What No One Tells You About Grief
Grief it brings need the naked freeze caught in the frost
Numb unbearable thoughts your inner need fire not lost
–Tori Amos – Reindeer King (Native Invader, 2017)
I lost my father last February. It was really hard to even write those words down. I know that it had happened; everyone close to me knows that he passed and the greatest sympathies have been given to me and my family. However, no one tells you about the palpable pain that grief will bring up and how it will fester its head. No one tells you about the anger, rage, and desperate desire to throw all of your fragile items across the room, despite the mess; it would have been the most emotion to have come from me in months.
When my dad passed, I was numb. Truth be told, I had been numb for months and this felt like another event, one totally expected and unexpected in the same breath. With my family grieving, I went into “fix it” mode. I prided myself on making sure others were ‘okay’, because if others were okay, then I was. I remember the drive to my mom’s, thinking “is this my new reality?” I listened to “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” on repeat on the way there. My dad shared his love for Barbra Streisand with me and it was the perfect song and artist to honor him at the time. In that moment, I was holding on, to what? I had no idea. I was searching for something tangible to hold in my heart, that my dad could hear my anguish in my screams, and know my tears meant I cared about him.
“No one tells you how hollow you feel
when everyone goes back to their lives.”
I remember throughout the week, doing everything to prepare for his funeral: meeting with the reverends and funeral home staff, reaching out to old friends of my father’s and doing my best to console my mom and siblings throughout. At the time, I had no idea so many cared about my family, about me, and I still appreciate everything everyone did for us. However, no one tells you how hollow you feel when everyone goes back to their lives. Their hearts, prayers, thoughts, etc. are with us, and it was comforting to go back over everyone’s Facebook posts, but no one prepares you for how empty you feel for months thereafter. How you just do not care about anything, nothing seemed like it mattered, everything and life just passed me by. Someone else was living my life, bright-eyed and ready for the next day; no one tells you how much you just want to lie in bed and forget about the world.
No one tells you how grief forces you to look at yourself. How agonizing taking care of yourself is when you get your worth from helping others. I had to finally admit I needed help. I needed to see a therapist; I needed to make sure I was as okay as I could be (whatever that meant). Some days I still want to stay in bed, but more often than not, I get out of bed, but the desire is still there. What no one tells you about grief is that it does its damnedest to rob you of your joy. Even in moments when you want to scream “I refuse to let this rob me of happiness,” it seems fake, like a facade you want to put up so others will not be bothered by your pain.
What no one tells you about grief is that our country does a terrible job addressing it. Among the many emotions our society likes to put under the rug, grief is seen as the ugly duckling, the stepsister, Cinderella without her pumpkin carriage. There are great expectations for those who grieve to push it to the side, to work through it, put on a happy face, do not bother others with it. Or maybe that is what I tell myself that others are thinking. Well-meaning folks told me, “He is no longer in pain, he is in a better place.” I am not the most religious person and my belief about the afterlife is murky at best, but all I wanted to scream back to them was “Maybe that’s true, but I no longer have my dad!”
“No one prepares you for wanting your dad to find peace,
even though it means losing your own.”
My dad had been sick for some time. Health ailments robbed a brilliant man of his mind and his mobility, he had slowly been beckoning towards death, and I compartmentalized it in grand fashion. I numbed pain as best as I could, Netflix marathons anyone? (Yes, I am still watching Netflix). Shopping, credit card debt, food, you name it. Anything to not see my dad die. So when he died, I was looking at a shell of the man he used to be. Holding his lifeless and limp hand at hospice were my last moments with him. No one prepares you for wanting your dad to find peace, even though it means losing your own. No one tells you the immense guilt for decisions you made that hurt him (even though they were the right ones for me) or things you said that he took offense to. You want to take everything back that wounded his spirit and brought him pain.
No one tells you how you also focus on your own mortality. How you envision the rest of your life. When I turned 30 all I could muster was “who cares?” It was not the number itself I was scared of, I could have turned 26 and it still would have been the same. I was grieving my dad’s death long before he actually died. I grieved those times he drove me to the bus stop every morning as a kid. I grieved the Sunday afternoons watching Giants football games. I grieved the many Yankees championship moments we shared together. I grieved every Christmas morning, birthday, school event; he was there for all of them. I grieve all the ways my dad touched my heart and held my hand throughout. I grieve the chances I lost to ask him more about life and the advice I would want as an adult.
What no one tells you about grief is that it is a lifelong process ebbing and flowing with the ability to show up like an old friend.
The tendency is to break off that friendship and delete their phone number, but the more I call that old friend, the more I am letting them in. Grief is no longer the ugly duckling, but the swans gliding along the rivers of my heart. They may swim now; however, one day, they will fly.
–by Samantha K.