There is no correct way to grieve and I have done it all. Grief is different for everyone. It’s also different for each person at different stages of their lives. I was reading some fan posts about a show I watch in which one of the fans was not happy with how the main character reacted to the death of her husband compared to when she had thought her father had died. This fan felt that because the characters reaction wasn’t a breakdown into tears her love wasn’t as real.
I can tell you that I have had a handful of significant deaths in my life, and I have reacted to them differently every time. Some of the differences are based on their relationship to me, some of them have been because of my age. Some of the differences are just because the more loss you have; the more you get used to it.
My first major loss was my grandmother. She had dementia for many years and when she died I was very sad, but I also had felt like I’d been losing her for a long time. I was in my 20s and that death was more about facing my own mortality. She was the first member of my family that I really knew that died. It was the first time that death really hit home. I went a little nutty about how my life was not going anywhere and I wasn’t married with babies.. and the whole deal. I ended up running off to Vegas and marrying the guy that I had been dating for about a year. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy, but we should not have gotten married and after a couple of years and the grief passing we faced that truth and divorced.
My next major death was my mother. One would think this would have been the worst, but it wasn’t. I hadn’t seen my mom since I was a kid. She was schizophrenic and her being in my life was just too hazardous. She had moved to Georgia when I was about 12 and I had very little contact with her while she was there. A few years later she moved back, off her meds, and causing problems. I decided at that point that a mother should not be hurting her children, and that if she were in her right mind that she would agree with me. I never saw her again.
My father googled her every once in a while just to keep me updated. One day, in my mid 30s, I came home to him telling me that he found her obituary. She had died the year before… and I missed it. That was tough. Growing up without a mother was always hard. She didn’t help me pick out my prom dress. She wasn’t there to give me advice on dating, or tell me not to get married. She had never been a part of my life, but I always knew that she was out there, and that gave me a little peace. Maybe someday she’d get herself on track and look me up… but that day never came, and now it never would… and with that I just closed a chapter.
A few years later, 2015, was the worst year of my life. I woke up one morning to find my father dead in his bed. He had been sick for years, which is why I had moved home, but I wasn’t expecting that. His death crushed me. I found him and tears, screaming, horror. It was the worst experience of my life. It was exactly something that you would expect. My son was only 2 at the time, and I had to put on a brave face around him, but there was a lot from that year that I don’t remember. I was on auto-pilot. I had to clear out my dad’s stuff, take over his business, put in order all of his life.. and I did.. because I had to.. but I don’t know how I did it. And I don’t remember most of it.
In that same year my dad’s longtime girlfriend died.. on my birthday. She was older and had been sick for a while, but that didn’t make it any easier. Losing her was like losing another parent. She was a link to my father. To my childhood.. Hell, she was the one who knew everything about everything. She was my go to in life when I had real questions… now, who was going to be there for me?
A little over a month later and right before Christmas my dog ran out of my front door and was hit by a car right in front of me. And not just hit.. hit, knocked to the other side of the street.. ran over.. then ran over again and dragged away. Some people don’t understand the impact of losing a dog, but for me this was like the proverbial straw… I had to choose. It was either going to destroy me, or I was going to use it to strengthen me. It was 2 days before Christmas and I had a 2 year old sitting in the house waiting for me. I held my breath, cleared up my tears, and did everything that I could to give him the best Christmas that he could ever have.
That was almost 4 years ago, and for a long time the worst of it was over. I was getting on with my life. I could only do what I could do and I was learning everything that I could about helping other people. To me, helping others made me feel better.
A few weeks ago a new phone call came in. This time it was my son’s father. He had been an addict. He had been clean for almost 2 years… he was my best friend.. on his sober days… and August 14, 2019… he was dead. My face went white with that call, but I did not shed a tear in that moment. I looked at my, now 6 year old, who was playing with a friend and I thought, “I need to be as strong as I can… for him”.
I have broken down a few times. My son has seen me cry, and knows how sad I am about Da being dead.. but I am holding it together. Not because I didn’t love my son’s father, but because I still love my son.. and I still love me, and I know that the best way for me to work through my grief is to help others. I have been writing about my experience with death, with addiction.. with loss. I have been helping out with my son’s school, and extra-curriculars. I have been attending to my son’s father’s final estate.. I am going to attend a wedding this weekend.
I am doing all of this because I love my grandmother, and my mom, and my dad, and my Mary, and my dog, and my son’s father… and my son, and my life… and the best way to make all of life worth the pain that comes with it is to keep loving and keep living. I live for all of those that I love that can’t anymore. I am teaching my son to do the same so that one day he will live for me when I’m gone… in the way way future. Because I plan to live and love and help others as much as I can for as long as I can.