Grief Awareness Day: How My Grief Feels 12 Years Later
If you have experienced abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
The year 2010 was a rough one for me.
In September of that year, my father died in hospice after a prolonged battle with cancer. I got the call that my mother had passed on Thanksgiving Day. Over the course of a couple months, I effectively became an orphan.
When someone you love dies, kind words and condolences begin rolling in. They sometimes talk about everything happening for a reason, or God’s plan. They often say well-meaning, but honestly unhelpful things like:
“Be grateful for the time you had with them..”
“At least they’re no longer suffering..”
Perhaps my least favorite I’ve heard, however, is:
“It’ll get easier over time..”
It’s been over a decade and I can tell you from personal experience that no, it doesn’t get better over time.
Now, I admittedly had complicated relationships with my parents.
My mother was my primary abuser when I was a child. She struggled her entire life with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder with rage issues. But she wasn’t entirely bad. She taught me how to cook and bake, to sew, knit, embroider, and craft. My love of both books and holidays grew from hers. Much of what I enjoy today comes from her. But as alike as we were in some ways, we were incompatible in others. Largely due to the many years of abuse when I was a child, I never felt safe around her. As an adult, our relationship was sporadic at best. We were once again estranged when I got the call that she had died.
When I was a child, my father was my rock, the only ally I had in a house that often felt more like a war zone than a home. I get my love of animals and my dorky sense of humor directly from him. But my father was far from perfect. My father was a womanizer who battled addiction and essentially abandoned me for roughly a decade and a half. He moved out west and vanished from my life in the mid-90s. He came back into my life in February 2010, just in time to announce his cancer diagnosis. We reconnected over the next few months as I watched him alternate between surgeries and chemotherapy, before ultimately dying in hospice care.
What people don’t tell you about grief is that the longer someone is gone, the longer you have to think. And to feel.
When my mother first died, I was angry. I was still raw over the abuse I had silently endured. It took years to work through my pain. It took years for me to accept that I never really knew my mother as a person, that I only knew her mental illness. I lived so long wanting to be nothing like her that it took years to acknowledge our many similarities. As strange as it might sound to admit, now I miss her.
When my father died, I was raw with incomprehensible, inconsolable heartache. I finally had gotten my daddy back, only to have cancer rip him away again. Forever. Gone. It wasn’t fair. Or right. It took years for me to reflect on the man he was beyond being my father and protector when I was little, years for me to accept that he wasn’t perfect and didn’t wholly deserve the pedestal I had placed him upon as a child. Regardless, I still miss him.
My parents were far from perfect people, but they were still my parents. And there are happy memories entwined with the bad. While the scars remain, much of the pain of the worst times have subsided into a dull throb. It’s still there and not forgotten, but I have had time to acknowledge the damage that was done and to heal. What largely remains is a heavy dose of nostalgia, and a longing for all I have lost.
I miss them both terribly. So much of who I am comes from them. Camping, leaf peeping, visiting historical sites and museums. Barbecues, peanut butter, arts and crafts. Certain songs, movies, phrases, scents. So many random things remind me of them.
Holidays are hard. Good times are bittersweet because I can’t share any of it with them. Though my relationship with them both was far from perfect when they were alive, now that they’re gone, I crave it. I wish I had the chance to make more memories. Even one.
I wish I could tell them about my children and how proud I am of the adults they’ve become. I wish I could tell them about how happily married I am. I know they’d remember my husband from when we were kids. I have thousands of wishes that will remain unfulfilled.
Because they’re gone. Dead. And that’s forever.
The longer they’re gone, the more time I have to think and feel, and the more new memories I make without them. At this point, the grief I have almost feels like a living being, that keeps growing and changing over time.
And I’m not alone. My husband has lost both of his parents as well and still struggles with his own grief. Not a day passes that at least one of our parents doesn’t come up in conversation. It’s been years for us both, yet we still grieve.
It’s been well over a decade and I’m still waiting on that empty promise that things will get easier in time. More than anything, I think you just get used to the pain.
Getty image by valentinrussanov