Once upon a time, in a land not unlike every other land, in a house not unlike every other house, there lived a young lad named Patrick.
He lived with his ailing father and his wiry framed mother. He was closest to his father; Papa’s gentle authority having taught him so much and made up most of who he was.
His father used to call him to his bedside every night and hold his small hands in his large cold ones. He used to make light conversation, and Patrick always held his breath, because he knew what was coming.
“When I’m gone,” he would start.
At those few words, Patrick would place his finger on his father’s lips and would not allow him to speak any further. He was too scared to imagine a world without Papa and didn’t want to start before the time came.
But his father always held the hand at his lips and looked up at him in a plea to let him speak. When Papa spoke about when he was gone, his eyes got moist. His hands held Patrick’s tighter, and his gaze shifted to the ceiling. He always told him to take care of his mother for him. Every night, it was the same thing. But Patrick always promised anew like every other night. And Papa’s satisfied smile after hearing his promise was always like a flash of light in the dark tunnel.
The day he died was and always remained the worst day of Patrick’s life. He wailed when he couldn’t feel a pulse, screamed until the walls shook when Papa didn’t tell him to take care of his mother. He stood as they lowered his coffin in the cemetery, his face pale and his eyes unblinking.
His mother would eventually remarry, bringing in two stepbrothers who were kind enough but ignored him when they could, and a stepfather who tried to be there for him as much as possible. But all of it didn’t matter because his mother would be there for him, and their thread of a relationship would soon strengthen because of their shared grief. He would grow up to attend a ball where he would meet the princess or prince or either or neither or both and fall in love with her or him or they, and he would become king of the land not unlike every other land.
But this is common knowledge.
No one ever knows what happens to the child after their parent leaves them for good. No one knows of the tears they shed and the memories that appear in their mind’s eye uncalled for. No one knows about the times they sit in their parent’s room and smell their bedsheets and pillows, and no one knows about the times they sleep on their parent’s bed and reach for someone who isn’t there.
No, everyone only knows about the extravagant royal who sweeps our humble protagonist off their feet with just a simple glance. Everyone knows about the profound words of love they speak to each other in private, and the instant love that blossoms between them without even trying.
But the poor boy was sad after his father’s death. He was angry and he was lost. He was lonely, and he was aching inside. He took comfort in the embrace of his mother and lay on her lap until her skirts were wet with his grief.
Barely a few days after his beloved Papa ascended, he heard snippets of conversation from the people outside. He put on his outside shoes and walked through the overgrown weeds and reached the border between his house and the forest.
The conversations became louder as he went deeper into the forest he used to visit with Papa when he was younger. He stopped at the clearing and stood there, mud in his shoes and cuts made by branches on his arms, waiting.
Almost on cue, animals began to appear from behind trees and bushes, and the cacophony of words became almost too much to bear. Patrick put his hands on his ears in an effort to lessen the sound, but it was still audible through the cracks of his fingers.
His knees buckled, and he fell to the ground, begging for the noise to stop.
Soon the words became whispers, the rustles became nothing but the wind. He was on his knees in the midst of rabbits and squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons, bears, mice and hedgehogs. Doves and bluebirds were flying above him, but he couldn’t hear chirping. He only heard words.
“Boy’s father died…”
“His Papa was his best friend…”
A white rabbit with a brown strip down its back made its way towards him and stopped only a few inches away.
“Don’t be afraid of us, Patrick. Your Papa passed by us when he was going upstairs and told us to take care of you, to give you company whenever you felt lonely,” the rabbit said, and Patrick’s eyes moistened.
“Really?” he asked, feeling stupid immediately for talking to a rabbit.
“You’re not stupid,” a squirrel squeaked, and Patrick blushed deeply, having thought out loud by accident.
“You’re sure this isn’t some kind of coping mechanism? Some way to grieve without coming to terms with it?” he asked, rubbing the tears out of his eyes.
“What if it is? What if we’re all just in your head? Would that be such a bad thing?” asked a dove flying above.
“I don’t know, I don’t know whether it is good or bad,” Patrick said, his head shaking, trying to make the animals disappear.
But they still sat there, their small eyes looking at Patrick with what he imagined was understanding.
“We’re here for you, Patrick. Whenever you feel like talking about your Papa, or just feel like you need a cuddle, we’ll be there. Don’t worry, you’re not going mad,” the rabbit said.
“Thank you, er, rabbit? What do they call you?” Patrick asked.
“My name is whatever you want it to be,” said the rabbit, and Patrick mentally facepalmed himself, having expected this type of an answer.
“I’ll call you Brownie,” he said, considering the brown strip of fur running down the rabbit’s back.
“Brownie it is.”
He spent the rest of his day naming the rest of the creatures, taking care to name them as best as he could, and when he returned home, his mother held him close to her bosom and wet his head with worried tears.
But he was smiling.
Even on the day of his marriage, he saw his good friends in the crowd, waving to him. Everyone soon found out about this peculiarity of the new king, but no one said a word against it when they found out about his late father.
He made a fair number of human friends in the future, but his longest lasting friends remained the animals.
Whether they were a figment of his imagination or a gift from his father didn’t matter. They helped him move forward without having to discard his precious memories, without asking him to forget, but instead asking him to remember.
So, when you eventually lose a person close to your heart, or even someone who wasn’t that much a part of your life, don’t try your best to forget them. Don’t try to push away the living people who care. Don’t push away the sweet moments that you remember. Relive those memories until the tears running down your face become ones of joy, of the privilege of getting to know that person.
Letting them go doesn’t mean that you forget them, it means that you let go of the guilt that weighs down your heart and remember them with the smile that they used to love.
You are not stupid or mad for taking comfort in yourself. You are stronger than you realise because you are getting through it. You’re not weak for crying, you are strong for facing your emotions head on.
Keep pushing on, you’ll make it to the other side.
Then you will live happily ever after, until the next problem props up.
Then you will face it as you have faced the others before, and you will smile again, I promise.