By Lisa deRamos
Lisa’s story was part of an Ending the Silence presentation on grief, loss and trauma. You can find the full presentation here.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m 37 years old. I am the youngest of eight children from a blended family, and the only child of my mother and father together. My parents were each other’s second marriages and they deeply wanted to have a child together. They had me at an older age when they were both established in life and career. Because of this, they had more time to shower me with love and attention. I was very much the baby of the family who was doted on.
My father and I had a strong bond growing up. He was the one who taught me how to read, how to tie my shoes, and how to play the piano, which was one of his passions. My dad was a kind and goofy man. He loved to be silly and make people laugh. Yet, he was quite wise. One of his traits I inherited was an endless curiosity about the world around us. As a child, I treated my dad like a walking encyclopedia, always following him around and asking him questions like, “why do birds fly in that V-shape in the sky?”, or “why do leaves change colors?” or “why do I get goosebumps when I’m cold?” My father honed my inquisitive nature by surprising me with books titled “500 Questions and Answers” or “100 Interesting Facts for Kids.”
In high school, he mentored me in different subjects: science, history, social studies, and my favorite subject: English. He helped me recognize my passion for writing. Not only did he support me academically, but emotionally as well. My dad was the parent I would go to when I had problems in school: a bad grade, an argument with a boyfriend, etc. He was my mentor, my confidante, my best friend. He always knew the right thing to say to comfort me. He even encouraged me to seek treatment for my emerging mental health conditions of depression and anxiety, and kick-started my mental health journey, one that I have continued on to this day, thanks to him.
Unfortunately, due to persistent health conditions and older age, my father passed away my freshman year college when I was only 19 years old. This turned my world upside down. When I think about my life thus far, I think about it in two categories: before my dad died, and after. The summer after my dad died was probably one of the hardest times of my life. It was such a chaotic time where I desperately grasped at anything I could to fill the void of my father’s absence. I filled it with unhealthy coping mechanisms: engaging in risky, reckless behaviors like hypersexuality, disordered eating, self-medication and misuse of substances. I was even hospitalized and labeled a “suicide attempt” because I had overdosed on substances to numb the overwhelming pain of my grief. I felt so lost in the world without my father to anchor me, to ground me.
That hospitalization was my wake up call to get my life back on track. I eventually went back to school, graduated college, completed graduate school, and had a successful career in my field. However, I don’t think I could have met those milestones without the help of my then-therapist, Oscar, who worked with me throughout undergrad and grad school. When I first started seeing Oscar, I was a shell of a girl, who felt so empty and worthless inside. I felt like I was nothing without my father. I took to Oscar because he felt like an older, wiser male figure like my father. Someone I could trust and confide in.
Oscar not only helped me build my sense of self worth, but also build my life around the absence of my father. He helped me cope with and manage my grief by facing it head on, acknowledging it, and giving it space to breathe. Through this, I was able to heal and finally accept my dad’s passing. Oscar encouraged me to live a life that not only I could be proud of, but that would make my father proud.
I know that wherever my father is today, he sees me, and he is proud of the woman I’ve become. I know he sees the struggles I’ve faced, the lessons I’ve learned, the skills I’ve honed, and the accomplishments I’ve achieved. I know he also sees that not a day has gone by where he has not been remembered, loved, and missed. Nothing will ever replace the void of my father’s absence, but I’ve been able to build a rich and meaningful life around that grief. I honor my father by living a life I love, and I continue his legacy by striving to be a light to others, the way he was to me. One of my favorite quotes about grief is, “What is grief if not love persevering?” Even now, I am grateful for my grief, because it reminds me of how strong our bond was, and how everlasting that love is.
Lisa resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is a mental health advocate in her personal and professional life. She serves as Community Programs Coordinator for NAMI-WC, and is also an active volunteer. In her free time, Lisa enjoys creating floral arrangements, going on nature hikes, and spending quality time with her loved ones and pets.