It took me 15 years to figure out I was grieving. Even when I knew it, I didn’t want to admit it. Losing grandma and grandpa so close together was one thing. The double whammy came after decades of agonizing over the absence of my dad. Because we moved from place to place on a regular basis, it was impossible to keep a close friend. I experienced emotional overthrow; like getting hit by a train on the inside but remaining intact on the outside.
Even still there were signs.
It seemed like every time someone took my photo my eyes were closed. I was sleepwalking through life, even the highlights. I was angry most of the time, even when I was supposed to be feeling good.
In truth, I was heartbroken by the age of 2 and grief was a way of life for me. The only thing I can say is her death was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Or maybe it was grandpa’s death that did me in. All I know is that I was emotionally in another world. Grandpa and Grandma were both gone, forever.
Part of the turmoil came from the fact that I made grandma my savior and I put grandpa in a ‘holier than thou’ category. Sometimes, I felt like she was my ONLY hope and HE had the love I craved and I wanted it from him. I thought I could prove something to him about myself and girls in general once I got a Master’s degree and published a book. Yet he died without us even speaking about it.
My subconscious “cure” for lifelong grief was to be a perfectionistic, driven, control freak in every aspect of life. I was eternally in a state of misery. I was devastated and in denial. I dealt with it by working, and working and working. Taking time off to grieve wasn’t even an option I would entertain.
But eventually I just couldn’t do it anymore and that was a good thing. Because It was when I stopped doing so much helping and started doing more listening that I began to get some relief and recovery.
I was teaching the helping and listening skills class at Long Beach City College and it turns out, when you listen to people they will often talk about their family and eventually they will talk about loss. While listening to others I got the ah-ha moments and healing I needed. By seeing and hearing others I was able to see and hear myself in a way I could not by myself, in my own room with my own thoughts. I got the realization that I needed to deal with my grief and I got the courage it was possible. I asked for help and I took direction.
I no longer have the luxury of 15 years to spare. With the recent loss of my Grandma Sue and Momacita I decided to be more real about the pain of losing a loved one. I decided to handle it a different way. I shed many tears and even sobbed, don’t get me wrong. But on a day to day basis, I want to celebrate my life and to celebrate my loved ones by keeping the best of what I learned from them alive. I’m realizing that by allowing myself to grieve on the spot I don’t have to fall into the same pattern I did when my grandma and grandpa died. I don’t have to devastate and destroy my life because of loss, I need to learn how to deal with loss and move on because it is a part of life.
Some people might ask what to do next, how do you handle the pain? You can see a therapist, join a support group, write a journal, make a memory box, start a master mind group but whatever you do, allow yourself to grieve and give yourself some goals to help you get back into life when the time is right. Consider the possibility that you can enhance your life in honor of the person you lost. You don’t have to go downhill. Learn from others who have overcome tremendous loss, realize that it is possible.
Since the time I lost Momacita and Grandma Sue, I try to focus on what they contributed to my life and to be grateful for their contribution. Momacita and I shared a love of music and my grandma always encouraged my sense of style. Music and style are now a focal point in my life. I appreciate these interests now more than ever. This is different than when my Grandma Bette died and I basically had a stiff upper lip and worked more shifts at my job. Eventually that backfired big time. Trust yourself, listen and find someone who will listen to you. You’re not alone and it’s not impossible.
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