The first phone call I received on January 1st was from work.
They were letting me know that one of our clients, our kids, had lost her baby. She was 8 months pregnant and we had spent hours planning her baby shower and helping her prepare for her bundle of joy. No one can explain what happened, except that she didn’t feel the baby move for a couple of days, was taken the emergency room, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat.
It was a devastating way to start the New Year, full of pain, grief, sadness, anger, and confusion.
I was in Canada visiting my boyfriend when I received the phone call, so there wasn’t much I could do from 2,600 miles away. When I let the reality set in and began to grasp what had happened, I had to be honest with myself. I was glad that I was so far away. I was glad that I was removed from the situation and able to get updates through text messages and email rather than the nurses at the hospital.
It was easier and less painful.
Death is a fragile thing for me.
I feel like I understand it, I know how I prefer to react (being sad and letting myself cry), but I have trouble helping others with it. If you want to sit, I’ll sit with you, but I’m not good with words when death is surrounding us. It’s always becomes too personal for me. I stop thinking about you and I start thinking about me.
My dad died May 23, 2008. He was an alcoholic and drank himself to death. He drank so much during those last few years that his liver shut down. He spent the last few days of his life in ICU, a hospital room, and then a nursing home. He was 56 years old.
It was the hardest day of my life and the months that followed seem like a blur now. I was living in NYC at the time, smack in the middle of graduate school. A week after the funeral, I flew back to Manhattan and began my 12 hours of summer classes. I didn’t have many close friends in the city, so I kept to myself most of the time. Three months later, my boyfriend at the time and I broke up. Then I began therapy.
I was too open, too raw, to do it on my own anymore. I needed someone to talk to who would just listen. Over the next year, I met with my therapist once a week. I told her funny stories from my childhood. I shared pictures of me and my dad hunting for Easter eggs and dressing up as ballerinas. I told her how angry I was at him for choosing alcohol over me and our family. I began understanding what addiction is and how it changes people. I told her about that dark day at the funeral home when I kissed his cheek and told him how much I love him, for the last time. I cried.
Grief looks different for everyone. When my dad died, I made a pact with myself. I knew the grieving process would be long and I knew there would be moments that felt like rock bottom. But I also knew that I wanted to be honest with myself and with my feelings. I wanted to accept myself where I was each day, each minute. I wanted to be kind to myself and non-judgmental. This time of my life sucked enough as it was, I didn’t need to make it worse.
So I kept going to therapy. I blogged. I let myself cry to sleep at night. I became closer with my roommate and I began dating again. And each day was a little easier.
But that’s not what someone wants to hear when they’re in the thick of it, when they’re just experienced a massive loss. At least, that’s not what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to hear anything. The worst thing that someone said to me at my dad’s funeral was, “It is what it is”. What does that even mean? I still hate that phrase to this day. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that there’s no quick fix. There’s not some magical condolence you can give someone that is going to take their pain away.
There are still days I miss my dad terribly and I cry. I think about him every day and I always wish he was here, but there are days when it’s almost unbearable and my heart feels like it’s breaking, just like it did almost four year ago.
That’s why it’s so hard for me to be so close to someone who is grieving. I know that pain. And when I see it on their face, it brings me right back to that night in May 2008. It’s not that I don’t want to be supportive and show that I care. It’s just that I’m not sure I’m strong enough. I can be with you and share the sadness and silence, but if you want more? I can’t offer that.
All I have is my understanding and my faith that it does get better.