This is part one of two. Part one will describe the deaths that have impacted my life, and part two will be the ways that have helped me to cope with my grief.
I have started this post over and over. I’ll write a couple of words, and then I’ll hit delete...write a couple of words… hit delete. Over and over again. Finally, I’m here. I have cried writing these words. I have cried trying to figure out how to articulate exactly how I feel when I look back at the people I’ve lost. Here’s a snippet of my story with grief.
October 28, 1999
I was only three when my mother’s father passed away. This would be my first experience with losing someone suddenly. He raced sprint cars, this was his favorite thing to do in his free time. One of my earliest memories is the sound of the cars whizzing by with a teal blanket shielding my eyes from the bright stadium lights. I know it sounds crazy and far-fetched, but I even asked my mom a few years back and she confirmed this story.
Sadly, his favorite hobby would be what killed him. I had to call my mom and ask her about that night. I know the gist of what happened, but I wanted to ask her how she remembered that night. Here’s how she described it. It was Halloween weekend and he had a race scheduled out in the desert in Arizona. We were on our way when my mom got a call stating that there had been an accident at the racetrack and we needed to get there right away. My PaPa had been “hot-lapping” his sprint car (warming up around the track before a race) when a young kid had cut him off. This caused him to veer off and hit a light pole head-on. One thing to note, this was the ‘90s, so there was not a lot of safety gear they had now. Yes, they had helmets but they didn’t have neck braces or anything along those lines. The lack of safety equipment like a neck brace caused his neck to break. He was only 49 years old. His death impacted my family in more ways than one, but that’s their story to tell, not mine.
February 4th, 2014
I truly didn’t know grief until my grandfather on my dad's side passed away. Everything he stood for is everything I hope to be one day. He was the most selfless, kind, brave, and courageous person. He was in the Air Force, traveled the world, fell in love, and settled down in the great state of Wisconsin. Before all of that happened, he was just a young kid that had to drop out of high school to take a job at the factory in order to help his family survive after his father died suddenly.
I was 17, in high school, and naive enough to think he’d live forever. He was sick for quite some time and in a rehab facility to gain back some strength. Unfortunately, that wasn't what had happened. He had been given morphine to help ease his pain in those final moments. The morning he passed, my dad woke me up and told me "He's gone."
It felt like someone literally ripped my heart out, threw it on the ground, and then sewed me back up. As I sit here and try to remember what happened after his death, it’s really hard for me. I seemed to have blacked out that time in my life, and I would give anything to go back and hold onto the last little bits I had with my grandpa.
If you knew me during this time of my life, you probably never saw me at school that junior year. I was actually only a couple of days away from being considered truant, and when I was in school, I never stayed a full day. I either came late or left early.
His death is still raw, even today, it cuts deep, six years later. I still think about the last moment I had with him. I held his hand, told him how much I loved him, and he squeezed my hand three times. I will never forget that.
A few years I would find out, through intensive therapy, his death triggered my long battle with dysthymia and anxiety, but that’s a story I don’t know if I’m quite ready to tell yet.
October 23rd, 2019
This was the day that my grandmother on my mom’s side died. She was only 69 years old. This situation is still very hard to talk about and think about, so if my thoughts seem jumbled, please bear with me. I woke up to my phone going off around 4:30 in the morning. It was my mom. My mom is really good at knowing the time difference between Wisconsin and Arizona, so I knew something was wrong. I just felt it in my gut. That’s when she told me the news.
My grandma had suffered a heart attack, was currently in the hospital on a ventilator, and the situation was not looking good. I sobbed, like that heavy, uncomfortable sob where your chest feels like it is caving in. I felt numb, I felt like this had to be a nightmare and I just needed to wake myself up. But it wasn’t. My mom told me to be prepared and to start figuring out how to get to Texas as soon as I can. Her, my dad, and the dogs were packed up, in the car, and on their way down.
I was sitting in my Jeep, waiting to go into therapy, hands shaking from crying when I opened Facebook. This is how I was told the news of my grandmother dying. So-called relatives and family friends had already posted on Facebook that she had died. I learned about the news through fucking Facebook. My mom didn’t even have the chance to call me yet before someone else had already plastered it on the internet. And yes, I am still bitter about that.
So let this be my advice to you, please let people grieve before you feel obligated to post shit on your social media.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. If you skipped all the way down to the bottom, I still want to say thank you. This post was very hard for me to write and even harder to post on the internet for you all to read.
But one thing I want you to take away from part one of this series is that your grief may not be the same as others. And that is okay. If you are still grieving the loss of someone who passed years ago, that is okay.
You are stronger than you know and you are way more capable of anything you can even imagine.
I love you guys and thanks for taking the time to listen to my thoughts.
I’ll see you soon for part two.
PS: I asked my friends over on IG what grief felt like to them, and here were their responses.