When Bindi Irwin lost her father, Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin, many people offered her the same advice.
“I remember after we lost Dad, so many adults came up to me and said, ‘Honey, time heals all wounds,’” the Australia native says. “That’s is the biggest lie you will ever hear. It doesn’t.
“That kind of sadness never goes away. It’s like losing a piece of your heart that you never get back.”
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Bindi, who turns 16 on July 24, also reveals how she, mother Terri and younger brother Robert, 10, have powered through their incredible heartache and found ways to grow.
“When you lose a loved one, you come to these crossroads,” she explains.
“You can take the path that leads you down the aisle of sadness, or you can say, ‘I’m never going to let this person’s memory die. I’m going to make sure everything they worked for continues.'”
And so far, she’s done an impressive job honoring her father’s legacy—not only with her big heart, but also with her activism.
The young conservationist, who lives with her family on grounds at the Australia Zoo, recently announced her partnership with Seaworld, with whom she’s planning the family’s upcoming annual crocodile research trip.
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“Every day is a new journey for me,” she tells People. “And I feel like in my lifetime, I’ve been blessed to experience such a lot.”