My brother’s death changed me. Profoundly. But it did not stop me. I am living and bringing him along for the journey in various ways.
Waves really are the only analogy that fits. I think it's also super fitting since my brother and I both love the water. We don’t have to get in it, but just being around it feels good.
Think of yourself just sitting at the beach, close enough for the water to reach your toes, but that's it. And then a wave comes and literally submerged you. You don't even have time to run. You're engulfed.
The biggest qualm with this grief is you get no warning. Sure, a special time of the year, a birthday, what would have been this or that celebratory occasion. But honestly, at lest for me, those days aren't as bad. Probably because you build yourself up for those, you put on all the proper water gear, so when the wave hits, you have a second to hold your breath and close your eyes. It’s that time that you drive next to the restaurant that he wanted to visit in your city, that you didn't realize you were about to pass. It's the first time something really good happens, the first time I felt really happy, and then immediately starting crying because it sucks to be happy without it. The first time you actually crack up laughing, and you are so relieved that life still offers you humor, but immediately saddened that you can’t share the joke. When my first first author manuscript gets accepted with minor revisions, and I can’t call my brother to share the news.
So I received an email that said I was hired to teach a couple of summer classes for a school of education program that a friend had been raving about. It was the first really good news during my grief period. My boyfriend was sitting near me and I immediately and excitedly told him the news, and one second later broke down crying. This grief thing will have you feeling like you are not even supposed to be happy again. But Greg wants not just happiness for me, but joy, laughs, accomplishments, and unforgettable experiences.
I arrived (virtually) to the first day of class. Small Master’s level intro to educational research. Only 10 students. Guess what one of my student’s name’s is? Yep, Greg. So now, in my daily interactions, having to say Greg and not be talking to my brother. Yep its heavy.
Then I went to a summer instructor meeting and the icebreaker activity was tell us about a time or a pivotal moment in your life and of course the first thing I think about is my brother and I'm like okay maybe I can share these people are nice I've known them for a few weeks then even the thought of it is getting the emotional I'm just thinking about trying to tell my story and it's too hard see I talked about something else. So I made it through that meeting and then the next day I had a separate meeting with the director we were going to be co-teaching beginning the next week so we were putting the final edits on our course plans he said, “oh let's go with the same icebreaker we used yesterday” and I'm like “no actually can we not use that icebreaker like not ever” and realizing that I’m probably coming off rather harsh about an ice breaker, I go on to explain that I don't want to use ice breaker because it reminds me of my brother who passed away in February and I cried in that zoom meeting and completely through my co-teacher off.
The anticipatory stress was honestly worse than the day of my proposal defense. I realized in my analysis of my stress and anxiety, it was less about the proposal and more about this being the first big event since my brother's death. After a morning chat with my mom about how my brother is right there with me, and has forever been, and will be my biggest supporter, I felt calm, ready, and supported. I wore his PhemmeD shirt, and my hourglass urn necklace, and felt him with me. It's always going to be hard with him unable to attend my events in an Earthly form, but I have to remind myself that he now has the best seat at all of my future events.
It’s March, a month that is usually described or referred to as March Madness. This is usually a reference to a month full of basketball. March for many is a reminder of the exciting recurrence of Spring, which brings warm weather, spring cleaning, Spring Break, and family traditions around holidays. March 2021 for most people is a catch-22 of a year of COVID & quarantine, but the existence and promise of a vaccine that promises a beginning to our collective new normal. As the rest of the world defines their March Madness with the inclusion of one of the aforementioned narratives, my March Madness finds me in a very new space...
Living IN Grief
While I never knew that the rest of my life would be forever changed in this magnitude, I am compelled to share my story during this doctoral journey with others, in hopes that it may help someone. It has been just about a month since my brother, Greg, died after receiving a diagnosis of Stage IV Colorectal Cancer w/ Mets. I am not okay, nor will I ever be.
Read my blog about his journey.
Read Greg's obituary.
But I am learning to live in grief.
Yes, I said living IN grief instead of living WITH grief. With implies that it is something I carry with me, like sometimes I can leave it at home, or hide it in my purse. I offer the word IN as a better articulation of my current state. The grief surrounds me. Sometimes it weighs on me so heavy that I can’t do anything else. Other moments it's a light layer surrounding me from all angles. Sometimes it clouds my day, and others it hangs back like my shadow. Wherever it chooses to hangout, it is ALWAYS there. It is the constant, and I am living in it.
Grief is love continued. Grief is as individual as love.
While grief is deeply personal, the training of my social justice and equity PhD program has just deepened my thinking of others and systemic ideology. The way our society deals with grief is completely defective. Even the random amount of days given for bereavement for most occupations is horrendous. Most people would receive 3 days of bereavement after the death of a loved one. THREE DAYS!?! How does one even begin a healthy life in grief in just 3 days? Who knew that my PhD program would be the BEST place for me to begin my forever grieving journey? The flexibility of my program and my professors and the lack of a daily fixed schedule have allowed me to take a full month off, and continues to be adjustable even as I slowly begin to return to my previous school and work commitments.
I know it’s only been a month, but here are a few things that have helped thus far.
Each day I wake up and view the daily verse in my Holy Bible app, and also try to listen to a spiritual meditation on the Abide app. I pray constantly, and my repeated prayer these days is to help me take it one day at a time, and to bring me peace. My faith reminds me that Greg is indeed in a better place, and while I will always miss him, he has completed his work here on Earth, and is living more fully and abundantly with the Lord, absent of any cancer, and with zero pain.
Greg was the first person in our family to choose cremation. Of course we upheld his wishes, and little did I know, this was the best decision for me too. I have a small urn here in California with me, and my parents have a bigger one at their home. In addition, I have a rose gold necklace that I filled with ashes, and therefore Greg is near me daily. I also have some of his journals and favorite sweatshirts, which all make it slightly easier to go about the day with him nearby.
Thank goodness for good therapy. I truly believe that therapy has slightly eased this process. I was proactive and began my therapy journey last summer, when Greg was first diagnosed. Being able to have a therapist in the beginning of this ordeal, to get to know her, and continue with her throughout my brother’s last days and as I continue to grieve has been very helpful. She also recommended a book, It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay by Megan Devine. It’s a good read, especially for information processors and deep thinkers like me.