Grief is not for the lighthearted

Helen van Soest
4 min readMar 18, 2023
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

I lost my Dad late last year. It was a shock at first but then I realised I had been waiting for this moment for six years, when he had a stroke.

My Dad had the stroke when he was doing one of his daily walks in a local park. From what I heard, the stroke hit him and he suddenly collapsed on the ground and was unconscious. The universe decided it was not my Dad’s time to go then and someone found Dad and called an ambulance.

My Dad was not the best with technology as his phone did not have a lock but that ended up being a blessing. As a result of his phone being easily accessible, the hospital was able to call all family members, including myself.

I was at work when I got the call. I was not expecting this news and I was not ready for Dad to die. I panicked inside and I cried. And then I rushed to the hospital to meet Mum.

After waiting for a long time at the hospital, with no idea what kind of state Dad was in, we found out that he had survived the stroke and did not even have paralysis. But of course, it was obvious that Dad was never going to be the same after this.

After the stroke, Dad started to become more forgetful and confused. It seemed minor at first but as the years went by, Dad became more unwell. He was eventually diagnosed with vascular dementia.

It was my first experience with dementia and I learnt how cruel, random and sad the disease is. Everyday, you lose a piece of the person that you knew. They start forgetting small things which seem inconsequential, like their keys or their phone. But then they start to forget bigger things like how to open a door or turn a kettle on. And one day, they don’t know what a door is or what a kettle is. They are in a different world then — a world where nothing makes sense. The saddest part is when they forget who you are. You visit them and they barely look at you, in fact it feels like they are looking through you.

Mum told me that she realised the full extent of Dad’s illness, when he used to wander out of the house and lose his way back home. Sometimes, kind people found him and brought him home. At other times, he would be out with Mum and he would suddenly fall onto the ground and Mum would need to call an ambulance. One day, after one of Dad’s falls led him to hospital again, it all became too much for Mum and she put him in a nursing home, a heartbreaking but necessary decision.

I visited Dad in that nursing home for two years. At first, I cried every time I saw him. I was so sad that the strong, almost intimidating man I knew when I was growing up, had become a shell of a person, weak and mute and sad.

Many times I did not want to go to that nursing home and witness the deterioration of my Dad but I knew I needed to go, even if things had not been easy between us. Because he was my Dad.

The last time I saw him before he died was August last year. I took for granted that I would see him again and did not spend quality time with him. When I got the news that he had passed away in December, I was shocked that I had not had a chance to see him one last time before he died.

After he died, I rushed home to spend time with the family and attend his funeral. It was an emotionally fraught and difficult time but we got through it and his funeral was quite touching and beautiful.

I had never experienced the death of a significant person in my life before. I had never experienced real grief in my life before. I discovered grief is not linear — it is up and down, random and unexpected. After the funeral, I seemed to do quite well — I went back to work, socialised again and seemed ‘normal’. But then the grief would hit me now and then — one time, when I woke up, another time, on a walk and sometimes, in front of friends. I would feel a chasm of sadness inside me and the only way to release it was to cry.

It’s been just over three months since Dad died. I’m still experiencing grief but am trying to process it slowly and allow myself to be upset when I need to be.

The grief journey is very individual — everyone experiences it differently, but I think we all experience sadness, disbelief at the loss and an aching pain inside. To those of you who have lost someone significant, take your time to grieve and allow yourself to feel the pain, difficult emotions and sadness. There is no need to hide those feelings.

Know that a lot of people will not understand your grief. Only people who have lost a parent will truly understand the deep loss you will feel. Avoid people who are insensitive and expect you to go back to ‘normal’ soon after your loss. There is no timeline for grief — take all the time you need to get to a place where the loss is bearable at least. You are not alone in your pain and suffering — many people have been where you are and many more people will be where you are in the future.



Helen van Soest

I love reading articles, books and blogs and try to write when I can.