The Clouds of Grief

Dear Zach,

This is not as much for you as for anyone else reading today finding themselves struggling with grief, but this is something I desperately wish I was mulling over and discussing with you! While flying home from Canada today, I found myself even more mesmerized with the clouds than I usually am. There was nothing particularly enchanting about them, nothing exceptionally beautiful about these dreary grey clouds, but my eyes were glued to the window. Really the whole idea of flying and how it compares to grief was on my mind, but especially the clouds.

I realized that flying through the clouds is much like grief. I despise, DESPISE, the five stages of grief concept that people preach about (something those who know me well know I have wanted to write about since day one) because there is no linear track through grief like a subway where you can get on at one stop and take a straight shot to the last stop (something I have already written about). All that to say….. the clouds spoke to me about grief today in a way I had never thought about.

Bear with me as I may seem longwinded, but there has been a lot pondered during this hour layover and it has become heavy on my heart to share. But I do apologize for what is apparently my longest post ever!!!

I know there are so many people out there who think they are grieving wrong because they are doing it differently than how other people are. Society has a much different view of grief and I know I thought I had gone stark raving mad…. that no one had ever felt this way and that I was so wrong to feel this way. So this is me trying to use my own grief to appeal to all the people out there who think what they are feeling is wrong. Spoiler alert – it is not wrong. Your grief is your own and no one can tell you what it is or how you should grieve. images (2) When we get on the airplane, we have a destination in mind. We know where we need to go, but we surrender all control to higher powers – – – the pilot, the weather, good luck, God… what have you. No one can control the timeframe so you have to sit back and let it happen. You will get there when you get there.

GRIEF: once forced upon a journey of grief, you are forced to surrender control. We who grieve know where we should be or need to be (a healthy, functioning, not devastated place), but it may not be our choice when we arrive there. I believe grief is a process experienced by everyone differently and some may heal faster than others, but everyone will grieve in their own way. We have to feel what we are meant to feel and no one can impose a time schedule. The whole “one year to grieve” misconception makes me so frustrated because those are the people who do not understand loss and that maybe you do not heal in a year. It isn’t their place to tell you how long you need to recover from your loss and to go through the grieving process. Go ahead… I give you permission. Grieve as long as you need to until you get to a place of healing. images (3) During takeoff you can feel yourself slide back in the seat slightly as you hurtle at high speeds towards things you cannot see. Still powerless, simply accepting the path. You can feel it coming as the pilot accelerates down the runway, but you never know exactly when he will takeoff and leave solid ground behind.

GRIEF: when I say a “wave of grief”, I am sure many of you know what I mean and have experienced this yourself. A wave of grief can often come out of nowhere and blindside you knocking you off your feet, but sometimes you can see it coming in distance. You know it is coming, you don’t know when and you don’t know what it will entail, but the emotions are building and all you can do is blindly prepare. You hold on. You pray it will not last forever and you accept the powerless feeling until it passes and you can regain control. You get your footing, balance yourself back out, and go back to putting one foot in front of the other. You know another one will come one day, but you go on because you have to. images (5) Then you find yourself lost in the clouds, surrounded by immense amounts of white; sometimes light and fluffy, other times thick and heavy with rain. There is no visual end in sight and the clouds can seem to go on forever. You don’t know what lies on the other side and you may have to cross your fingers or clutch the armrest with a death grip or say a prayer or take a breath to trust that catastrophe isn’t on the other side.

GRIEF: finding yourself lost in a thick cloud of grief can be extremely disorienting. You may find yourself surrounded by feelings and thoughts you have never had before causing you not to recognize who or what you are. Grief can cause you to question everything and it may scare you. It becomes easy to lose your bearings and to become lost in the vastness of your grief because there is no end in sight. You become blinded to everything else other than the crushing emotions surrounding you. A thick cloud of grief that is especially heavy upon you can cause you to doubt what lies beyond it and can make you feel like it will last forever. You have to trust that it will pass and that you will come out unscathed on the other side. You will still grieve for who you have lost, but nothing compared to being lost in a crushing blinding grief cloud. untitled (2) During your time in the clouds, turbulence may rock you, jolt you, maybe frighten you. For a less-seasoned traveler or for one who is afraid of flying, this can feel like the end of the world and make you fear the worst. It feels like the bottom is dropping out as your heart jumps into your throat and the panicked thought of, “This CAN’T be right! The plane is going down!’ may cross your mind. It shakes you around, but leaves you unharmed just as quickly as it came.

GRIEF: going through grief is not an easy process and there will be days that completely rock you and shake you up. It can feel like the end, that the worst has happened, and that there is nothing else for you to do. Grief can cause you to question how so much wrong could have happened and how unfair it is. It can make you feel like the bottom is dropping out and you are freefalling through life, flailing to grasp onto anything that can bring you back to reality. The turbulent effect of grief can make an average day feel like you have gone to battle or ran a marathon because you are left feeling battered and broken. It can make you feel like giving up. But the turbulence in those thick clouds won’t last forever, you will come through it, and you will be left shaken, but ready to face another day. images (4) Eventually the airplane makes its way through and the clouds begin to dissipate and the vast whiteness gives way to glorious light. Regardless of the weather below on the surface, you can find yourself staring at an incredible landscape of gorgeous blue skies and glittering sunshine; you may feel like you are in another world. You may feel a sense of awe at this place and cause you to feel pity for the people thousands and thousands of feet below. It is a place only you are seeing and you are seeing it differently than everyone else on the plane with you.

GRIEF: perhaps grief is nothing like coming through the clouds to a beautiful place so that wasn’t a great explanation to start it off with, but grief will take you to place that you have never been and it is something unrecognizable that you may have never seen or experienced before. Living a life of grief is living a life in a totally foreign place. The house may be the same, you may still work at the same place, and your family may still celebrate things they did before; everything may be the exact same. The truth is that loss has changed your life and grief has tainted it. Things that were once comforting and usual to you may become unrecognizable, stressful, uncomfortable. You are now looking at a life that you did not have before and one that you were not expecting. Grieving is such an individual thing that no two people will experience it in the same way even if they have experienced the same loss. What you are looking at and experiencing may make you question why people aren’t feeling what you are or to ask why they aren’t feeling the impact of grief as much as you. Same as sitting on an airplane with a couple hundred people…. everyone will look out their window and see something different. Your grief is personal to you and no one can tell you that you are doing it wrong. imagesST16XUDK Then come the clouds again. Without warning, you are lost back in the whiteness. Blind to where you are going and searching your way through it, either back to the blue skies or down to the earth below. Giving up the idea of being able to see where you are going is something unnatural to humans, but lost in the clouds you have no choice. You can panic and not trust the process or you can sit back and accept what is happening.

GRIEF: days, months, or even years may pass, but one day grief may sneak up on you again because grief lives with you and becomes part of who you are. Most people learn to live with it and to live their lives as they did before, but I think they will always grieve for the person they lost even if not as deeply as during a time of fresh grief. There will always be part of you that misses them or thinks of them or mourns their loss, but the sense of overwhelming grief has passed. This is a concept that I have not reached yet with my grief for Zach and honestly it feels like an unattainable goal for me right now so I am probably not the best to write about this, but I do grieve for my father who passed away from cancer 18 years ago in this way. I still grieve for my dad. Most days I am fine. Months will go by and I go on day to day, but then there is that one day that sneaks up on me and a wave of grief will wash over me. I mourn for him still and grieve his loss and what he is missing, but that is just what will live with me and for anyone else who has lost someone that they love. I just have to accept it, even when I am unexpectedly plunged back into a feeling of grief, and not try to fight it. images3T0W74EO Finally you break through the clouds one last time and you eventually see land. Just a few more minutes and it will all be over so you can put your feet back on solid ground and regain some of your control. The ground gets closer, you may brace for impact, suck in another deep breath, but in the end you have left the clouds behind and are back to reality.

GRIEF: they tell me that one day this heavy weight of grief will pass and that the burden of Zach’s death will not weigh so heavily on me. I don’t know how it will happen, but just like an airplane making its last decent through the clouds and finishing its journey, I am told that one day it will end and this is my hope for all of us. They tell me that eventually it is supposed to pass and I will regain my footing in life so that day to day living does not feel like a desperate fight to survive. They tell me that eventually I will break through those thick clouds of grief and a less painful day will be in sight. They tell me that one day the darkness will pass, my sadness will lift, and my devastation will ease. Our realties will forever be changed because of what we have lost, but I am told that one day we will more so return to the people used to be. I don’t know when that day will be, but maybe there is hope for all who are grieving.


The Sixteenth Year of Living Without a Dad

And when we have remembered everything, we grow afraid of what we may forget.  A face, a voice, a smile? A birthday? An anniversary?  No need to fear forgetting, because the heart remembers always.” ~~ Sascha Wagner


Today marks the sixteenth year of living without my dad.  Sixteen years.  Wow.  It blows my mind.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.  He has been gone for more than half my life at this point.  He has missed everything and I have missed having him for everything.  I used to think that losing him would be the most profound loss of my lifetime, the worst thing I would ever have to go through.  Man, I had no idea what I was thinking tempting fate like that.  I don’t say that to diminish the loss of my dad, or to be disrespectful, or to claim that I am over it.  I’m not over it.  I’m still grieving for my dad.  But losing you has shown me just how bad things can be.

Losing your dad when you are twelve-years-old means that the person you worshiped, who was your best friend and your hero isn’t there to see pretty much every single momentous occasion in a person’s life.  Dad didn’t see me become a teenager.  He didn’t see me start high school.  He didn’t teach me how to drive.  He didn’t see me start my first job.  He wasn’t there to intimidate my first boyfriend.  He wasn’t there to threaten to kill that first boyfriend when my heart got broken for the first time.  Dad wasn’t there to see me graduate high school.  He wasn’t there to walk Sarah down the aisle and meet Jay.  He wasn’t there to watch Sarah’s career take off and the phenomenal person she has become.  He wasn’t there to see me move into my first apartment, help me paint, carry my couch.  Dad wasn’t there to help me strategize what the best plan for my life would be.  He wasn’t there to help me keep my calm and not lose my temper when it came to family.  He wasn’t there to keep me from running away.  Dad wasn’t there to see my amazing niece or nephew be born, or even to see how they saved my life.  He wasn’t there to see what a great mother Sarah is.  He wasn’t there to become a grandpa.  Dad wasn’t there to see the amazing things I experienced in Costa Rica.  He wasn’t there to have the chance to be proud that his little girl run an international company at a young age.  But that isn’t the worst of it.

Dad wasn’t there to meet you, Zach.  He wasn’t there to see how you changed my life and to see our love and our life together.  He wasn’t there to witness the choices we made in life and to be excited for us.  It is a moot point now, but Dad wouldn’t have been here to walk me down the aisle, to give me away, to give his blessing on our marriage.  He wouldn’t have been here to welcome you to the family and tell you how proud he was to have you as a son-in-law.  He wouldn’t have been there to see both his daughters happily in love with men who would give them anything.  I truly believe that you are together now and that he has had the chance to meet you, but it isn’t the same.  Losing him sixteen years ago means he missed everything and I still don’t think its fair.

Especially now, after losing you, I really wish my dad was here.  Even my mom brought this fact up the other day.  He would have known how to give me, give all of us the strength we needed.  She said to me this morning that she wished Dad had been here to help us.  And I do too.  Of course if we’re making wishes, I would wish that I had never had to lose either of you, but I understand what she was trying to say.  Your daddy is supposed to be your ally, your bodyguard, your protector.  Someone who will shield you from all the pain.  And I’ve lost that too.

I understand now how my mom has felt all these years.  I am not trying to imply that my loss is the same as her’s because I cannot compare my own experience to being widowed with two children on a disability paycheck.  I cannot compare to losing your high school sweetheart at the point of your life when that is supposed to be “your time”.  I cannot compare myself to her because she has had sixteen years to miss the love of her life.  I can’t compare, but I can understand.  I can understand what it feels like to lose your partner, the person you tell everything, the person you rely on, the person who makes your life make sense.  I can understand not even remotely contemplating the possibility of looking for someone else who could replace that.  I can understand feeling like true love comes once in a lifetime and that we get one chance at it, no matter how brief it may tragically be.  I can understand still being in love with that person.  I can understand missing them every single moment of every single day.  I was too young at the time, too naive, too blinded to understand it.  I do now.

Zach, if you were here you would have made sure that today was kind of OK.  It’s just another day without him, but grief anniversaries have as much of an impact as any joyous anniversary might.  They just hurt a hell of a lot more.  And now I’ll have more.  Now I’ll have two birthdays to dread, double the grief anniversaries, triple the holidays to spend alone.  Zach, you showed me that it was OK to grieve for my dad and that it was OK to look at pictures, to remember, to visit his grave.  Were you training me for this?  Were you preparing me for having to handle grieving you alone?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I need you here and I miss you so much.

Today you would know exactly what to say.  You would know how to honor my dad, how to make me smile, and how to comfort me.  I don’t know how to do any of this alone.

The Acknowledgment of Another Special Day

Memory can tell us only what we were in company with those we loved.  It cannot help us find out what each of us, alone, must now become.  Yet, no person is really alone; those who live no more still echo within our thoughts and words, and what they did has become woven into what we are. ~~ Richard Fife


Today should be my Dad’s 59th birthday.  It is crazy to think that this year he has been gone for sixteen years.  So many uncelebrated birthday’s, so many missed moments.  I used to think losing Dad would be the hardest thing I would ever have to go through; now I know life can be so much more cruel.  From the moment we met, I told you everything about my Dad.  You used to tell me all the time how much you wished you could have known him but that you felt you did know him because you knew me.  Without ever meeting my dad you knew how alike he and I were but you still regretted never having the chance to know him.  Now you do know him.  Or at least I think you do.  None of us have any idea what heaven really is like but I like to envision that Dad was standing there waiting for you saying, “My GOSH I have been waiting to meet you forever!”  I like to envision that the two of you have not shut up since, have been getting to know each other, have been constantly talking sports.  Is that a childlike vision of heaven?  I have no idea but I think that’s an issue for another day.

I feel like my dad probably thanked you as soon as you got there.  I feel like he would have thanked you for making me whole again, for showing me I could live again, for teaching me that it was OK to let myself love again.  I think he would have thanked you for finally helping me to heal from the pain of losing him.  I think he would have really thanked you for showing me it was OK to talk about him, look at pictures, old home videos, and most importantly that it was OK to go visit his grave for the first time.  I think he would have thanked you for loving me and taking care of me.  I think he would have thanked you for being the person that you are and that he would have loved you instantly.  My dad would have approved.

I guess I just really wanted to say that I hope you, Gramps, and my dad are able to celebrate today and acknowledge this day which should mark the passing of another earthly birthday.  Obviously age means nothing to any of you now and it is merely a silly human obsession but I think it gives me the tiniest degree of comfort knowing that at least the three of you are together.

Continue to watch over me as the two men who know me best and as the only two men who I’ve ever truly loved.