My Friend, Grief. She is Such a Beautiful Bitch
It's been a year and a half since my brother died and not many mornings go by that he isn't the first thing on my mind. I remember right after he died, sleep was the only time of peace that I had and I would wake up feeling okay until the realization that he was dead would hit me. This has become my new normal.
Around the time of Will's death, people would constantly refer to this "new normal." My attitude towards that...F a new normal. I liked my old normal just fine. The one where my brother was alive. The normal that was miserable and comfortable and I was a raging alcoholic and the world revolved around me and my problems. Forget how crappy it was...my brother was still alive and that's all I cared about. What's so was wrong with that?
A few months after my brother died, a childhood friend that I grew up in church with passed away suddenly. I remember sitting in the church and watching the family walk in and my heart broke for them. It broke in a completely different way than it had before for a family who had lost a son and brother. It broke so painfully because I knew exactly what they were going through. I had just seen them all at my brother's funeral and when his sister got up to speak about the life of her brother, I remember thinking...I bet she watched and listened to me speak at my brother's funeral and hurt for me but never in a million years thought she'd be doing the same thing just a few months later.
We wake up morning after morning and just take for granted that life goes on. We wake up each morning believing that we and the ones we love will live forever. Or at least I did. I did until I got a phone call from my father telling me that my brother, who was 29 years old, had died from an accidental overdose.
And....in walks denial, numbness and shock. The first stage of grief.
I recently met my friend, Jenna, who in a couple short months has become a close friend to me. A mutual friend introduced us because she had recently lost one of her best friends from suicide and thought I may be someone good to talk to that understood losing someone close. Just a few weeks ago, she lost another close friend from suicide. She text me yesterday morning and asked how long the grieving process takes...which has lead me to write this blog post.
So, here are my thought on grieving.
It sucks, but in the end, it is beautiful. Plain and simple. It's an ongoing process. It never stops.
Grief may be a thing we all have in common, but it looks different on everyone. It isn’t just death we have to grieve. It’s life. It’s loss. It’s change. And when we wonder why it has to suck so much sometimes, has to hurt so bad, the thing we gotta try to remember is that it can turn on a dime. That’s how you stay alive. When it hurts so much you can’t breathe, that’s how you survive. By remembering that one day, somehow, impossibly, you won’t feel this way. It won’t hurt this much. Grief comes in its own time for everyone, in its own way. So the best we can do, the best anyone can do, is try for honesty. The really crappy thing, the very worst part of grief is that you can’t control it. The best we can do is try to let ourselves feel it when it comes. And let it go when we can. The very worst part is that the minute you think you’re past it, it starts all over again. And always, every time, it takes your breath away. ~ Grey's Anatomy
Do you ever look at the people closest to someone who died and wonder why they aren't crying or how they look like they are holding it together so well. Well...it's called denial. Moments after my Dad called me to tell me the news, I remember thinking...just because someone calls and tells you your brother died, doesn't make it true. He's been a huge part of my life for 29 years. One phone call doesn't change that. There's no possible way. Someone got it wrong. They are just confused.
In rehab, I began the bargaining stage of grief. All the would have, could have, should haves. I still come back to the bargaining stage 18 months later. Will and I had talked about going to the Charlotte Bobcats game on Saturday April 21st. I wasn't really sold on going and so we decided we go another time. I have thought a thousand times...what if we would have gone to the game. Maybe he wouldn't have overdosed that night. What if I would have had the courage to admit my problem with alcohol sooner...maybe he would have gotten help too. There are hundreds of these scenarios that play in my head...and they suck. The reality is...none of that matters now. My brother died. I have to learn to accept that.
Depression and anger often go hand in hand for me. As soon as Will died, I was angry and depressed. I was most angry at God, but I was also angry at the people closest to him. I was angry at myself. I was angry at him. I was angry at the world we live in. I was pretty much angry at life and everything and everyone in it. I was depressed. I had no motivation or energy to do anything. I would burst into tears in the most random places. I didn't want to eat and I would sleep the majority of my day away. For me, this comes and goes. It's not as intense as it was right after he died, but I still go through spells where I am just exhausted and find myself sleeping a lot...taking several naps a day to get through the day. And I now know that grief has shown back up.
Final stage of grief, ACCEPTANCE. I don't think anything says it as perfect as the following excerpt from the Big Book.
'And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.' ~ Big Book p. 449
I've accepted my brother is gone. I don't like it, but I have accepted it. Losing someone so close to you changes your life forever. It will never be the same again. And that's both good and bad. The "new normal" constantly missing my brother still sucks, but the changes I have made in my life because of his death far exceed any happiness and joy I thought possible. I know Will is looking down and so happy for all the good that has come from his death. Right before Christmas last year, I had a dream that my family and I were in an airport waiting to leave for our annual Christmas vacation and going to Mexico. I was walking to the food court alone and saw Will sitting in a different terminal with his head phones on...probably listening to Jay Z. He was alone and the sign said Departure for Punta Cana. I was shocked he was there and tried to get him to come to our terminal and go with us. He got up and started waving his arms and bopping his head to the beat of the music he was listening to (like he would so often do) and just gave me that famous smirk of his. He got to the terminal door and just mouthed...Nah, I'm good and then turned and walked down the terminal gate and I walked back to the rest of my family, not skipping a beat.
I still weave in and out of the stages of grief. Today, Grief is my friend. She is always there...sometimes all up in my business and other times she sits quietly in the background. She has become a part of my life. And when you spend as much time with her as I have, you start to understand and appreciate her. She reminds me of how much I love and miss my brother. She reminds me of what is really important in life. Sometimes I hate her and sometimes I love her. She has taught me so much about who I am and just how strong I know I am. She has shown me how to survive and live without someone that I love so dearly. She can be ugly and messy and graceful and beautiful all at the same time. She is unpredictable and will show up when you least expect it. She zigs when you think's she is going to zag. She's patient and feisty and persistent. Sometimes she overstays her welcome and other times I miss her. There is a peace when she leaves but I know she will be back. And when she does, I will greet her with open arms because she is my friend.