When life deals you a devastating blow, you have to keep living until you feel life again. I’m moving through the pain – this is my story.
January 25th 2024
I heard a specific quote almost ten years ago while I was watching the show Call The Midwife. A Holocaust survivor is talking to a young woman whose boyfriend has just died and she says, “You will feel better than this, bubala. Maybe not yet, but you will. You just keep living until you are alive again.”
It was one of the most powerful moments I’d ever watched on television and I’ve never forgotten it. I had a great deal of empathy for both of the women and I felt it in my being, but I couldn’t personally connect to those words until now.
The last seven weeks have been some of the most emotionally painful weeks of my life. I have gone through some tough times, as we all do, but this was different. This is different.
My grandma was 96 years old when she passed away at the end of September 2023. She had lived a beautiful long life full of family, friends, amazing, and painful moments, and when she passed, it was expected.
For two or three years, when we would sing happy birthday to her and we’d get to the, “And many more!” part, her response was an exasperated, “Oh, God forbid….” She was ready. And because we knew that, we were all ready.
I had said my goodbyes on several occasions before she went into a mostly unresponsive state. She stayed like that for over a week and then, finally, left her body.
I was so sad. You can expect a thing and not be fully ready to process what it means at the same time. At her funeral, in between me and my cousin clutching each other for strength, I told a story about the first time we’d taken my grandma for sushi. She popped the entire wasabi ball into her mouth, thinking it was one of the many choices we’d laid before her. I suppose it was, but the fact that she didn’t throw up was a feat. It was hilarious.
For two weeks, I was really downhearted and couldn’t concentrate. We had laughed and cried together on so many occasions. She was my friend. We had developed an adult relationship 20 years before and did our best to truly accept who the other person was. You don’t get that with everyone and I was very lucky.
Then, on December 9, 2023, my father passed away. He was 76 and it was a complete and total shock. He had some serious health issues, but they were all being dealt with and he and I would commiserate and laugh over our many upcoming doctor appointments.
I spoke with him at 6:30pm before he passed away overnight. He was great. He was in amazing spirits because a close family friend had received a life-saving transplant after many years of waiting. I know that sounds like a movie, but it really happened and it was the miracle we’d all been waiting for for her – and she got it. He was over the moon.
We laughed about my running into a mutual friend and ended the conversation the same way we ended most conversations. “Okay, I’m going to let you go, I’ll talk to you later.” We had a constant line of communication and knew things about each other that no one else knew.
My dad was “my person.” We talked most days of the week, but it could be for as long as 20 seconds, 20 minutes, or occasionally an hour or two. He would call and say, “Hiya babe, how ya doing? Kids okay? How is Mike?” and that was it. No expectations, just glad to know we were fine.
So, on this morning, when my husband hurriedly ran into the bedroom to wake me while handing me the phone to talk to a police officer, my entire life changed. My dad had passed overnight and by morning, when my step-mom and nephew found him, he had been gone for awhile.
My brother, step-mom, and I went through the steps with the funeral home and were able to donate my father’s remains to science, which is what he wanted. We had a memorial and lots of friends and family came out. I went through all of the motions expected of me.
But here I sit, heart-injured. I don’t know if that’s a real word or not, but my dad would be SO frustrated if I used the word heartbroken. “You are not broken,” he would tell me. And so, I’m listening.
I know that most of us have lost people dear to us, and I write this so that you know I know. So that you know that you aren’t alone because I know the pain you have experienced. The feeling of a gaping wound in your chest that keeps reminding you of the pain even when you try to step away from it.
I have spent much of the past 7 weeks in a haze. The first weeks were extremely confusing with deep sadness. My brain could understand what had happened (in theory), but I couldn’t digest it. It didn’t make sense. I couldn’t remember the most basic words and felt like I had “baby brain” again.
The first time that the house phone rang (yes, I still have a house phone), a horrible, painful, and confused shudder went through my entire body. My daughter was sitting next to me and witnessed it. I wish she hadn’t had to, but she’s okay.
My dad was basically the only person who called me on that phone number and my subconscious was so used to our pattern that it was like having an out-of-body experience. Who could it possibly be on the other end (it was spam) and didn’t they know that this phone shouldn’t ring? Or should it? It didn’t make sense.
Then I became slightly obsessed with the one day in the week when he passed that we hadn’t communicated. Something was going on in his life that he had to figure out, so I didn’t want to bug him. I’d talk to him the next day. And I did, so why was this one day something I couldn’t let go?
I finally realized that it was about the 1 in 100 of lost opportunities. I had just seen him at Thanksgiving where he insisted that we make mashed potatoes in a pot that was too small for the end result. Amused and not wanting to “get in trouble,” I kept making them and watched them fall out of the pot onto the stove with a small audience of my family around me laughing.
My 18-year-old son had just spent the night at his house where they binged 3 movies together into the wee hours. And my brother had just spent several hours with him catching up the week before. My dad was having some issues, but how was this possible? Not all that much had changed, so why not the year before or the year after? It didn’t make sense.
And so I Googled incessantly, “Is confusion a sign of grief? How long does grief last? What can I do to help myself?” Because, I have experienced grief before, but not like this. Not so potently, and not having two pillars of my world removed from it almost at once.
So I’ll share with you everything I’ve found out about this specific grief in the last few months. It takes time. Yes, this is normal and it will get easier. The grief never goes away, as most of us who have lost people know, but it gets incorporated into your life. That’s it. There are no satisfying answers and you have to move through it, not around it.
Mourning is a process. I am deep in it and I feel for anyone else who is dealing with a serious blow, in this capacity or another. I get it and it’s awful.
I am not going to tell you to hug or love or communicate with your loved ones, because you’ve already heard that. And you need to make the healthy choices that are right for the individual relationships in your life.
But I will encourage you to be the best person that you can be and try to contribute positive energy into the world. It’s what we do have control over and something that we can give that costs nothing. Plus, it will keep us focused on living until, hopefully, we feel alive again.