2018 was quite the year. Tragically monumental, actually. Like undeniably life-changing. Have you ever had a year or a few like that? Like, a big ass span of time that has literally forever changed you deep within your core? Well, that was 2018 for me and it unfolded like this: On May 25th I got married, on June 14th my mom died of cancer, and on June 22nd I left my marriage and my house and the future I thought I was building.
Big shit, right? The whole marriage/divorce thing is another conversation on another platform for another time. But, the chain of events that followed shortly after the world-shattering, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching loss of my mother I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Ever. Especially not in the wake of the death of a loved one.
But I digress.
When I share my story with people, the reaction I often receive is something like this:
BIG sigh/gasp/look of horror and then, “Oh my God…. I can’t…. I just can’t imagine.”
But hold up – I think you can. If you tried really hard, I am pretty sure you could. And I honestly think that you should because someday, unfortunately, it will happen to you. Perhaps not these specific losses, or in this succession, BUT I can tell you that death and grief will happen. And in recent years I have come to find these things to be true: everyone you love has a 100 percent chance of dying and loss, of many kinds, is a part of living.
And with loss comes grief. And with grief and longing and sadness and rebuilding and changing and growing, comes a shit ton of uncomfortable. And not just for you, the grieving one, but for all of those that don’t know how to respond to your grief.
I, and the many people I have connected with on the topic of grieving the death of a loved one, have found an all too common response from others in regards to loss, and it often goes something like this, “When are going to move on?” or, “It’s been ________ days/weeks/months/years – when will you get past it?” or the classic, “Well, things happen.”
And let me tell you, I hate these phrases so very much and understand why so many others do as well. Why? Because what this all says is that my mom’s life and death and love are just moments and memories that I can and should leave behind me. And that is not okay and additionally, that is not an option because although I have countless memories of her, she will never solely exist as one.
When I talk about her, I REFUSE to talk about her in past tense. And that seems to make some people even more uncomfortable which is bewildering to me because it’s not that I am in denial or because I’ve grown forgetful, like I think she’s just on some long vacation or something, it’s because she is still so present for me. So, when I say, “My mom is_____” It’s because, for me, she still very much is. I am of her blood and guts and heart and soul – she still courses through my veins all the while being at the forefront of my heart and mind. So even though she isn’t physically present, she is and always will be present for me.
The day she passed, I was with her. I held her tight, and I cried, and I told her repeatedly how much I loved her and how sorry I was and how it was okay to go, to no longer hold on for us. All I desperately wanted was for her to stay, but only if she was in optimal health, because when you watch your person, your #1, fill themself with poison, and be under the knife, and in and out of radiation for 3.5 years, that never leaves you. When you watch them go from healthy and robust to a shell of what they once were, that never leaves you. When their last year and half of life was especially atrocious and you couldn’t show up they way you should have because you were caught up in an unhealthy relationship and were a shell of your own self and you had no idea what you’re doing in your own life, that never leaves you. When you see your person barely able to speak, full up on morphine, with a mouth full of saliva, struggling to swallow because her body is shutting down as she’s on the brink of death, that never leaves you. When you see your person take their last breath and you know that you will never have the opportunity to physically be in their presence ever again, that never leaves you.
None of this ever leaves you, so how could you ever move on from it?
BECAUSE YOU DON’T. You DO NOT and you WILL NOT “Move on”, “Get Past”, or “Get Over It.” And although things, in fact, do happen, the loss of someone you love is not just one of those things. So NO, you don’t move on, you move forward. And it will forever change you just as much as life’s joyful moments will.
And the joyful moments are easier and more enticing to talk about. But grief? Grief is one of those things that you don’t “get it” until you actually “get it”, until it happens to you. And once you’re in it, once it’s your grief and your loss and your inability to get out of bed and your heartbreak and your final “Goodbye”, you get it. And then you come to understand that what you’re experiencing is not fleeting, it’s not a cut that will heal, or a bruise that will fade, but that it’s chronic and incurable. And although it isn’t fatal, it often feels like it could be. So if we can’t prevent it and we can’t cure it and we can’t rid the world of it, what can we do?
Well, the truth is, we can do so much. We can be present for one another, reminding each other that we need vulnerability, that we need compassion, and that we need each other to remember that grief is an ever-changing slippery slope of emotions and that you can and you will be both happy and sad; that you will learn to navigate through this new life and that it can be a beautiful one; and that grief never stops, it never ends, it only changes and that you will undeniably change because of it. And that in this arduous process, although you will absolutely move forward, you will not move on. Nor should you be expected to, not by anyone. Especially not yourself.
And as you navigate your own grief, I beg of you to be gentle with yourself, to be honest in your admissions, and to please know you are never, ever alone. My heart is with you.