Dealing with loss...

Friday, May 28, 2010

I've learned a lot of things over the past almost-49 years - but one of the most profound, surprising, enlightening revelations concerns loss.

I was lucky enough to not lose anyone really close to me until I was 37 years old. But when that loss occurred, it was devastating - even crippling. I wasn't sure how to go on - how to make a life without this person in it. How do you deal with your grief, your family's grief, and still go on with the everyday things that have to be done - especially if you have young children? No one prepares you for this. And this is the most important part - this is what I learned: no one truly understands the grief of losing a loved one until they have experienced it themselves. Of that I am positively sure. You think you do - and you will swear that you do - but all you feel is sympathy, not empathy. And I am embarrassed, even horrified, by the platitudes and meaningless drivel that I offered to people before I understood. Even though my words were offered in total sincerity and with the best of intentions - they were hogwash.

My grandparents were like my parents. They raised me - they loved me - I never had to wonder about their feelings towards me. My Grammy was my best friend. Even though we didn't see things eye-to-eye, we were very much alike, and we loved each other fiercely. When I lost her, my world was irrevocably changed. The sense of pain and loss was overwhelming. People meant well, but I thought I would punch the next person who told me that she was in a better place - or at least she wasn't suffering anymore - or time would heal my pain. I didn't give a rat's ass about any of that. She was gone and I was hurting and I just wanted her back.


My grief was so intense that I dreamed about her nightly. I dreamed that she was still alive - I dreamed that she died, but she wasn't really dead, and she came back to life - I dreamed that over and over and over until I got to the point that I no longer "knew" what was reality. Yes, I functioned at home and at work - but I only went through the motions. My mind was just a cloud of funk. I couldn't recall the details of anything leading up to or after her death. My grandfather's grief overwhelmed me to the point where I felt like I was suffocating when I was around him. I had to force myself to visit his house - the one place that I always called "home".

In hindsight, I think I suffered from panic attacks. I wasn't depressed - I was suffering from intense grief. That's the only way I can describe it. I wasn't sitting around moping or withdrawing from life - I didn't have any thoughts of hurting myself - but the pain and the grief were just horrific. It's been almost 12 years since she died, and my logical mind knows that her death was unexpected and that she died in her sleep - but there is still a part of my mind that gets confused because of the dreams. The pain is manageable now - but it's like a little pilot light that never goes out - it's always in the background, waiting to burst into a roaring fire at the oddest times.

I still have a difficult time visiting their home/property. (My grandfather died in 2005 - but that's another story.) Gus & I own it now, but we rarely visit. I have no pictures of them displayed in my home because I can't bear to look at them. Whenever I have to shop for Mother's Day cards, I have a difficult time making it out of the store without crying. I watched videotapes of them once, but I sobbed through the entire thing, so I had to put those away, too.

Have I dealt with the loss? I think so. I'm "normal" and happy 95+% of the time. I don't dwell on my loss. Does it still hurt? Absolutely. Is the pain less than it was? No, not really. The pain is still just as intense, but I guess I've learned to compartmentalize it. There is one "saying" that is true - life goes on. What you do with that life is up to you.

I'm not sure why I wrote this. I started out with the intention of writing something completely different, but it evolved into this & I decided to just go with it. Maybe there is someone out there who needs to read it - to know that what they're experiencing isn't abnormal. I wish I had known that. Maybe I needed to write it as the next step in dealing a little more with my own grief. Maybe I'm hoping that people will stop and think about the things that they say to those who have just lost a loved one. Whatever the reason, bear with me - I promise not to be maudlin forever. :-)

I remember asking my Grammy once why she didn't have any pictures of her mother displayed in the house - and she said, "Because it hurts too much to look at her everyday". At the time, I didn't understand. I thought if you loved someone, you'd want to have their picture where you could always see it. After all, I had pictures of her and my grandfather all over my house. That was then. This is now. Now, I understand.