Today is a day of mixed emotions for me.
My dad died a week ago in 2009 and today is his birthday. I remember getting the call while I was sitting at work, taking a cab home to pack as I had bussed to work that day, and how completely numb I felt for days from the shock. As a trained grief and loss counselor, I now recognize everything I felt as normal but then it felt foreign and impossible to face. In a split second I was mourning not only the death of my dad, family dynamics I knew to be normal (albeit messed up), but almost more significantly I felt the death of a dream I long held – to have a better relationship with him, one I had yearned for since a child. That dream died along with his body. I and my brother and Dad’s wife went into “get it done” mode, handling the logistics of an unexpected death. Transferring a body over state lines. Facing limited financial resources to make funeral and burial arrangements. Learning you can charge a grave and casket on a Visa. I also faced the challenge of facing feelings so deeply buried in my soul that when I cried and whaled for losing what I had, recognizing the hell I lived through, and realizing what the future could no longer hold. The sounds I made crying were guttural and scary. I remembered fun times of camping with my dad in the mountains of northeast New Mexico, feeling relieved he was sober as we drove up logging roads to remote mountain top fishing lakes. I remember how good his cream gravy and bacon were that we’d cook on a campfire. I also remembered when he wasn’t sober, and all the hell that came with that. But I remember most significantly, the love he showed me and my first long term boyfriend when we visited him and his wife. I expected we’d be asked to sleep in separate bedrooms and I was therefore prepared for us to pull our bags back out the front door and get a hotel. Separate bedrooms was the furthest from what happened. We walked in and were greeted with “Y’all can sleep in here.” Those five words were incredible to hear for a young gay couple still navigating what a relationship was like. I felt love that day like I had never felt before from him.
Eight years prior to dad’s death, I and people around the world felt tragedy like never before when multiple acts of terrorism on United States soil and airspace halted the world in a moments notice, resulting in thousands of lives ending in ways so tragic I can’t even describe. I’ll spare the details but for those who lived through it, we know how horrid it was. I and countless souls around our planet were immediately on edge wondering, saying, crying, yelling “oh dear God, what’s next?”. I will never forget a coworker watching the TV with me in our conference room at work when the second tower was hit. She bolted up and ran out to go throw up in the bathroom. The numbness our world felt lasted for an incredible amount of time. We feared everything. We questioned every suspect vehicle. We were in a constant state of vigilance. It was exhausting. We wanted to know: Why? How? Who? WHY? Grief hits us physically, mentally, as well as emotionally.
Grief and loss impacts the core of our souls, the roots of our very being. We are inadequately prepared for loss, even though it’s the one sure thing guaranteed when we enter this world. Whether we lose a parent, strangers in another city, a relationship we had hoped to have, or the sense of security we may never truly feel again, loss is friggin’ hard. We process it not in some linear or bullet point fashion, we process it like untangling a ball of holiday lights – over and over again, and it often feels like a roller coaster that never ends.
We eventually find to accept that life will never be as it once was, as we dreamed or yearned for it to be. We find meaning in the change we’ve experienced. We acknowledge how having normalcy stripped from us has impacted us, and we see a new life forged ahead – our next normal – until the next change.
If you’re navigating grief and loss, it really can help to have someone alongside your journey supporting you through the muck. I’ve walked many grief paths personally and with so many others. It’s a hard but beautiful journey and I’d love to join yours.