Thursday, November 05, 2015


I read this article this morning and it made me ponder... 

Yesterday I was chatting with my friend and he said that he has a friend that has never been to a funeral or had anyone close to them pass away.  How is that even possible?  The first time I experienced the death of a loved one was September 2, 1978.  We were living in Groton, Connecticut and I remember that we had the most hideous sounding doorbell.  The sound of this doorbell was much like the time out buzzer at a basketball game; horrendous and obnoxiously loud!  I was sleeping in the room closest to the front door when, in the wee hours of the morning, I heard that doorbell buzz continuously.  Even at the age of 9 you know when the doorbell rings at that time of night it's never good so I lay frozen in my bed, waiting and barely breathing.  My father was out to sea so I knew that it wouldn't be him getting up to answer the door.  When I look back on this time it baffles my mind that my mom was only 33 years old when this happened.  My parents were never an age to me, they were just "mom and dad", it wasn't until their deaths that it dawned on me that they were once in their twenties, their thirties, forties, etc. 

In 1978 my mom was 33 with 3 children while her husband was on patrol for at least 3 months.  She was the epitome of a Navy Wife.  She took care of everything while my father worked or was out to sea.  She made sure we were taken care of and had everything we needed.  I cannot imagine what ran through her mind hearing that doorbell woke her up and continuously broke the silence of the night until she got up to see who it was.  I stayed in bed listening to the sounds in the house.  If my sisters got up I'm not aware of it.  I heard my mother get out of bed and walk down the hallway, past my door and without even opening the door she started crying.  It wasn't a cry, though,   It was a wail.  As my friend described it yesterday it's more of a primal scream.  It comes from the gut and once it starts it's hard to stop or control.  It's pure, raw emotion and at times it has no sound, which is even more frightening to hear.

I found out later that when my mom reached the door she looked through the peephole and saw my aunt and uncle (her sister and brother in law) standing there.  Being that we lived in Connecticut and they lived in Massachusetts this was not common, in fact, they had never been to our house before this.  My mother knew someone was dead without even opening the door.  When she finally managed to let them in she learned that her mother, my Nana, had a massive heart attack the day prior and was dead at the age of 58. 

That night was the beginning of my grief, something I didn't understand until several years ago.

1978 Nana - heart attack
1986 great grandmother - natural causes
1991 great grandmother - natural causes
1992 grandmother - breast cancer
2003 father - lung cancer
2003 great uncle  - lung cancer
2007 aunt  - COPD
2009 uncle  - lung cancer
2009 mother - cardiac arrest
2012 uncle - lung cancer
2012 grandfather - lung cancer
2014 cousin - liver disease

I feel like I'm failing to list someone.

The conversation I had yesterday made me think hard about my life experience - though it's something I do think of often, anyway, unfortunately.  I wondered how different of a person I would be had I not gone through the experiences I've had.  What if I experienced my first loss of a loved one in my thirties?  Would I appreciate life as much?  Would I care for the people in my life as much? Would I realize how short life really is? 

Am I naive to think that most people start experiencing the loss of loved ones when they are in their 50's and 60's?  I see people in their 60's that still have both parents and that baffles my mind.  I can't help but think that they have absolutely no clue what it feels like to not have them and I have to stop myself from being bitter and mad when they react in absolute grief when their parent passes away in their late 80's.  Yes, it pisses me off.  I feel that they should feel lucky.  They should be thankful they had them in their life that long. I want to tell them to stop crying and be happy they died of natural causes and didn't suffer through a horrible illness before having to make the decision to take them off life support.

Even though it's been difficult I am a better person because of all of this.  My grief has ended relationships with people who do not get it and can't handle it because of their own personal experience, or lack of.  One day they will get it and they will think of me and the words they said out loud to me and will perhaps be sorry (but probably not). 

I feel like I have a secret that so many people do not understand.  I have told friends and about it and I let them know that until they experience loss in such a profound way they won't get it either but when they do, I am here and will always be here.  Today I handle it like a pro.  I am the person friends come to when they want to cry because I get it.  I understand and would never shame someone for having feelings they can't control as others have shamed me before.   You can't tell anyone how they need to grieve.  It's a personal experience and not everyone will handle it the same way.  Don't tell me to get over it because I would never say that to you. It's good to purge and not hold it in even if it's years later. 

We all know that nothing will bring them back but that doesn't mean the hole in my heart, because they are gone, hurts less.

Here is the (GREAT!!) article I read:

The Day I'll Finally Stop Grieving

by John Pavlovitz
October 31, 2015

“How long has it been? When is he going to get over that grief and move on already?”
I get it.
I know you might be thinking that about me or about someone else these days.
I know you may look at someone you know in mourning and wonder when they’ll snap out of it.
I understand because I use to think that way too.

Okay, maybe at the time I was self-aware enough or guilty enough not to think it quite that explicitly, even in my own head. It might have come in the form of a growing impatience toward someone in mourning or a gradual dismissing of their sadness over time or maybe in my intentionally avoiding them as the days passed. It was subtle to be sure, but I can distinctly remember reaching the place where my compassion for grieving friends had reached its capacity—and it was long before they stopped hurting.

Back then like most people, my mind was operating under the faulty assumption that grief had some predictable expiration date; a reasonable period of time after which recovery and normalcy would come and the person would return to life as it was before, albeit with some minor adjustments.
I thought all these things, until I grieved.
I never think these things anymore.

Two years ago I remember sitting with a dear friend at a coffee shop table in the aftermath of my father’s sudden passing. In response to my quivering voice and my tear-weary eyes and my obvious shell shock, she assured me that this debilitating sadness; this ironic combination of searing pain and complete numbness was going to give me a layer of compassion for hurting people that I’d never had before. It was an understanding, she said, that I simply couldn’t have had without walking through the Grief Valley. She was right, though I would have gladly acquired this empathy in a million other ways.

Since that day I’ve realized that Grief doesn’t just visit you for a horrible, yet temporary holiday. It moves in, puts down roots—and it never leaves. Yes as time passes, eventually the tidal waves subside for longer periods, but they inevitably come crashing in again without notice, when you are least prepared. With no warning they devastate the landscape of your heart all over again, leaving you bruised and breathless and needing to rebuild once more.

Grief brings humility as a housewarming gift and doesn’t care whether you want it or not.
You are forced to face your inability to do anything but feel it all and fall apart. It’s incredibly difficult in those quiet moments, when you realize so long after the loss that you’re still not the same person you used to be; that this chronic soul injury just won’t heal up. This is tough medicine to take, but more difficult still, is coming to feel quite sure that you’ll never will be that person again. It’s humbling to know you’ve been internally altered: Death has interrupted your plans, served your relationships, and rewritten the script for you.

And strangely (or perhaps quite understandably) those acute attacks of despair are the very moments when I feel closest to my father, as if the pain somehow allows me to remove the space and time which separates us and I can press my head against his chest and hear his heartbeat once more. These tragic times are somehow oddly comforting even as they kick you in the gut.
And it is this odd healing sadness which I’ll carry for the remainder of my days; that nexus between total devastation and gradual restoration. It is the way your love outlives your loved one.

I’ve walked enough of this road to realize that it is my road now. This is not just a momentary detour, it’s the permanent state of affairs. I will have many good days and many moments of gratitude and times of welcome respite, but I’m never getting over this loss.
This is the cost of sharing your life with someone worth missing.
Two years into my walk in the Valley I’ve resigned myself to the truth that this a lifetime sentence. At the end of my time here on the planet, I will either be reunited with my father in some glorious mystery, or simply reach my last day of mourning his loss.

Either way I’m beginning to rest in the simple truth:
The day I’ll stop grieving—is the day I stop breathing.

No comments: