Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult thing to endure. Grieving is a process that everybody experiences differently and the pathway to feeling like yourself again after a loss can seem nearly endless. The loss of any loved one is heartbreaking however the death of a parent offers a unique kind of sadness that nobody can relate to unless they have experienced it themselves. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance know how much losing a loved one, particularly a parent, can impact a person's mental health. We sat down with Pennsylvania native, Jack Bell, to hear his story on how losing his father at the young age of 13 has affected his mental health and made him the person he is today. Like many of our articles we recognize the strength it takes somebody to share painful parts of their personal story, and hope that a grieving spouse or child can feel connected to Bell and find peace in the fact that he has come to terms with his fathers' death.
"Thirteen is such an awkward age in general. Going through puberty and trying to figure out where you fit in, then add in losing a father made it pretty much impossible," said Bell. His father was killed in a car accident when Bell was in the 7th grade. This earth-shattering event has obviously had a massive impact on Bell, his mother, and his two sisters' mental health.
"It was a shock for all of us. I remember my siblings and I getting off the bus to my neighbor instead of my mom. The expression on my mom's face when we got into the house is one that will be etched into my brain forever."
Even talking about this 25 years later had Bell choking up. He discussed that the days following the death of his father were riddled with funeral arrangements, casseroles from every neighbor on their street, and uncontrollable tears. "By far the hardest part in those early days was seeing my mom start to crumble. She held it together for my sisters and I but I am the oldest so I think that I saw more than anybody how upset she was. I remember seeing her sit in the car for an extra ten minutes before she was able to go inside the house or get lost in her own, I'm sure very sad, thoughts during dinner," said Bell.
It is often said that the death of a family member does not actually hit you until you are done with the funeral and you get back home with nothing left to arrange. Bell agrees that that moment was when they first really felt the loss of his dad's presence. Sitting in the living room the family suddenly realized they didn't have anyone requesting the evening news be put on, and his favorite spot was gut-wrenchingly empty yet it felt so wrong for someone else to occupy it. Getting back to normal life proved to be very difficult for Bell and he fell into a deep depression. He never wanted to leave his room and was starting to experience aggressive behavior. When he wasn't trying to ignore his family and all of the outside world by being in his room with the door locked, he was taking his anger, and ultimately sadness out on his friends and family.
"It took many heated conversations between my mother and me before I agreed to go to a therapist. I didn't think I needed it, and even if I did I didn't think it was possible for anybody to understand what I was going through. Thank god my mom made me go though because I don't think I would have been able to process the death of my father without it." Bell has continued going to therapy since that very first visit until the present day. He attributes it to helping him heal from the death of his father and helping him with all of the good and bad things life has thrown at him since. "Therapy has helped me through some very dark times and some incredibly dark thoughts. If it wasn't for it I don't know where I would be today."
Bell mentioned that the hardest moments for him and his family are the ones that are supposed to be the happiest. He remembers his high school graduation when all of his friends' fathers were dressed up in suites cheering on their kids. He never got the talk every college freshman gets from their dad about making sure they don't do anything dumb, never had is dad straighten his tie at prom, and didn't have him there when he married his wife. Graduations, weddings, and having children are the times that the Bell family misses their dad the deepest. While things get sad and nostalgia creeps in and often gets them thinking "what if's" about the accident, they try to remember that their dad's spirit lives on in all of them and all of the things they accomplish.
When asked about what he would tell his 13-year-old self, or a young child going through the loss of a parent today he said simply; "feel what you feel." He took it upon himself to "man up" and be tough for his family and this caused a lot of his emotions to build up and ultimately cause depression, and aggressive behavior. Bell went on to explain that childhood should be happy and it is a real shame that some kids have to go through trauma, but life continues and no matter how dark it seems you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. He remarks how important his bond with his siblings was at the time because his sisters are the only people who were going through what he was. "If you are lucky enough to have siblings, lean on them and let them lean on you. This tragedy can help you grow closer together and just like you need someone to talk to, so do they."
He regrets mostly how he treated his mother after the death of his father. He became very resentful of her, especially when she began dating two years after the death. "I was at such a vulnerable age where I thought I knew everything there was to know about absolutely everything and I was so worried she would meet someone who would try and be a father to me. I didn't want another father I wanted mine back and I was so mean to anybody that tried to come close." Another piece of advice that Bell had was to give your parent some grace during this period. They are going through a completely different kind of grief and guilt than you are and also have to all of a sudden run a family by themselves now. "I cannot imagine what was running through my mom's head when she realized she had lost the love of her life, and her partner that split 50% of the workload of raising a family. Not to mention the utter sadness that must have come with realizing your children will grow up without their father. She is the strongest woman I know and I wish little 13 year old me would have been able to wrap his head around that." said Bell.
Today the Bell family has three new little bundles of joy; one of them given the name of their father. His presence is missed every day in big and small ways. While it may have been Bell who walked both of his sisters down the aisle, it was his fathers shoes he wore, and they believe their father's guiding presence that made those days so special. They all look back on the death of their father with heavy hearts but now have been shown that life goes on even through the darkest hardships, and have been shown by their mother that when you need help you should never be afraid to reach out a hand and ask.
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**names have been changed**