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The “P” Word: Navigating New Relationships & Parent Loss

There’s nothing like meeting someone for the first time. This is your clean slate. Your blank canvas. This person doesn’t know you or your story the way many other people do. Your family, friends from home, people from your small hometown – they know all the details. I can’t help but feel like my losses have defined me in the eyes of these people. They can’t unknow what they know, and I will forever be the girl whose parents died.

“Do we talk to her? Do we not talk to her? Should we ask her about it? Should we avoid the subject completely?”

Usually their dilemma is so challenging that they resort to complete avoidance of any communication at all – aka avoidance of me in general. But not this new person! This fresh mind… They have no idea and for one moment I am a complete mystery to them. I can be whatever I want to be. I can be “normal.” Well, until the P word, that is.

Usually it goes pretty well at first. We are learning all the basics about each other. What do you do for work? Where do you live? What are your interests and passions? Where’d you grow up? Then my personal favorite, tell me about your family.

Oh god, I think

“What do your parents do?”

Uh. Okay, okay, don’t panic. Sometimes I can get around it. There’s still hope.

“Oh, my mom was a nurse and my dad was a software salesman,” I say quickly. Maybe they won’t catch the was. And if they do, maybe they will assume they retired and won’t ask any follow up questions.

Maybe… But….usually not.

“What do they do now?”

It is inevitable. Unavoidable. Inescapable. The dreaded P word.

In that moment, every organ in my abdomen drops down to my butt and somehow, I’m just as shocked as every time before. You would think I’d get used to it? Or that over time I would have developed some generic one liner that fits nearly every situation. If I could just memorize some sentence and repeat it and be done. Nope! It sucks JUST as much -- every. single. time. I mean, talk about a mood killer? You’re hitting it off, they are making their first impressions about you, and BOOM you throw that wrench into the conversation. Now they are apologizing, you are trying to make them feel better about it, insisting you are okay, and in fact NOT a crazy person. Well, maybe you are? But either way, the awkwardness sets in.

The anxiety of the P word infiltrates many aspects of my life. It’s one of those things that I like to avoid in everyday conversation, but it inevitably comes up every now and again. With every new relationship, there are new opportunities for people to learn about me and my past. Whether it’s a date, an Uber driver, my boss, an acquaintance, a realtor (this was the worst!), or someone I meet in passing, I never know when I’ll have to explain my situation in response to the P word. I’m not going to lie to you guys, there have been a couple times I have lied! LIED! I know.. it’s terrible. But some situations just weren’t worth the stress. I am not proud of these moments and I don’t usually do this anymore. Although, just so we are clear, you and I are in no way EVER obligated to share details of our personal lives with anyone. That’s your choice. 100%. Every time.

I am learning to accept the P word as part of my life. With each time it comes up, the hot flush of panic that runs through my body seems to get less and less, the choking sensation as I try to spit out my words clears a bit, the stutter in my voice levels just a little, and I am learning just what to say that feels best to me. I cannot change my situation and I will be meeting new people for the rest of my life! Grief has controlled me for a long time and I am learning to control IT. This one 6-letter word does not get to control me and my budding relationships.

So bring it on, P word! Give me your best shot… I am not afraid.

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