As I had planned to write this blog post to commemorate my father’s 10-year death anniversary (April 13th) and all that has happened in those years, I received a call on Monday morning at work. It was my mom who let me know that my uncle had unexpectedly passed away to COVID.
Life continues to remind me that despite what I plan for I always need to be ready for things to change. In these last few months, I had really let my guard down and had been exhaling after all of the trauma work I had done. A dreaded tragic call, the type that I was always on alert for in my early 20s after experiencing my traumatic teen years of having an ill parent in ICU and one who was always on the run to support him whenever she got the call that something had gone wrong which sadly was a weekly occurrence for nearly 4 years. During those years, my uncle was around daily visiting my dad and driving my mom home from long days with my dad who was in a vegetative state. My uncle supported my family without question and was a pilar of certainty and hope for my aunt who had battled cancer twice.
We had just FaceTimed a week and a half prior on my dad’s birthday to check in. He was happy and laughing as him and my aunt were taking turns talking with us. He left this earth isolating himself to protect her and his family that he loved so much. I’ve resorted to my initial grief coping style that I find most helpful for me to process my feelings and allow myself to feel all of the emotions coming up – disconnecting from the world, sleeping, writing and reading self-help books. When I was 18 going through my first loss I read ‘When It All Falls Apart’ by Pema Chodron over and over and even wrote personal notes in it. This week I’ve been reading ‘Your Brain Is Always Listening’ by Daniel Amen which is helping me understand how and why I’m being triggered. It’s always been a coping style for me to lean into ways to understanding what was going on in my mind and body. Some things never change.
My dad would always take us on long drives when things in our house got busy. It gave me such a sense of peace and safety – he knew what he was doing for sure and maybe he needed that too. My brother and I went for a car ride to get out of the house for an hour that day we had heard of my uncles passing. We were silent for the first while but gradually spoke about how we had felt completely shocked and saddened by this major loss in our family. My brother is one out of three people on this earth who experienced the same pain I did years ago and although we continue to heal very differently there’s still this unspoken comfort of being around each other during these continued difficult times. I had realized that we had lost another significant male figure in our life. Our grandfather, dad, two uncles, great uncles and now another close uncle. I felt for my brother. In this moment it really came together for me that although he had been blessed to live with 3 amazing women who raised him (his words not mine!) he had been losing male figures consistently since the 8th grade. It took me long enough to see it- I was so stuck in my own pain. But that’s what grief is, a frozen period of time in your mind and heart that you have to process while life continues. It clouds your vision, keeps you stuck and unless you allow for acceptance and reprocessing to enter and provide healing in your life it can keep you surviving just on tunnel vision. I had tunnel vision for a while, I was angry, stuck, sad, helpless and hopeless and there was nothing I wanted to be done about it- I was scared to move and experience more change. No one was going to bring my dad back or restore the life I once had. It was hard to empathize and connect with others beyond feeling their pain and then understanding their lens. It was hard enough living in my head I couldn’t see another’s lens not my brothers, my mothers or sisters.
10 years without you dad and I’ve done things I never thought I’d do. I was paralyzed at the thought of life moving on without you and I truly don’t know if one thing in particular helped kicked off my healing or if it was a combination of them.
As I drove to my dad’s cemetery plot, I imagined what our relationship would be like now. I pictured us going for long drives like we usually would, to disconnect from everyone and everything and talking over coffee about life with long beautiful fields around us. One of the last memories I have was us going on a long drive and me telling him how upset I felt with my friend. He never brushed me off and always validated my feelings no matter how young I was. He encouraged me to continue putting in the work and fighting if this was a friendship that was worth it. The last time I saw him in our home I was 15. I was such an incredibly shy and awkward kid. He very much brought out the loving, prankster and corky side of me. He pushed and poked me until I grew to feel more comfortable in my skin. I always say he was the first person who ever truly understood me and made me feel loved for all of the things I was. I sat with my coffee by my dad’s cemetery plot, had a conversation with him about everything weighing on my heart this week and felt comforted by the cool breeze and the green fields that stretched for miles in every direction.