THE BLOG
09/16/2014 12:54 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

A Fistful of Jeans: How it Actually Feels to Lose a Parent

ABykov via Getty Images

Maybe it's happened to you. Maybe it hasn't. If it has, your experience was intimately specific to you, and I by no means intend to capture your feelings or pretend to understand what you endured. But this is my perspective, my uncensored, unabashed remembrance of my darkest day. And also, how I reacted, emotionally and physically, in the time since...

As a child, I was perpetually unsure of myself. Socially, I didn't take chances. I grabbed a fistful of mom's jeans as I stood haplessly among other children, in line to enter religious school (CCD). A bell sounded, permeating down my spine. There was movement. Boys and girls kissing their parents farewell, with no discernible sense or worry of the uncertainty that lay before them. I erupted in sheer panic, pleading with Mom not to leave, my face distorting in ugliness, tears caked onto my cheeks. Social awareness left me, as classmates curiously gazed in my direction and terror overcame me in a way it never had previously. The one and only thing that existed in that moment was the fistful of my mother's jeans.

That was the first time I remember being aware that my parents would ultimately leave me one day. I was about 6, and the symbolism of my mother "sending me out into society" hit me particularly hard. Mom's conscience wouldn't allow her to walk away that morning. She let me stay home and got me into a class that included some familiar faces. It was an act of mercy I still haven't forgotten. But even as I acquiesced to walk into my new classroom the following morning, one thing hadn't changed -- I remained painfully aware that having my mother to watch over me was temporary. And I knew I'd have to face it one day, likely on a day I'd never see coming.

That day would come more than two decades later. It was an idle Saturday... until I found mom lying motionless on the floor. My grip on her jeans had loosened many years earlier, of course, but I was no closer to being ready for her departure. My oldest son was about to turn 3, and my youngest was merely a baby at 10 months. In that moment, as I half-consciously answered a police officer's questions, I became fixated on the number 59. An odd number. A number that felt like a song that doesn't resolve to the root note. Like a TV show you're watching on DVR that is prematurely cut off two minutes before its end. Fifty-nine was mom's age when she died.

I instantly thought of the empty seat at the dinner table, the last conversation we'd had, how my children would never grow to know her. I was unhinged, as if anesthesia had worn off in the middle of a heart transplant. The pain was like nothing I'd ever experienced or could have imagined. But I couldn't cry. I was standing in front of my children what seemed like seconds later, and my instinct was to protect them. Days later, though, I couldn't hold it any longer. My wife was with the kids as I climbed into the attic. And I howled like a wounded dog. It was the first time in my adult life that I audibly wailed with grief. A great deal of my upbringing had been peppered with limiting phrases like, "Be a man," and "Boys don't cry." I would spend the next eight months crying every single day in the car ride to and from work. Forty minutes there. Forty minutes back. It was then that I began to mourn the woman who brought me into this world.

Losing a parent hurts as much as it does because we spend our lives striving to impress, form bonds with and never roam far from this unimpeachable being. Then, suddenly, you're on this earth without them, and you feel utterly alone. No nurturing voice to calm your soul. No watchful eye to ensure you haven't spoiled your dinner. And no fistful of jeans. The worst part of losing her wasn't finding her body; It wasn't even having to break the news to her mother (my grandmother) later that day. It was the moment I returned to my job and realized that I was expected to simply blend back into society as if I wasn't permanently damaged.

Mom's been gone for two and a half years. I still mourn her. I still swipe through the pictures on her Facebook account that I can't bear the thought of canceling. I still have random moments when I get eerily quiet as the loss of her comes over me like an ominous storm cloud. I imagine how she'd react to certain news stories, and desperately want to call her when I think there's a movie she'd enjoy. I sometimes sit silently and listen to the white noise of the air conditioning unit, a reminder of the dead air her absence has created. Despite being a grown man with a wife, two sons and a daughter on the way, I'm still, at heart, that 6-year-old with a fistful of mom's jeans, pleading with her not to release me into the world, knowing with certainty that my grip would need to loosen physically, but emotionally, would last until my final breath.

If you've recently lost your mother or your father, or even if it's been 30 years since you've lost them, the most helpful words I can share are that you're not alone. And while the pain persists, it becomes less acute over time. You'll find a way to cope that works specifically for you. Maybe it's therapy. Maybe it's a gym membership. But however you decide to deal with this great loss, know that confronting your grief, sharing it with others can be just as cathartic for you as this blog has been for me.

Be strong, and remember that you're not alone.