I was thinking a lot all weekend about grief. Not the grief of an inconvenience of something going wrong in our lives, but grief that fills our minds, our hearts, our souls, because the loss is just too powerful to bear. Grief that I have not felt often in my life, but when I have, it has been memorable.
For me, grief has most often been because of the death of a loved one, even if I knew that the death was imminent. The loss of the physical presence of that person. My paternal grandmother. My brother. My maternal grandmother. My grandfather. Each one, felt so deeply in my heart, in the depths of my soul, that I just felt empty, lost in a way. Grief consumed me, and rightfully so.
I remember the day that my older brother died. He was living in San Francisco at the time, in hospice care through a program that Mother Teresa created. Two days before, knowing that his death was soon to come, nursing staff had asked my brother about his family contacts. He would not answer. He wanted to die alone, I think. The day that he passed, I went to work, as usual, at 8:30 AM in the morning. About 9:30 AM, I got really, really tired. I did not know why; I started my day and my week on a upbeat note; it was a Monday, but I felt ready to face it. I came home for lunch…. I never did that. But I did that day. I had a message on the machine, another thing that rarely happened. It was a nurse from the Hospice unit where my brother was. She wanted me to call. I left the room, and sat at my kitchen table, and ate my sandwich. I knew, but wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to hear the words. I hadn’t seen my older brother in years, but had constant contact by telephone and through letters over the last few years of his life. He was disturbed, he had so many struggles. But, I loved him, he was my brother. That meant so much.
I finished my lunch. My stomach was in knots. I called the nurse. She told me that Jeff had died earlier that morning. She told me that I was listed as the first family member to notify. That didn’t feel like an honor; that felt like a burden. That meant that I needed to tell my parents, my mom. That really sucked. Telling a parent that her child, your sibling, was dead.
Then, I asked the nurse. I asked her what time that my brother passed. She said that she had been with him early in the morning, and he was resting; she went in a short time later, and he had passed.
He died at around 6:30 AM, California time. That is 9:30 AM at my house.
I felt him pass.
It hurt so much, as much as it made total sense.
I went back to work, I dropped my bag, and told my best friend that he had died. I wanted to let myself fall on the floor, to collapse. I knew it was coming, yet it hurt so much. It was so painful, such a fresh wound to my heart, no matter how much I knew that those words would come.
What is so interesting to me is a couple of realizations about grief. First of all, I felt grief of this depth when I was living alone last year in the apartment, alone. Sick. Sad. No, not sad, completely devastated. Alone. Raw. Ready to give up completely. I was grieving. Grieving the loss of my relationship. Grieving the loss of what I thought that my life was to be. Grief over the loss of that which was familiar, comforting, peaceful. Grief related not to a physical death, but an emotional death of my relationship, my destiny…….
The other realization that I have made about grief, and the role that it is playing in my life, is that I have begun to anticipate my grief. My parents are aging. Pets have been around for a long time. My siblings have serious health problems. I have begun to think about the losses that are to come. Maybe some more quickly than others. Grief will be immense. Grief will be welcomed, because to me, it symbolizes not just the loss, but it also is an expression as to the level of the importance in my life, it expresses all that I need to in terms of what is felt the deepest as the loss. The deep meaning of it. Of the relationship. Of the need to acknowledge how much the person who will be missed.
I dread grief at the same time that I anticipate it. I know that it will hurt, but that I can embrace it, and utilize it to help me through some of the most difficult moments of my life. As a symbol of love, of goodbye, of how to get through that which cannot be avoided.