“If your loved one was ravaged by disease, it may take some time for you to remember their wholeness. If your loved one died suddenly, you may grieve the theft of a last goodbye.” -Paula Becker
For nearly three decades, I navigated life with the profound fortune of not experiencing the loss of close family members or dear friends. Considering myself blessed, I held onto and cherished the moments spent with the people who surrounded me. However, as life would have it, the unspoken inevitability of loss eventually caught up with me, ushering in a period of profound pain and heartbreak.
In the span of just six months, I confronted the heart-wrenching reality of bidding farewell to my beloved Nana after her prolonged battle with cancer, only to be further shattered by the sudden loss of my Dad to a massive heart attack.
By offering a glimpse into my experience, I hope to foster an environment where others feel comfortable opening up about their own struggles. It is in these shared narratives that we find solace, connection, and the strength to navigate the complexities of loss.
My Nana held a special place in my heart, ranking among the most remarkable women I've ever known. She played a role akin to a second mother throughout my life, and I held her in such high regard that I idolized her. Her influence extended to my passion for dance, as she, too, was a dancer. Her unwavering love was a steady presence in my life. Always available to lend an ear or provide guidance, she created a safe space for me. When she received the diagnosis of palate cancer, I struggled to grasp the gravity of the situation. It felt surreal, and I convinced myself that she would never leave us. I had shielded myself from the possibility of her mortality. For 29 years, she had been a constant presence, and the idea of a life without her seemed unimaginable.
During her two-year battle with cancer, the final week of my Nana's life was the most difficult to witness. Watching the decline of this once-strong, beautiful, and vibrant woman was heartbreaking. In an attempt to cope with the overwhelming pain, I found myself compelled to create a mental and emotional separation. It became a necessary but agonizing act of self-preservation to navigate the depths of this challenging experience. The woman before me in that hospital bed seemed like a distant echo of the remarkable soul who had shaped my life. She left this world on Christmas morning at 12:25am.
Only a short six months later, still extremely immersed in my grief, an ordinary Monday afternoon, May 2nd, around 4:00pm, my phone lit up with an incoming call from "Sally," my stepmom. Her calls were rare, so seeing her name on the screen immediately set a somber tone. Before she spoke a word, a sinking feeling told me this wouldn't be an ordinary conversation, and I was right. I found out that my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack while at work and was unable to be revived. Seeking comfort, I stumbled into a colleague's classroom and found myself on the floor, grappling with the harsh reality unfolding around me. I could barely speak or breathe.
While I could somewhat prepare for my Nana's passing, my Dad's sudden death hit me unexpectedly. Desperate for answers, over the next few days, I made calls to the first responders, the hospital, and the last person who saw him alive, grasping for any information that might help make sense of the incomprehensible.
In the following months, the grief that initially manifested as an unrelenting sadness transformed into an overwhelming tide of extreme anger. Recognizing that I had reached a critical point, I understood the need to seek help in order to navigate the losses that had woven into the fabric of my life.
Maintaining a façade just enough to fulfill daily responsibilities, I found myself unraveling each night. I began attending therapy sessions on a weekly basis, a decision that provided me with the necessary tools to navigate the most challenging facets of my grief.
As time has passed, my experience of grief has undergone a transformation, evolving in ways I couldn't have predicted. Initially, I held onto the hope that there might be a definitive moment when the pain would dissipate. However, much like the permanence of the loss of a loved one, the feeling of grief proved to be enduring.
With the passage of time, I've discovered that it's not about overcoming grief but learning to navigate life in its presence. I've found ways to move forward without my Nana and Dad physically by my side. Their memory, their essence, forever resides in my heart, a part of me that I carry always.
I'll never stop missing them—the longing for a call to share my day or latest achievement, the wish for one more hug. Yet, I keep going on my journey, striving to embrace life fully, honoring the vibrant spirit that both my Nana and Dad embodied during their time on this earth.
If I could offer a few pieces of advice for those also suffering from loss it would be the following:
Set aside some time each week to grieve. If you schedule time to grieve, you are gifting yourself that time and space to just sit with the uncomfortable feelings.
Fully embrace any and all emotions that come up in the grieving process
Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary
Write a letter to your loved one
Express yourself through the arts (dance, yoga, painting)
Retell your story to a counselor or a friend. (Believe me, this helps!)
A heartfelt thank you to Be The Light for providing me with the opportunity to share my story. My hope is that by opening up, I can inspire and empower others to find the courage to share their own narratives.