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