As an only child, I’ve always joked that I’m a ‘lonely child’. This became a cruel reality in April 2020, when my parents both died from Covid-19. I can still remember how my heart dropped when the doctor, dressed in full PPE, told me, “I’m so sorry, your mother is dying”, then nine days later, “your dad’s body is giving up, do you give us consent to take away his life support?”. Sometimes I still hear the landline ringing, signaling another delivery of bad news. That tune will haunt me forever. I never thought something non-physical could hurt me so much – it felt like my heart was torn apart. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, they call it.
When it first happened, people didn’t really know what to do or say. Most opted for “I’m sorry for your loss”, or “let me know if there is anything I can do”, despite knowing nothing will ever fill that gaping hole in my life. Some tried for a more positive approach: “it’s not the end of the world”, because it isn’t the end of their world. Or worse, “at least you know they loved you” as if that would diminish the pain. The fact is, conversations become a bit awkward because what are people supposed to say? There is no manuscript. You know they’re only trying to help. Yet part of you just wishes they’d leave you alone to sulk in the corner because their lives suddenly seem so much more perfect than your own.
For a long time, I was angry at everything and everyone. I hated my parents for abandoning me and I resented the doctors for not doing more, even though I know they’d done everything in their power to save them. Most importantly, I blamed myself – if I had sent them to the hospital earlier, they might have survived. If it wasn’t for me, they would’ve been in Hong Kong, where coronavirus rates were a lot lower. If I was simply better, they would still be alive. I hit ‘Anger’ of the ‘Five Stages of Grief’ like a truck and all I wanted to do was cry, scream and kick inanimate objects. Even when I was ‘Bargaining’ or ‘Depressed’, I kept retreating to ‘Anger’. It wasn’t until I finally reached so-called ‘Acceptance’ that I realised that this model isn’t a strict protocol. There isn’t a timeline that you have to follow. There is no ‘right way’ to cope with grief – this experience is unique and it is your own.
It crushes me to think that my mum won’t see me graduate and my dad won’t walk me down the aisle. They’ll miss every milestone and celebration, but what is grief if not love persevering? I still pay their phone bills because sometimes I call their numbers just to talk into the void, pretending that they’re on the other end, silently listening. The memories of their faces and voices are all I have left, and even those are slowly fading away with time. I have no choice but to believe in the textbook cliché that they’ll ‘always be with me’.
This grudging acceptance surprisingly guided me to the first steps in healing. To do this I needed support from those around me because, as much as you hate to believe it, you’re not actually alone. There are people who care for you and will help you to understand what ‘probate’ and ‘domicile’ mean. People who will put a roof over your head because even though you’re 19, you’re still a child. People who will be there on your first birthday without your parents and make you feel alive again.
I remember the first time I genuinely laughed out loud after their deaths – it was just a regular Tuesday and we were watching TV. Though it turned into tears as soon as I was alone because I didn’t think I was still capable of feeling anything, but also – how dare I be happy when they aren’t around anymore? This inner turmoil only ended when I was reminded that my parents gave me everything they had. I owe it to them, and myself, to embrace life with open arms. If this catastrophe can’t knock me down, nothing else can.
To the hearts that are aching and breaking, I won’t lie and say that it’ll ever not hurt, but I can tell you that you will eventually find your way to cope and live. So, lean on your friends and family, go on a spiritual retreat, try a whacky, new hobby – do whatever it takes to love yourself a bit more each day. And those scars on your heart? Wear them with pride. It’ll make you stronger than ever before. Take care.
Illustration: Rosie Bromiley