The unexpected thing about grief is that it hits you the hardest in the months following your loss. Not as it happens, not at the funeral, not even right after the funeral, but weeks later. At least, it did for me. It came in like a tidal wave, and I was woefully unprepared to be submerged. You need to hold on to the things that will help you float back to the surface. One of the buoys that I latched on to was Stardew Valley.

My father fell ill in the fall of 2015. My brother and I drove from Montreal to Ottawa and back every weekend. During that time, Neko Atsume was my crutch. I ignored all the games that were launched that season; all I could do was stare at my digital cats while sitting in my dad’s palliative care room. By mid-november, he was gone. The funeral was on November 28th.

I coasted through December and January. I could barely pick up a controller as I quickly got frustrated with anything I played. I couldn’t make sense of anything and I had trouble figuring out what I had to do. I spent most of my free time just scrolling through Facebook and Imgur on my phone. I was numb. Being productive at work proved to be quite challenging. I just went through the motions and I struggled to get things done.

End of February was a turning point when I came home and saw my boyfriend play what looked like an old school SNES game.

– What’s that you’re playing?
– A new indie game called Stardew Valley. It’s basically Harvest Moon but better. It’s really addicting.
– Cool. I’ll try it later.

We share our Steam libraries so I was able to play whenever he wasn’t. I was instantly hooked. It was a challenge squeezing in playtime as he was also constantly playing and it didn’t take long until I simply bought it for myself. I sunk hours into Stardew Valley, entire evenings, sometime a whole weekend. For the first time in months, I was excited to have free time so I could go home and play a video game.

My first farm in Stardew Valley

My first farm in Stardew Valley

Just like any farming simulator, the premise of Stardew Valley is to build up your farm into a prosperous venture. The mechanics are anchored in planning and routine. Seasons last for 28 days, crops takes a certain amount of days to grow, you have to sell crops to buy seeds to grow more crops… The general store is closed on Wednesdays… If it rains tomorrow, I won’t have to water my crops so I can go explore the mines…

As I planned my days of chores and which objectives I wanted to hit, something clicked. I wasn’t swimming in tumultuous waters, clinging to a piece of driftwood anymore; my feet touched land and the water was down to my waist. I could finally think clearly: I was standing at point A and knew what I needed to do to get to point B. It instantly showed in my everyday life: bills were paid on time, emails were answered promptly, invitations to go out were accepted and I started to feel productive, all because Stardew Valley got those cogs turning again.

My second farm in Stardew Valley (via Girls on Games)

My second farm in Stardew Valley

As I sit here, almost a year later after Stardew Valley’s initial launch, I am reminded of three very important things that I learned after going through that period of my life. One, the loss of someone dear will leave a gaping hole in your life. Nothing will ever fill it and you will spend months, if not years, learning to live with it. Two, never lose sight of what brings you joy and fulfillment. They will help you weather the storm and thanks to them, that hole won’t seem as wide nor as deep as it initially did. Third, you don’t have to suffer alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Outside of video games, I found solace with family and friends, especially sharing with those who also lost a parent. You can even turn to organisations like TelAide or speak with a local counselor.