grief

Grief in the Season of Joy Part V. Fin.

The thing about grief is that it gets better. It gets easier, it lessens, it lets off the gas. And at the very same time it doesn’t.

Remember the resume bullet point? (If not, go back to Part II) I had qualifications on being a professional handler of grief. I was until my dad died. Since then I have been knocked over, ribs shaking, snot-dripping crying like when I was a little girl. I have not had tears that have overcome me since I was a child, maybe a teen.

This newly experienced depth of emotion as an adult has shocked me. It has made me feel out of control, and like a small and vulnerable little girl. It has also reminded me that no matter how you prepare yourself, brace yourself for the worst thing to happen, it does not protect you from the pain. Nothing can.

The thing is, I am still a vulnerable little girl. She is there to remind me that life is hard, it hurts and sometimes I really want my dad.

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Back to things getting better. It does get better, or something. Days keep passing. The sun keeps rising. And life goes on. I have learned that something that seemed impossible one evening has full potential the next morning. 

After enough nights of sleep and sunrises that marked the passing of time, all of a sudden it was spring. Finally, after six months I was ready to go visit the place where he died.

I had craved being in the place that he died since the day after his death. The woman who called 911, who found him face down, who heard his last words, “I’m just walking.” She gave us a great gift. She found our family and told us her story.

I wanted to walk his last steps, to see where he took his last breaths. And it was more beautiful and perfect than I could have imagined. Seeing this beauty of the place he finished his steps on earth has gifted me more peace, trust and acceptance. In his last steps he walked up a small hill towards an oak tree. In the Spring, I followed the path he took in his last footsteps. The feeling of being beneath the oak tree was a sigh of relief. The oak tree had been there for his death and for perhaps hundreds of years prior. Suddenly his death felt like it was part of something far beyond his time in a human body. It was part of a greater ebb and flow of life. 

Nayyirah Waheed the mourn

I have a general trust in the order of the world. There is something about life lessons teaching us what we need to know, when we need to know them. I have realized that even when we are good and we learn the life lesson, it doesn't prevent the pain, the grief, the sorrow that comes with loss. There is nothing that takes away the humanness of the experience. That is probably my greatest lesson to share.

For now, I hope to enjoy the rest of Summer, the season of joy. To let my heart crack open with it’s aches, pains and tenderness. To let it all wash over me as an intensive lesson on duality, death, life, love and moving on.

Grief in the Season of Joy Part IV.

I got really lucky with who I got for a dad. My dad was great. He was imperfect, and he would be the first to tell you that. He could totally be an Eeyore, and was known to both have a spark in his eye and drag in his step. He epitomized contradiction. His humanness, his lack of filter, and his big radiant heart, he was incredibly loved.

His memorial service was huge. It was about 500 people and I stood on stage and shared intimately, vulnerably, heartfelt feelings without breaking into sobs. In that moment on stage I felt so cared for, so held, and definitely not alone.

So much of Grief with a capital G has been the feeling of being alone. My dad left me alone. And I’m not alone. I have great friends, amazing family, a beyond supportive partner. It doesn’t take away the aloneness of grief. Everyone wants to, so badly, but they can’t. No one is the person who died. No one can bring back the one person you want to make you feel not so alone.

People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who wears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off. These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible. I myself felt invisible for a period of time, incorporeal. I seemed to have crossed one of those legendary rivers that divide the living from the dead, entered a place in which I could be seen only by those who were themselves recently bereaved.
— Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

 

Joan Didion saved me. I read A Year of Magical Thinking five months after my dad died. She so perceptively encapsulates the feelings of insanity that come with losing someone you love. She made me feel less alone.

I write this fragmented, imperfect reflection on grief because it helps me. If you have lost someone and you feel so very alone, I want to gently remind you that you are not alone. No one will have your specific pain for your specific bond with the person that you lost. You may only really be seen by those also recently bereaved, but you're very much, not alone. 

Grief in the Season of Joy, Part III.

There are photos, before he died. It was 7PM on the east coast, 4PM on the west coast. We had just arrived to Portland, ME. It was sunset.

We were happily on an outlook gazing over the city. It was beautiful. Also there was dog poop, the scent was wafting in. Couples were sitting at this outlook, enjoying the view. People were taking photos. We were taking photos, I was hysterically laughing at this incredible serene, instagrammable moment made real by stanky dog poop.

 

Since my dad died I have had many more incredibly serene, instagrammable moments. In those picture perfect moments what is still there the metaphorical undercurrent of realness by stanky grief and pain.

I was in Maine when my dad died. We were on a vacation after the wedding of a very dear friend. I was already raw with emotion from seeing someone I loved open his heart in a huge celebration of love.

At around 12AM my mom called and I couldn’t hear the alarm in her tone. She sounded fine. I think she asked how my trip was, trying to delay the words that came next, “dad died.” She said.

I was sitting, but I know that I crumpled, or fell over, or something. But really all I remember was hearing myself yell, “Noooooooooo” It wasn’t a tone I had heard leave my body before.

Sobs overtook me and I had to go throw up a little. They don’t really tell you that, I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I am telling you. That it can happen. You can be an adult who is so sad, crying so hard, that you need to throw up.

Grief in the Season of Joy, Part II.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my perception of grief. I have experienced a fair share of loss and so I thought I knew.

It felt like my experience was a bullet on a resume.

 

Lauren Kaneko-Jones, Licensed Acupuncturist, Health Coach, Sensitive Human

Life experience:

  • grief, the losing of people I have loved, the knowing how to survive, I’m qualified
  • when it happens to you, I can help you.
  • when it happens to me, don’t worry, I got things covered.

 

I thought the knowing-how-loss-works could prepare and protect me. My qualifications would make me immune to the pain. In fact, I was EXTRA prepared for this loss! My dad’s mortality previewed when I was seven years old with a major heart attack in a third world country.
He was so lucky to survive!
We were so lucky he survived!

However the manic feelings of being lucky don't spare the pain of a loss when it happens. 

Ever since my dad's first heart attack I have prepared myself.
‘Dad might not be at my wedding.
Dad might not know my kids.
I am lucky, he is lucky, we are lucky.’

What I was really trying for was,
‘I will be ok,
we will be ok,
this will not hurt me,
this will not be hard,
I was ready, he was ready, we were ready.’

Yet even with all the trying and the aim to escape the grief of my dad's death, what happened was something more like this,
'Dad's death was beautiful.
He was so lucky to die quickly.
We are so lucky he didn't suffer.
Dad's not going to be at my wedding.
Dad's not going to know my kids...
I am... so not ok.'

The holding on to the feelings of 'being lucky' was an optimism that could only go so far. There were only so many words of comfort. Beneath all the attempts to be ok, was deep love and grief.

My luck that my dad survived 24 more years beyond the first heart attack was something I held onto tightly. Somehow, throughout those 24 more years, I thought it would make losing him a bit softer.

I assumed (in hindsight maybe it was sheer hope) that grief’s pain would elude me. Because, hopefully we lose our parents and they don’t lose us. It’s the natural order. And yet, it feels like the worst thing that ever happened.

Image Credit: Faces and Voices of Recovery

Image Credit: Faces and Voices of Recovery

Grief in the Season of Joy, Part I.

Summer in Chinese medicine is connected to the heart, which is connected to joy. The heart does not lie and whatever we have been feeling comes right up to the surface as we go into the summer solstice late night June 20th. The longest day of light illuminates what is within us.

For me, what is within me is grief of losing my father. I have wanted to put my grief into words so that maybe it could help someone else, maybe it could prepare them for their own sorrow. Or maybe it would just give them permission for it to be really hard, really big. But I haven’t been able to put it out there. My fear is that people are scared, they can’t handle it, they don’t want to see my pain. That might be true, but also, stories of others grief have made me feel so less alone, so less insane that finally, heart thumping, hands shaking I am sharing.

Yesterday, Father’s Day June 18th, 2017 has been 9 months since he died, to the date. It was just as hard of a day as I expected it to be.

I took my 99 year old grandmother to church, something he did 9 months ago the day that he died. I came home and I took a big, long nap. It is hard to be awake, and a feeling, hurting human. It is so hard to remember that I have no more father on Father’s Day.