Grief & Grieving

Friday, June 19, 2015

In honor of my father's birthday (tomorrow!) I've decided to share some of my experience with grief.  It sounds like a Debbie-downer, but with the confusion and sadness I've experienced such learning, hope, happiness, and great light.
I recently read another young adult's take on grief and it inspired me to share as well.

I'm far from an expert and I know that people have been through way worse.  I know the grieving process varies greatly from person to person and no way is better than another.   I was closer-to-the-vest in high school and, at the time, tried to conceal some of my grief, but now I think it is maybe most helpful to share.  My biggest take away from my father's death was learning that it is safe to be vulnerable and okay to not be okay, which my mom had always stressed.  I learned to let people in more and also, over time, strengthened my faith.  Life moves quickly and certain conceptions that people think most important, like pressure to be the best, pales in comparison to showing others you love them.

This post is on the longer buckle up!

When I was a senior in high school, my father passed away.  He had cancer twice and the second time wiped him out.  No one really knew where it came from and no one really knew how bad it was.

It was May of my sophomore year and I was in Rhode Island with my dad and his girlfriend for memorial day weekend.  I remember it vividly because that night was a lunar eclipse.  We went to a favorite restaurant in Westerly and walked through the park before eating, which smelled of honeysuckle and freshly mowed grass.  The sun's golden glow dripped from the trees and decorated the brick walkway of the park in rows of light and dark.  It was beautiful but a damp heaviness hung in the air. While I was eating my roasted chicken, my dad's girlfriend, bless her heart, let it slip that he was getting a minor surgery.  Not a big deal, since he had to tell the family at one point or another.  He had a little tumor from all of his time spent sailing in the summer.  It was a treatable form of Squamous-cell cancer, a skin cancer almost twice as more prevalent in males as it is in women.  I bit my nails in nervousness and excused myself to go to the bathroom, though I walked straight outside.  I was worried for him and didn't want him to hurt, but felt in my gut that this time, it would be okay.

I was right, but only for a little because the radiation that treated the Squamous brought on another, nastier disease: Lymphoma.  I had a gnawing feeling that my dad may not heal as well this time around but silenced it to try to avoid extra anxiety (hint: it didn't work), and hung up Christmas lights in my room to try to keep out the darkness.

After some chemo, he seemed to be improving.  Let me just mention that this man went about his daily business like he didn't even have a head cold.  He maintained such strength and positivity that I found it easy to convince myself he was healing, though he grew thinner and more tired.  I told myself that this was from the chemo - I'd seen it happen before - he'd look sicker for a bit, but then he would rally and heal.  It was part of the process, I'd repeat in my mind.  What I didn't realize was that my dad had stage 4 Lymphoma.  By the time he was diagnosed in early December, the disease was far along.

The weekend that he died was eerie.  He fell unconscious during a multiple-state blackout in March 2010 that lasted a good five days in New Jersey and parts of New York and Connecticut.  It was like my dad and the power grid were in sync.  I was lucky to have 2 days off from school from the outage, but was costume designing the school's Thoroughly Modern Millie.  The day after my beloved dad died, I walked into a nighttime dress rehearsal for the show, attempting to distract myself from my own sorrow, though I knew he was in a better place and finally out of pain - something I had prayed for since the beginning.  I also insisted on going to school when it resumed, acing a psychology test (what are the odds...), but feeling like I was in an alternate universe.  A day later, I experienced so much fatigue from the onslaught of emotions that I took a few days off of school to grieve both with family and on my own.  Everyone close to me, at school and of course at home, offered endless hugs and support and I still remember one of my best friends bringing me my favorite chocolate to school (my other friend hung out with me most days after school, as we did homework together).
I didn't realize it may have been odd for me to go to school until very recently when I was reflecting back.  At first I was like was I doing.  Yet I am me and I do understand why I went.  The normal schedule helped me to process the event that had just altered my life a bit.  It helped me feel grounded and that things would remain held together.  (Although I wonder if some of my teachers thought that all was fine since I went back to school because a few of them were less than forgiving about a late or missing homework assignment.) My twin brother took a week off of school immediately.  He was more communicative and straight forward about his grieving than I was and I'm glad that I had him there because he along with my mom taught me that I was allowed to really accept and feel how I felt.  There really was a light at the end of the tunnel.  I still miss my dad every day, and sometimes I cry a lot, but there is no longer a shroud of sadness around me and I remember his humor most of all.  Much worse things can happen.

As time passed, I learned that life is always changing and we are what remains constant.  I'm thankful for what lead me there and everyone who supports a friend in need.  The love I felt for my dad never goes away and no one could take it even if they tried.  I hope that love is magnified and reflected out into the whole universe.

Happy Woody's Birthday and Happy (Almost) Summer!

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