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Our friends, family, colleagues, and perhaps even random strangers tell us that time heals all wounds, and that you need to suck it up and get over it. But grief, as I have come to know for a fact, is a process. You don't just get over it.
It doesn't matter if it has been days, weeks, months, or even years. Grief stays with you and is there, much like your shadow, getting off on rearing its ugly head any time things get difficult. And it doesn't stop there - it also sneaks up on you any moment you have to yourself. You could be lying down for bed, spilling out a relaxing breath after a hard day's work, and all of a sudden you are reminded of the pain, the tragedy, how long it's been now since you've seen their face or heard their voice.
And keep in mind, not every person understands the struggle.
You could be begging for someone to actually mean it when the phrase "Hi, how are you?" is uttered across the busy line at the grocery store. But the truth is no one knows what you're going through, because every experience is different, and no one else truly understands the amount of pain you have within. People ask all the time. They expect you to be fine, to stay fine, and to never actually answer that question with anything except I'm fine!
But then there is reality. Sometimes it's shocking, sometimes we realize it's been there all along. Sometimes you wake up already aware of the fact that your loved one is gone, and sometimes you wake up excited to see them, or eager to give them a call to tell them all about your bustling week. And then, in those instances, it hits you all over again, as if you were walking across the street, having looked both ways before doing so, but then you're hit full force by a bus. And not just any bus, but one of those buses with the pink frilly bicycles on the front, which can only inflict yet more pain when it hits you.
I don't know where to begin. I have had what I would call a troubled childhood, although there are certainly those with worse childhoods than mine. My mom and dad divorced before I was born, remarried, and then had me. By the time I was born, I already had three siblings that were grown and off living their own lives. My mom had me when she was 43, and my dad 45. I didn't know it when I was young, but my father was not my legitimate father. My real father is either his brother or his best friend of that time. It doesn't matter, though, both of those men are long since deceased either way. I will always consider my 'father' to be my father. It didn't affect my childhood regardless, as I never knew that my mom slept around. It's probably better that way.
My mom and dad were polar opposites. She worked full time and raised the children, even by the time I was born she was still doing the same thing, as an RN (with honors, as I like to call it.) She was much more than an RN. My dad was technically a Marine, although they sent him home before seeing any battles, with something wrong with his ankle. After that and, for the rest of his life, he was a bum who did nothing but sit on his butt, smoke cigarettes, and watch television. From my understanding of it, when he was but a teenager, he planned on being a preacher. By the time he passed, he hated (probably more like resented) the mere thought of God.
My childhood was both scary and boring. My father threatened to beat me near constantly for doing... er, something, although I never really did anything wrong, and he never really beat me for whatever it was that I supposedly did. It was frightening none the less. My mom worked constantly and never really spent any time at home. The time she did spend at home, however, was spent sleeping or getting ready for work, which always seemed to take her two hours to do.
I wasn't sent to school. I wasn't even homeschooled. I had asthma just as soon as I came out of the womb, and my mom always said she was too afraid to send me to school, although she supposedly called a school and they never replied back to her. When we went places, like to the grocery store, she would tell people I was sick and out for the day when they inevitably asked why I wasn't attending. We did this so often that people began to remember us, and question us further. Still, no one called anyone with authority on the matter.
It was probably for the better, anyway. My mom would tell me, quite often and emphatically, that she refused the suggested abortion (as she was very old to be having a child) because she knew that I would be there to help them do dishes and basic household chores when they got old. She felt, very strongly might I add, that having me around for their old age would be a plus. I was none too happy about this prediction for my life.
They got old, quick. My dad, after roughly 40 years of smoking, began to get sick when I was only a teenager. I was, obviously, the one to take care of him. On top of his COPD that was rapidly worsening, he was a diabetic and never took his insulin when he was supposed to. He would always tell me that if he couldn't be happy, then he didn't want to live at all. This, coupled with diabetes, grew ever worse. He began needing surgeries on wounds that would appear out of nowhere, and then never heal. Ultimately, when it was all said and done, he'd lost both of his feet, and then half of his legs.
My mom continued to work constantly. I went sometimes days without seeing her because she was so busy, as was I taking care of my dad. I began to rebel and wanted to leave, to spend some time with my friends. My mom, although barely there, refused to let me do normal things like work, or borrow the car, regardless of my willingness to replace the gas I would've used. She even told me she would call the cops and report the vehicle as stolen. It was at this time that my sister, the only one that actually spent time with me over the years, passed away from suicide. I'd always wanted to spend time with her, but my parents would never let me. I really wish I had.
So there I stayed, forced to take care of my dying father and do nothing else. Finally, after terrible fights (like him screaming bad names at me from the opposite side of the house because I refused to buy him yet another pack of cigarettes) his COPD went into end stage, and he died on April 7th of 2013. I remember it was 11:24 AM when it happened. From my understanding of it, his lungs shut down and he was slowly poisoned to death from the Co2 build up in his brain.
Finally, I thought, I was free. I was obviously in grief, but I was free. For a while. I took the initiative and demanded to be able to work, and then got two jobs; the first was a small time gas station job, and the second was a job at a Walmart Supercenter located about 45 minutes away from the house. I even got a boyfriend and, because I was now old enough to, I moved in with him because he lived very near my work. It was convenient for a while until we were put out and he suggested that we live with his aunt for a short time. We moved quickly, but she was a terrible woman and we ended up befriending a woman in the same neighborhood who is now, as proud as I am to say this, my life long best friend. We moved in with her, because our connection was both immediate and wonderful, and for a little over a year, I was happy as a clam living away from my mom.
In that time, my boyfriend and I split up (thank goodness), and I met the man who has now been my husband for well over a year. Just after we got married, which was rather quick I admit - although definitely not a mistake - we were all put out when the property manager decided to sell the duplex instead of continuing the rental. My husband and I were forced to move back in with my mom, who'd ditched her old house for an even older trailer in BFE (if you don't know what that means, I suggest googling it).
She was sick, and it was obvious. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly, even faster than my father's had. She had some kind of neuromuscular disease that was causing total paralysis, from the feet up. They were never able to determine exactly what it was. So, we struggled with my mom. I've gone through a couple of years now where I've been sick every couple of months with chronic pneumonia, and I've had this on top of asthma. I was forced in and out of the hospital regularly, which put quite a hurt on the fact that I was having to take care of my mom constantly. She went down hill so fast that I had whiplash. She ended up, in about nine months time, hospital bed bound. It turned out that on top of the undiagnosed condition, she, too, had chronic COPD that had went into end stage. She'd been smoking almost exactly as long as my father had, and I wasn't surprised by this.
She got so bad that I had to put her in depends, with pads on top of the depends, to help with her lack of control. I changed her three to four times a day because she wouldn't allow me to do it any more than that, and it definitely wasn't enough. I honestly feel that the death of my father killed her. Ever since he'd passed away, she'd been going down hill. Ultimately, she died of the exact same thing that my father did. Her lungs shut down, partially due to her COPD, and partially due to her paralysis, and she died of Co2 build up and poisoning in the brain.
The night she passed away I was in the hospital. I'd waited as long as I could because I had a feeling something bad would happen if I went, but I had to go or I would've died too. I was in the hospital yet again with chronic pneumonia, and the next morning around 6 am, my husband called me to tell me she'd gone. She died on January 7th of this year, somewhere between 2 and 4 am.
And there I was, sick as a dog, in absolute grief, and yet simultaneously free from the hold that my parents had always had on me. They died almost four years apart, but to me, it felt like only weeks.
I was mad at my father after he passed away, and because of it. I was mad that he'd made such poor choices with his life. I was mad that I was the one having to clean up his mess, the mess he made with those choices. I was angry up until my mom died. Then, and only then, did I truly experience my grief in whole. I was faced with everything. The world, my freedom, loneliness, fear, anger, depression, and death in general.
I felt like an orphan, in some ways. I felt extremely alone. All of my family, besides my sister and brother, have passed away. I am one of the last of the dying flock. This makes me worry, frequently, about my life expectancy and health.
I want nothing more than to get the time I spent away, back. I want to be able to ask my mom what to do about certain things or get her old recipes. I miss my dad and even his constant stench of cigarettes. I miss them. I miss my sister, too. And it's true - no one expects a real answer when they ask you how you're doing. They expect you to be fine, always. But that isn't reality. That's a façade.
Of all the things in this world that I am left with, I am left with the most questions. What do I do? Where do I go? When will I see them again? What should I make of my life? How can I get them back?
And yet, reality does set in. I will never get them back. I will never have those recipes or the answers to life's oldest questions. I am lost. I was born, as my mom said, with one purpose, and I have fulfilled it the best that I could. But, then, more questions: did I truly fulfill my purpose as best as I could? Could I have done better?
Grief is something that we all work through in our own ways. It is something that will never go away, it will only become easier to deal with. It's like growing an extra, painful limb. It's always in the way, you have to work around it, but moving that limb out of the way - even glancing in its direction - sends blistering fire through your body.
I guess the only thing that a person can do is try. You try to get up out of bed, some days you just can't, and that's okay. You tried. You try to live your life like normal, but some days you just can't, and that's okay, too. You tried. And we're all in this together. Our bond might be silent, but our souls reach out and touch. We are experiencing the same thing, only in a different way. No matter what you do (or don't do) each day, the only thing that matters is that you try. I, too, will keep on trying.