Good Grief: Where I Am On the Path After Loss

I was hoping it wouldn’t hit me this hard.

I didn’t want to be affected so much. I didn’t want to end up feeling like this, not like this, not for this long. I feel sad; that’s to be expected. I feel empty and depressed. I’m restless, hurting. At times very angry, spoiling for a fight with anyone who dares cross me. At other times severely apathetic, almost to the point of recklessness; a sense of fuck-it-all-who-cares.

I’ve been ignoring things I need to do to care for myself, and that’s not good. I gave up a job opportunity where I could have made really good money, but I backed out of it suddenly because I just didn’t think I had the physical energy to keep up with it. (Granted, 55 hours a week chasing after two toddlers is a hard job.) I’m scared of how exhausted and just…off I feel. It sucks majorly.

The thing is, this is not just about the one death of my godfather this past week. This feels like it’s about more than that. I think it’s the cumulative effect of so much death that happened in my life this month…the impact of it all together is crushing.

This month, July, also happens to be the month that my cousin Tyler was killed in a freak accident, hit by a train, just three weeks shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. It’s also the month that a girl I knew from treatment died suddenly of cardiac arrest due to complications of her eating disorder. Later in the month, July 20th, is of course, Tyler’s birthday. A few days later comes the memory of the day that my best friend’s brother died of a heroin overdose. He was only twenty-two. Now to all of that I get to add the day that my godfather, my Uncle Lyle, died in a private plane crash.

It’s enough that I just want to scream.

How can the universe do that? How can it cram so much death and tragedy into four little weeks? How can it bear to break so many hearts at once, shatter so many families, cause so much grief? It seems out of order somehow, and I want to argue with the universe: How dare you! What the hell are you thinking? If you have to do this at least spread it out a little so we can manage?! And all the universe seems to say in reply is: Live with it.

Of course, part of me says that I have no right to be bitching. It was not my son who died. Not my daughter. Not my husband. I did not lose a sibling or a parent, surely a much more devastating loss than a cousin or a friend or an uncle.  Who am I to be complaining about how hard it is to live with grief, when I can’t even comprehend the kind of grief that those families must be feeling? I know there is truth in that.

However, another part of me- the rational part- understands that I have a right to grieve those losses too. Grief and loss are relative things, like trauma; in fact, they are a special form of trauma in themselves.  Different people experience loss in different ways and move through it in different times. Also like trauma, people have different levels of tolerance for such events, different capacities for coping. For someone like me, who’s experienced a lot of grief and excessive amounts of trauma as well, even losses that may seem more peripheral in nature may affect a person as if they were much closer.

On the other hand, the closeness of relationships can’t be judged by their title. Some siblings never speak, some parents are estranged, some cousins are like siblings, some friends are closer than family.  For instance, if my father had been the one killed last week, my life would be no different in any way. The last time we spoke on the phone was the day he died for me, so his physical death is all but irrelevant.  I worked through all I needed to work through, grieved what I had to, and let go. So when he physically dies it really isn’t going to matter; I’ve been through that process already.

Which is what made me think, as I was standing there at my godfather’s funeral, that I wish it had been my father who was killed. That sounds horrible doesn’t it? Only if you didn’t know those two men. On the one hand, my godfather: a brilliant, generous, adventurous man- a surgeon, a pilot, and a veteran-who was bigger than life to me. He was the Gentle Giant; at over six feet tall, when he picked me up as a little girl and carried me around on his shoulders I felt like I could see the whole world. Having three sons with my Aunt Pat, he was thrilled to have a little girl to fuss over, even building me a gigantic dollhouse from scratch for my sixth birthday. He was protective and kind and nothing but sweet to me; he didn’t understand and was possibly a little hurt by the fact that I sometimes feared him and couldn’t explain why. “Why” had to do with the other man, the one whom I assumed had loved me but couldn’t possibly because a father that loves his daughter does not abuse her. He does not rape, molest, hit, and threaten her. He does not ignore her existence the other twenty-three hours of the day. He doesn’t treat her mother like shit. And he doesn’t tell her that she is worthless. That’s the man my father was…is. So why does he get to live while this other man, the one who truly did love his family, he died? It doesn’t seem right.

I should probably feel bad about wishing my father dead in place of my godfather but I don’t. I feel like the world should be a fair place, like loving and kind people should get to live and horrible human beings who abuse their wives and children should die in plane crashes.  I try to tell myself that God will even things out someday, that there will be justice even if I never know about it, even if it occurs beyond this life. And that has to be enough.

But it doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could have my Uncle Lyle back.

I will always miss him. He gave me an example of the kind of father that I should have had, the kind of father I deserved. He gave me a some of the love that I desperately needed from a father figure, and I dearly wish that I had been more able to receive it. This month will always be hard for me, remembering all the losses, the lives of people I knew, loved, and respected that were cut short. But I think the only way to get through it is a concept a friend recently mentioned to me called radical acceptance.  Understanding that while these people have passed from this life, they still live in the hearts and minds of the people who loved them. And as long as I can remember my cousin teasing me and laugh, remember my godfather picking me up and smile, they are never truly gone.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

7 responses to “Good Grief: Where I Am On the Path After Loss

  • Levels of grief | Mtescape

    […] Good Grief: Where I Am On the Path After Loss « Writing for Recovery […]

  • thewhispersofgod

    I’m so sorry for your loss…for all of your losses, but especially for the loss of the one place you truly felt safe.
    I understand it when you say your father should have loved you, but he couldn’t because of what he did to you.
    I adored my father – he could do no wrong, but it was only because I had blocked out his abuse of me for 34 years. Now I know he never loved me at all, but only groomed me to meet his needs like some kind of trained pony. Boy, you feel you have no worth on the day when you realize that. And I didn’t realize it until I was 41. I blocked it and loved him with all my heart for all those years, only to find out he had used me as he used everyone around him.
    So you are not wrong to wish your father had died rather than your Godfather…because, you were never a part of your father, but really the child of your Godfather. At least you have his love and wonderful qualities to draw from, just as someone would if their real father were so loving.
    In reality, he was your father, you know. He protected you and taught you how to love. So, it is right for you to wish anyone had died except for him. I hope you find comfort in knowing how much he loved you. You were loved! That means you can always be loved again.
    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. Blessings to you.

    • writingforrecovery

      Thank you for the condolences. I appreciate everything you said. I’m sorry you went through similar experiences to mine; it’s rather like a death when you realize your father is a monster. Suddenly he is not the person you loved anymore; that person is gone. Very much like a death, indeed. So I’m sorry for your loss, the loss of the father you believed you had for so many years. It’s heartbreaking when you figure out it isn’t real.

      Best wishes to you on your healing journey. Peace, Sarah

  • Ellan Reimer

    As a Newbie, I am continuously searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  • Mike Logan

    Hi Sarah,
    Your work is inspiring. I am speechless for the moment, but will be back when I have the capacity to write from my heart rather than my profession..

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