters and I were all able to speak, which I’m really proud of because I don’t think that that’s like a guarantee when something like this happens, that you can even find the words or the courage. So I’m proud of all of that. Um, but then when I went back to New York, that was, that was the worst time of my life was like trying to kind of pretend to integrate back into society. Um, and just being so much utter shock and like trying to do my job and trying to get my business off the ground and trying to function and trying to like keep my relationship and trying to keep my friends and leave just feeling like I couldn’t even get the courage to walk out of my apartment some days it was terrible. And it was terrible thinking about my mom.
I mean, that was like, that was almost as hard as actually missing. My dad was thinking about my mom, thinking about her at their home, you know, together, but he not being there and my heart just breaking, like head lying down at night on my pillow. Like just imagining what hers was like. I’m like really being open. You guys. I didn’t think I was going to share this much, but here we are and feeling so lonely, you know, and I’m sure any of you who’ve gone through grief. Know that. I mean, I’m so blessed that I had my sisters and my mom, like I really, really am so grateful for my sisters. I mean, my mom as well, but I guess it just made me, it was a grateful moment to not be an only child, not like turning to say anything against only children, but I was very grateful to have them and still all of our grapes were so different. Everything was so different.
So it’s just really lonely. And in your day to day life, it just, it, you feel such a hole in, I remember this is the last story I’ll tell about like the whole thing is it happened. But I remember the one of the days that, um, I was at my nine to five job. I always used to walk to this, this Catholic church in times square. I worked in times square and I would go to this half hour mass Fridays at lunch. And then I, you know, always call my dad on my way back to, to, um, work and just kind of give them like a Friday, hey, see how his week went or whatever. And that first Friday that I walked back from church to work and like calling his voicemail and just knowing he was never going to pick up again, like stuff like that happened every day, you know, every day for months.
And so when I looked back at here’s Arianna, my best friend and I told you guys about that, I called, she’s such a good friend and I’m totally a mess, but I’m sharing this so openly because that is why, that is why the, the trauma is about like the grief and what you go through when it happens. Just as much for me more than it is about missing my dad. I miss my dad, but I’ve been able to find peace with, okay, actually, I’m not going to go there.
That’s the story. That’s what happened three years ago. That’s what happened to my family and I, that’s how I lost my dad. And we were all so close with my dad. We all were really, you know, he was such a girl dad, but he was so not really a girl that didn’t like, I don’t know, you know, he really it’s almost like he had three sons, just as much as he had three daughters, we all did crazy shit with him.
We all jumped off waterfalls with him. We all skied double black diamonds with him. We all did all the things. Um, and he was just the best. And he just, he always made space for the three of us to be so different. And, um, he taught me so much about gratitude and so much about entrepreneurship and it w it, it’s just part of my heart that will never be totally mended, honestly. And that’s part of how I’ve been able to, to move forward is to accept that I think I will just spend part of my life, the rest of my life, missing him.
And that’s okay because it doesn’t need to mean that I don’t have a great life or that I don’t have a lot of things that make me really happy, you know, grief, you don’t ask for it, but it really expands your ability to feel like, I didn’t know, I could feel so many things simultaneously because you never have to, like, you never have to feel so much despair and so much depth, but then also go on with your life and have a good life.
Like nothing that bad had ever happened to me. So I had never had to feel such extremes, but now I can, and that’s a blessing in itself. So, I want to talk about the four things that I think have helped me make peace with his passing in case they help you. And then I got a great question from a beautiful client of mine who asks what is helpful to share to people going through loss versus what is not, I’m going to share what helped me versus what did not. Um, but this is very subjective. I know even my sister who I’m like best friends with has found, um, the opposite for me in some cases. So I think it varies person to person, but I will share in kind of why I share it. So what helped me find peace with his, um, with his passing?
Uh, the first thing I want to talk about that has helped me, it’s interesting. These first two have helped me a lot with entrepreneurship too. It’s really just how I’ve kind adapted to see the world since this happened, the first is learning and understanding and deciding to believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that our human experience does not define our, our soul, our spirit, our connection with God, kind of the deeper thing to us.
And this helps me in entrepreneurship, honestly, because it helps me not take myself so seriously and helps me realize that yes, I’m here to work and kind of have these accomplishments as a human, but they don’t define who I am deeper inside and the legacy all leave after I leave. I really believe that’s more about my energy. And I think that that’s honestly why my business has been able to take off because I haven’t gotten too attached to like the numbers and logical parts of it, which has helped me find success in unexpected ways.
So seeing my dad as just exactly the way we all are more of a spiritual being that had a human experience and had an amazing human experience. I mean, he lived such a bad-ass life. Like I said, he was always jumping off something or, you know, I don’t know doing a back flip off something. He always was doing something every day was like an adventure to him. So he certainly was not robbed of his, uh, time here on this earth. And that helps me, um, also take the personalization out of it. I think, um, it’s very easy when you lose someone in your immediate family to question kind of like why this happened to you or what you could have done differently or what you should have done while they were still here. It’s very easy to get involved with it. Of course, this person is part of it. It’s my father.
It’s like half of my parents, you know, um, of course I’m going to take his passing personally and try to look at my role in it. I did that to an extreme, that’s a different conversation I could have, but the point is a beautiful, peaceful realization. I had this probably took me a year, which was that his passing had nothing to do with me. It was whatever kind of contract he had with the Lord or with God. And whatever reason that happened to him at that time is his journey. It’s his soul’s path. It’s his, his path here. It’s not about him leaving before I got married, which was terrible and all that, you know, all those things that we go to right away when this happens, um, that’s helped me find a lot of peace. And that brings me to the second point that I, um, that has helped me, that also connects to entrepreneurship, which is surrendering.
So I don’t, I don’t know why my dad left when he did. I don’t know why he will never meet any of his three kids, grandkids. I don’t know why he won’t be a little to walk us down the aisles, all the things that he was supposed to do. The powerful part is surrendering to, like, not needing to know, I talk about this in entrepreneurship all the time, where you can want something or have something or something doesn’t work out for you. And your job is not always to figure out what’s happening it all the time, because there’s a greater understanding going on than what we, as humans can grasp and wrap our head around and so that’s what I have had to decide. And what I do believe happened with my dad, I don’t necessarily know why this happened and I don’t know, um, what the bigger picture is, but I choose to believe that there is one and I choose to be okay with not understanding it and so the surrender part has also been very helpful for me.
The third thing that has helped me is to like allow myself to feel how I feel. Um, I think that in the first six months especially, I was very controlling about how I wanted to feel. I knew that I wanted to feel like I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. Grief was so heavy and so all consuming and so heartbreaking. And I just wanted to not feel like that. And so I would, you know, I didn’t really do anything like all that crazy to kind of distract myself from it. I think that there could have been a lot worse things that I did, but in all honesty, one thing that I did was really went all out on my business and my business took off that year. And that was, that was a blessing in so many ways.
But part of it was that like, I was so desperate for my life to change. I was so desperate to not have another Friday where I was walking to that church and then walking back to work and being reminded that my dad was gone again. I needed to get out of that job. I needed to change my career. Like it was almost this escapism that if I could just change things so that I didn’t have this gaping hole of where my dad should be, then it wouldn’t be as painful. And that of course came with its downside because it felt like I did change my life pretty quickly. I’m really proud of what I did after my dad passed away. I did not self abandoned. I, you know, kept going. My business took off. I was able to quit my nine to five six months later, I had my first five figure month, I think, eight months later.
And I was really proud of those things, but it was also heartbreaking because not even a year later and all of a sudden, my life looked completely different than it was when my dad was there. And I had no idea how, like, how, how he would. I just wish I could have heard him tell me what he thought about it. And that, that I wish I could have heard, you know, like his reaction to it. And I got engaged, which was also amazing.
And it was hard to know that I’m never going to know, you know, what it would have been like to have him there for all those things. So sometimes I did miss the life that I had when my dad was still there, because even though it was painful, having those constant reminders, at least I had those reminders. All of a sudden I was in this reality where nothing reminded me of my dad anymore, because I was so desperate to change it as soon as possible.
Cause I was in so much pain that I kind of had to totally overhaul it and that’s not the entire, but, um, I do think, you know, I did, I, that a lot of that motivation came from realizing how short life was realizing that I didn’t want to, you know, not be kind of living within my purpose one more day and really going all out. But all my point is, is that nowadays I think I just let myself feel how I feel. I have accepted that. I am going to miss my dad for the rest of my life. Now I’m okay with it. Um, you know, I’ve had people tell me and I’ve had moments where I didn’t want to feel like that I wanted to live a full life. I wanted to somehow use this grief to propel me to do something I couldn’t have even done before. Like that that’s my nature.
I always am looking for how I can make something, make my life better. And I liked that about myself. That’s why I’ve been able to transform my life a lot. And I do think that there’s some element to what I’ve gone through that has made me stronger. And that has made me more dedicated to living in the present moment, not giving into fears, realizing that your life is short and, you know, honoring my dad in that way. I do think I do that. And simultaneously I am gonna miss him for the rest of my life. And I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to fight it anymore. I know that I’m happy. I think it would be more concerning if I was still, you know, not able to move on from it or not able to find happiness because of it, or I’m just not able to kind of like function because of it.
And none of those things have really happened. So because of that, I just have accepted and allow myself to feel like that, to feel like I’m going to, that’s just, it’s part of who I am now. Grief is a part of me. I love it being a part of me because it’s my dad being a part of me.
The fourth thing that really helped me get through this time was time, honestly time. Um, I think that people did tell me that when it first happened and I wanted to punch them and I didn’t want time like this, I wanted a fix. I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I mostly wanted my dad back. I was in pretty deep denial for a while. I mean, I was fully convinced. He was gonna call me, you know, for the next few weeks I thought I was going to get a call.
And he was going to explain that this was some horrible misunderstanding. I mean, I thought that for a long time, actually that still chokes me up. Like just thought, you know, there was, it was just so unbelievable that I just thought there has to be a mistake there. There’s no way that this just happened. I mean, it’s just crazy how life can change in the blink of an eye.
Do what you want with your life, because it can change in a blink of an eye. Like literally ask yourself today. Did I do what I wanted to do with my life? And if you didn’t that’s okay, but how can you do something toward that tomorrow on a Saturday, whatever it is so that you can change that because this, this is it. So those were the four things that helped me the most find peace with him and with his passing, like I said, to be transparent, I’m still trying to find peace with everything that my family and I went through after that is, that’s the hardest part for me.
That’s the part I black out the most I can think of my dad and feel happy. I can think of his life and feel joyful that he had such a good life. You know, I can just look back at the memories with him with a lot of fullness and gratitude, but I am still struggling to remember probably I’d say like four months, um, after it happened in a way that has given me inner peace, I still feel anger. Sometimes I still feel resentment towards certain things people said to me, I’m not proud of this. I’m just being honest with what it’s like now three years later and why this day is so hard.
Um, it’s hard because I miss my dad, but I think it’s harder because I’m still just in shock over what it was actually like to lose a parent so suddenly and experienced that. And, um, I’m trying not to sound bitter. I’m not better. Um, it’s just so much to process. I could go on and on about it.
So anyway, that is where I’m at with my grief process. And now, um, I have a question I want to answer, and then I want to answer any questions that you guys have live about it. I’m obviously willing to be pretty open about this. Someone asked me, what is helpful to say to people that have lost a parent and what is not helpful? I will tell you that what is not helpful to me, um, this rubs me the wrong way, but I know it always comes from a love loving place.
And I think that other people might actually feel good about it, that I’ve lost someone. But what I don’t like is when people kind of make these grand statements about what’s going on with my dad and my relationship with him now that never knew him. And that really just don’t have any place to be kind of telling me how he feels about me now or how I feel about him now.
Things like, you know, I know your dad’s looking down on you and I know he’s so proud of you. And it’s just sort of like, I don’t know, I get it. They’re trying to, you know, have nice words to say about, um, like what they, what they think I’d want to hear and that I’ve done a lot with my life since he passed. Um, and I know it comes from a loving place, but when they’ve never met him, it just, it almost feels invasive because I have a closer relationship with him now than this person who doesn’t know him or that’s on the internet does.
And for them to just sort of swoop in and say that this is how he feels sometimes feels like it’s just a, band-aid like, it’s just, they don’t know what to say. So they’re trying to say something really nice. And I get that. There is nothing to say. There is nothing to say and I totally get that.
So I’m not trying to, like, I don’t have any people in mind that I’m angry that they said that, you know, but that, for me, doesn’t, doesn’t really help me. Like my mom says it it’s helpful because you know, she was married to the guy and they had kids together. Um, or my sisters or something, but not people, I don’t know. How would they know that? It just feels fake to me. Um, but what, what I, what does help me? What I do like is what means the most to me is I guess the opposite when people are willing to listen or willing to ask about what happened.
I’m fine talking about what happened. I know some people feel offended if people ask, like, what happened to your loss? Or how did this person pass? That doesn’t offend me so much because to me, it just feels like people are willing to listen and willing to be supportive. And when people don’t at all try to overshadow what happened to me or pretend they know how it felt for what happened to me. I think that I’m a little bit hypocritical here because I do think that when I talk to people about loss, um, that have been through it, I get that, like my go-to thing is to try to share what I’ve been through too. And I’m not trying to one up them or anything. I’m just, I don’t know how else to relate. There’s nothing to say. So you’re just trying to kind of like see eye to eye in a way.
Um, but when people really are just like, how does that make you feel? And are you okay? And like, do you want to talk about it? To me, that’s the most helpful. And I want to give a shout out to my best friends Arieanna and Tanya, because especially Tanya, because she lost her dad also the same year, we both lost our dads. Mine passed first and then hers was several months later.
But still to this day, I think we’re both really good at not ever comparing what happened to us. That we like both equally give each other the space to have our own experiences with loss and to listen to each other and be supportive in whatever way the other needs, without it having anything to do with the other. So, that to me is the most helpful. And when people aren’t afraid to ask about it, I know it’s hard to talk about.
I know no one knows what to say. I know that though. So when people are like afraid of what to say or how to talk about it, they think I’m expecting them to know what to say. And I don’t, I don’t expect that, but just showing that people care and that they remember, and that they’re willing to listen. That to me is the most helpful. Um, I just thought of something else that, um, was not better either was, or wasn’t that helpful, but I can’t remember it now.
So anyway, to me, those are the experiences. Like, I think ask the person how they’re doing, be willing to listen to them, be willing, to feel a little bit of discomfort because whatever your discomfort, your feeling by asking is like the pain, they’re feeling times a million and they’re harboring it on their own. And, you know, people told me that they sometimes didn’t want to bring it up with me because they didn’t want to trigger my sadness.
And it’s like, I’m never like nowadays, it’s, you know, I get that a little more, but for the first year it was like, I’m never not thinking about it. You’re never not going to bring it up and catch me off guard. You know, I’m always going to be like, yeah, thanks for asking, because I’ve been thinking about it for literally the past three months and I can’t sleep and it’s terrible.
It’s not like someone could have been like, so how are you doing? And maybe like, Oh yeah, that’s right. You know, it was like, it was always in my mind. So I don’t think that you should be afraid of something like that. Um, I think if, you know, if the person doesn’t want to talk about it, you have to just kind of give them the space to tell you that and to not take it personally.
But, for me, I appreciated it when people were willing to talk to me about it. I still do. And if I don’t want to go too deeply into it, then I feel totally comfortable sharing that. But yeah, I don’t love when are like, Oh, well, it’s okay. He passed because he’s really proud of you. Did you know that? And I’m like, what? Alright, everyone, does anyone have any other questions on grief on loss? I’m not like an expert here, but I can share my experience.
Another thing that I did that like breaks my heart when I think about this, my whole family, and I did this, so I like had a picture of him up on my fridge, um, uh, for probably a year. And it had these affirmations, these three affirmations that we got from, um, a book, I think, what was it called, Life after loss and the affirmations were something like, um, I am okay. Grief will not define me. Um, I will get through this as others have. I think actually those are the three. I am. Okay. Grief will not define me. I will get through as others have. And like every morning I would just get up and go to my fridge and get water and look at that. And remember that this was what was happening and cry all over again and say it to myself. And then later in the day, you know, again and again, and I had the alarms going off on my phone just to try to remind myself that like I was going to get through this.
Thank you so much for tuning into this very personal episode. If you want to connect on this at all, you can always DM me on Instagram and I hope that this supports you with any tragedy that you’re going through and I will talk to you guys soon.
Your Biggest Vision’s Daily Checklist for Visionaries;