Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Grief of December

Grief never feels good. If you ever lost a loved one, you know this. It could be a year ago or 40 years ago; it changes sometimes, the pain less sharp and sometimes more. It’s an injury without blood, a gaping wound that never really heals.  
Most of us learn to live with it-- the missing piece to our psychic puzzle. There is always a feeling of something missing. Someone missing. Some of us try to fill the hole with medication or new shoes, or booze. It doesn’t work.
Years after my mom died, I picked up the phone to call her. I realized I couldn’t remember her number and then realized why and embarrassed at myself for such a ridiculous fopaux, (Seriously, how can you forget your mom has died?) hung up the phone. I can’t remember if I cried—or cleaned house. One of the two, I have no doubt.  
My 27-year-old brother died December 19th 1982 from complications due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident that occurred a little over 100 days prior. My 53-year-old mother died two years later on December 9th. The holiday season has proven to be my most difficult season to get through and the list of people I grieve for has grown substantially since my brother and mother died. But, there is always a holiday, or a hallmark of some kind, birthdays, death days, the last time you talked. Any month can be the bad one but for me it’s always December.
I know there are the seven stages of grief, but the truth is there are no rules for how to do it, or how long, or how sad you should be, or how much you should cry, or if you should cry at all. Everyone grieves how he or she grieves and if you become expert—through experience, how sad for you.
It comes in waves. It doesn’t matter how long ago someone left this world, it can feel like yesterday or it can feel like a long time ago and you wonder how you could be so sad for so damn long. For me, sometimes just smelling something like bubblegum will remind me of my brother and the endless baseball card bubblegum he shared with me when he was little. Earlier this year his best friend sent some pictures of my brother when he was young, and a few shortly before he died. I cried because I missed him… and I cried for what he is missing. A beautiful daughter he never met and three amazing granddaughters that would have owned him. He missed the best part of my life and his.
The “no rules” grief also applies for whom we are grieving. My sister just lost her horse after 21 years, and was devastated. When my son’s 14-year-old dog was put down, I watched his grief pour out in heavy sobs, he was beyond consoling. It was then I realized he was also grieving for the friends he lost in the war, the ones he never had time to cry for—and maybe his own innocence, left in the sands of Iraq. Postponed grief is the stuff that will kill you.
We walk around with a cloud of sadness. Not everyone sees it. Some people are oblivious to our teary eyes and our ability to skirt a subject that is sure to make the wave of sadness rush in. Some of us want to talk about it, some of us cannot.
Sometimes, grief can surprise us. When my son’s dad died unexpectedly two years ago, I was floored with grief and I woke up crying every day for weeks—still sometimes, I can’t think about this loss without tearing up. I never expected to feel that way, but I never expected him to die at 53 either.
My grief is always just below the surface. I don’t wear it like a badge—I don’t share it with strangers, or even all my friends. It’s just there and that is how grief works.
For me, grief is a reminder to live well, to be kind because we really don’t know what other people are going through and we really don’t know if someone won’t be here tomorrow.  I do put one foot in front of the other but I understand that isn’t always possible for everyone. When my son’s dad died, his grandmother understandably got a little crazy. When I asked my son (in an uncharitable moment) how he could put up with that he reminded me that losing your child trumps losing your father. His grief—made him smarter. His grandparents carry on; their strength is admirable their Japanese Buddhist durability intact, and I try my best to mimic them.
I know more than a few people hurting from grief right now. It always seems worse around the holidays. The empty seat syndrome, the missing piece of your heart, the special ornament with their name on it, more reminders than our hearts can bare—but bare we must.
This holiday season don’t be afraid to share stories about your departed loved ones with people that knew them or know you. Often you will find yourself laughing through a story instead of crying through the silence.
For all of you feeling the loss of a loved one please know this… you are not alone.  Many people are grieving over someone. We may not all wear it the same way—but we wear it.
If you are suffering from severe depression due to grief, please seek counseling -- while I don't think there are rules-- I do think some people benefit from help with the grieving process.
see this link:
 Just a few of my missing pieces...Mom, Johnny, Dad, Jon, Johnny, Jon, Noodle & Smokie


  1. You are such a good writer... and person.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Heart wrenchingly true. Thank you Katie.


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