I have known that I wanted to write about grief since before I started this blog, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. One of the reasons I love writing is because it forces me to sit with whatever I’m feeling, to confront it and put it into words instead of burying it. My own grief is something that I want to keep buried, and I haven’t been able to sit down knowing that I would have to dredge up those feelings again and relive the worst moments of my life. But my grief is a part of who I am, and I wanted to share my story and how it’s changed me as a person.
As some of you know, I lost my dad a few years ago. His death was unexpected and sudden. It was the first day of my spring break during my first year of law school, and my siblings and I all lived in Georgia several states away from my parents. I can remember the exact moment when my sister woke me up that morning to tell me, and it is still the single worst moment of my entire life. We piled in the car to drive home. I think I drove most of the way – I don’t know how. It somehow felt like the longest and shortest drive ever. That week is such a blur. There were moments so dark I couldn’t even begin to put them in writing.
I insisted on going back to school the following Monday. I think I felt like it would be good for me, and in some ways it was. But the strange thing was that hardly any of my classmates knew, because it had happened over spring break and I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone but my close friends. How do you tell acquaintances something like that? I remember wanting to just scream DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO ME? I tried my best to resume business as usual, but looking back, it was like I was living outside of my own body, forcing myself to go through the motions while inside I was hollow. No more people around, no more casseroles, no more flowers, just…hollow.
As a side note, I think often when someone we know loses a loved one, we don’t know what to say or what to do. I can’t tell you what you should say or do, but I can tell you this: say something. For me, the worst thing people could say or do was nothing. I felt so alone as it was, and to have people not acknowledge that something had happened to me almost made me feel like I was crazy and it was just some nightmare and I was the only one living in it.
That hollow feeling lasted a long time. Over the next couple of years, I managed to regain some sense of normalcy. My mom always says that life is for the living; it must go on, and as it does, the initial overwhelming burden of your grief lessens. But it never fully leaves you. At the end of every winter when the weather starts to break, I get a feeling of anxiety that I can only attribute to the fact that the air smells the same as it did that March morning. Time is a funny thing when you lose someone; it heals you and it hurts you all at once. You feel better because you get more used to living without them, but you feel worse because you’re afraid you’ll forget them even though you know that’s impossible.
When I was little, I remember falling asleep in my room knowing that my parents were still awake. I felt so safe, and everything felt right in the world. The best way I can describe losing a parent is that it’s like you will never know that feeling of security again. So many incredible and exciting things have happened to me since that day. I graduated from law school, I started my career, I got engaged to the love of my life, and most importantly, I saw my family finally be able to heal and experience true joy again. Someday when I have my own kids, I hope I’ll look at them and I will get that feeling that all is right in the world. But for now, I’ve accepted that there’s a piece of me missing and I know that despite that, I have so much to be grateful for.
I think about my dad every single day. When I’m nervous about some big presentation coming up at work, I can hear him telling me to kick ass and take names. When I’m putting off getting my oil changed, I can hear him reminding me how important regular maintenance is (and for heaven’s sake put synthetic in it). Recycle that aluminum. Put some tea tree oil on it. Never buy a Chrysler product. Invest in gold. Take your vitamins. Turn the light off when you leave the room. He taught me so many lessons during his life, but his death taught me the most important one I could ever learn: everything can change in an instant. Appreciate what you have, and never take your loved ones for granted.
So as cliché as it may sound, today I challenge you to tell someone you love that you love them. It just takes a second, and you never know how much it might mean to you down the road.