The Expectation of Loss
I remember 12 1/2 years ago I got an early morning phone call from a friend telling me his mom had passed away. She had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer the previous summer and it had been a grueling 6 months from diagnosis to treatment to “keeping her comfortable” to her passing. Although we lived in different cities, my work often brought me to Southern California and I was blessed to be able to support him through that very difficult time. I had a few friends who had loss their Moms but I didn’t know them when their Moms had been alive. This was, for all intensive purposes, my first experience being extremely close to someone during such a major loss.
Now, don’t get me wrong I had experienced loss before, of people close to me, as both my grandmother’s had passed within 5 years of each other. However, they had had health issues for a number of years. They had been in and out of the hospital and in my young adult mind, they were “old” and old people died. As I got older, matured and gained some real life knowledge, I realized they weren’t old at all and had, in fact, died early. I also identified their deaths as the loss of my grandmothers, never thinking of their passing as my parents losing their mothers. This, I believe, is merely a reflection of being young and everything being about you.
I can still remember that morning, when my friend’s Mom passed, and the ensuing days, like it was yesterday. I can remember getting ready for work in a daze. I remember being on BART thinking how everyone was going about their daily routine and my friend’s day would be anything but routine. Little did I know how many more times I would have this same experience with other close friends. Even as I experienced more and more loss in closer and closer proximity to me, I still never ever considered I would experience devastating loss first hand.
This week has been a week of incredible, devastating loss; still another reminder of how in a matter of minutes, everything is forever changed. The beginning of the week (Sunday), the middle of the week I shared my personal story of loss to a room full of complete strangers, at a training, and the end of the week (last night). It was loss, the heartbreaking, life changing, devastating kind. When I share my story, I am often asked what people “should” say to someone experiencing a devastating, tragic loss. My response is, “I can’t tell you what to say, but I can definitely tell what NOT to say”.
As I spoke to my grown babies this week, I did more listening than talking. I told them I loved them and if they needed anything I’m here. I did not utter the stupid phrase, “Be strong”. Why do people say that? What does it even mean? Isn’t the loss of a child, sibling, young person difficult enough to cope with without the pressure or the expectation to keep it all together? For our men, young and old men, can we just give them permission to grieve, to cry, to yell, to actually feel? Can we hold the space for them during this time?
I did not quote one scripture. The minister did not speak one “encouraging” sentence about God’s plans, wisdom, His Word. To my children, those I’ve birthed, those I’ve acquired, I say I love you. I acknowledge the unimaginable emotional trauma we have continuously experienced. I am thankful, through our tragedies, through our pain, through our losses, we have learned to give one another the space to grieve in our own, individual ways.
Stop expecting people to be strong; to show up the way they used to. Stop asking how they are doing, if you are not prepared and equipped to deal with the emotionally raw truth that may come your way. Stop being so uncomfortable with the silence that you say something more harmful than helpful. Stop telling people they will get through it because the connotation is they will be okay. No, there are some losses that forever change life as you knew it. There is some pain that only subsides, in an ebb and flow kind of way, but never fully dissipates. Being “okay” is learning to live with that pain. It is knowing there will be good days and bad days; bad days and worse days; days when you just don’t give a damn.
An hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, 5 years, 10. A birthday, a death day, a Christmas, A Thanksgiving, a Mother’s Day, a Father’s Day. Their voice, their smile, their smell, their contact in our phones. Their past, their future, their life. The countless things we remember. The unexpected things that trigger forgotten memories. The constant reminder they are not here; that split second when we forget they are not here. The continued disbelief that they really aren’t here, even after “all this time”.
Grief and loss have no rules and no set patterns of what it looks like. From the Mom who went back to work 3 days later to the Mom who was still unable to get out of bed 3 months later. From the family who seeks “justice” through the courts to the family who’s focus is not an arrest and conviction but their own healing. From those who wear pictures on t-shirts and necklaces to those who can barely look at a photo.
For those of us who have experienced this level of loss, we have also lost friendships and relationships primarily because people were uncomfortable with our pain. Imagine living it.
I write for me. I appreciate everyone who has chosen to experience My Healing Journey through my blog. I know some of you were expecting “Highland Hospital”, the next part of my experience with my son. But just as it happened on that night 6 1/2 years ago, life showed up, forcing me to do something different that what I had “planned”.
It is not cliche. It is not something I say but don’t live. Love on those who are important to you. Spend time, make time. Forgive. Reach out. Don’t be so busy trying to reach the goal, that you don’t experience the journey. Because in an instant, Your. Whole. Entire. World. Can. Change.
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