By Pamela Gabbay —

When I was 25 years old, I learned about life and death in the same month. At the beginning of July, I had my first child, a precious baby girl. By the end of July, my 49-year-old father was dead. He was a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel of his truck in the middle of the night. He crashed and died instantly. When he died, my world crashed in. I walked around in a stupor trying to make sense of this new, foreign world. I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to act.

I couldn’t take the unbearable pain. I couldn’t handle this new reality, that of having no father. I decided to stuff my pain. I stopped listening to country music because it reminded me of him. I put away all of his photos. I thought that I was doing the right thing. I thought that I could outrun the grief.

A few years and a second child later, my 51-year-old mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died two weeks after her diagnosis. Again, my world was shattered. Again, I was thrown into this foreign world of unbearable pain. I missed my mom and dad so much. Now, neither of my children would know my parents. I struggled to come to terms with the magnitude of my loss. I longed for someone to take away the pain and the aching. I longed for the connection to my parents.

Adding to my pain was a somewhat unkind society, including those who had not experienced this pain. As grievers, we are taught not to show our pain. We are taught to “be strong” and are complimented if we appear to be strong. At times, I felt a silent mandate from society; I needed to “move on” and “get over it.”

Some friends stopped calling. It seemed as if they thought that being close to me might cause this to happen to them. Also, they didn’t know how I felt. Most of my friends were in their twenties and they still had both of their parents.

In the weeks and months after my parents died, I found that the most mundane chores became almost intolerable. During trips to the grocery store, I was surrounded by moms and daughters. They were laughing, shopping and talking. During the holidays, my parents’ favorite Christmas carols caused me to have such intense longing for them that I often had to leave the store.

As a result of my parents’ deaths, I was forever changed. My life was like a “before” and “after” photo; before the deaths of my parents and after the deaths of my parents. As a grieving daughter, each day I had to make decisions about how to deal with my pain. Some days I was able to make tentative steps forward. Most days, I just wanted to pull the covers up and stay in bed. I didn’t have that option because I had my own children to care for. In addition to being a grieving daughter, I was also a mother to my own two children.

Over time, I began to wonder, how do I begin again? How do I find happiness again? When will this pain end? I learned to get through my grief by wading in the muddy, murky water for as long as I needed to. At times, my grief felt like a raging river that seemed impossible to cross. At other times, it felt as stagnate as a cesspool.

The death of my parents caused me to reevaluate my life. What was my true purpose? I decided to change careers and return to school to become a grief counselor. I was very fortunate when a center for grieving children opened in my own town. I started volunteering my time with the children of the center. I found that helping others helped me.

Just as their deaths taught me many things, so did their lives. My parents were wonderful teachers. They taught me to laugh and be silly; to love music; to dream big. They taught me the value of a friend and the importance of being true to oneself. My parents also taught me that love never dies. Just because they died, my relationship with them didn’t die. Our relationship, just like our love, continues even though they’re no longer physically here with me. Ultimately, they have taught me that grief takes as long as grief takes.

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Pamela Gabbay

Pamela Gabbay, M.A., FT, was awarded the Fellow in Thanatology by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and is a Certified Bereavement Counselor. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from California State University, San Bernardino and her M.A. in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Pamela is the Program Director of The Mourning Star Center for Grieving Children in Palm Desert, California and works extensively with grieving children, teens and their families. For more information, please visit In 2008, Pamela and the Mourning Star Center were featured on the National Hospice Foundation of America’s Bereavement Teleconference Living with Grief: Children and Adolescents. Pamela is the Camp Director for Camp Erin - Palm Springs, the first Camp Erin in California. Camp Erin is a free camp for grieving children and teens created in partnership with The Moyer Foundation. Pamela is also President of the California Chapter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. ADEC So Cal is an organization dedicated to promoting excellence in death education. She is on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance for Grieving Children. Additionally, she is co-owner of a poster company that produces sensitive and educational grief-related posters. Pamela appeared on the radio show Healing the Grieving Heart with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley, to discuss Adult Children Losing Parents. To hear Pamela being interviewed on this show, click on the following link:

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