No matter how many books you read, sad songs you listen to, movies you watch, nothing in this world can truly prepare you for loss.
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I have a relatively large family in earlier generations. My maternal grandfather, for example, was the eldest of 11 children. So I spent more time at the funeral home as a child than most of my peers. In fact, one of my childhood best friends was the daughter of the people who ran the one local funeral home. Because my mother was a church organist, she often had to play for services. It was easier to have me tag along and play with that child to help keep us both out of trouble. Dad could then focus on my sister and our store.
I lost a few people over the years, as most of us do. In my day, peers still died in car accidents. Pets passed. Sometimes you had other tragedies,
In late elementary school, I remember reading a book by Ann M. Martin called With You and Without You. You may recognize her name because of her famous Baby-Sitters Club series. I think my love of those books prompted me to give another title by her a shot. And looking back, it also came out at a vulnerable time for me, as I was grieving the loss of my grandmother.
It is the story of a young girl who finds out her father is going to die from a severe illness. The first part of the story, “With You,” is about Liza’s time with her beloved father and their strong bond. The second part, “Without You,” deals with the painful aftermath of his passing.
My God, did that book rip me apart. I cried so hard reading it, yet read it over and over again. I even convinced my teacher to read it to the class and had to step in to read when she was too overcome with emotion to continue.
I thought that book gave me a clue as to what was to come at some point in my future. It has probably been 25 years since I last read it. I am actually inspired to go up into my attic library and dig it out again. But I can guarantee the pain and empathy I felt while reading it all those years ago doesn’t even hold a candle to what I experienced in my real life.
I was a total Daddy’s girl, from the moment I was born. I was actually very close to both of my parents, but that bond with Dad was just a smidge stronger. In a lot of ways, it felt like Mom was the rock while I was growing up. But when it came to my horrid college years, he better understood me. And then when Mom got sick with Alzheimer’s, he definitely became the rock.
About six weeks prior to my paternal grandmother passing, I had just found out that the likelihood of me being able to bear children was next to none. So I lost my future. I may have suspected that was the case since I was a teen, but had never had the news delivered so definitely.
Then my grandmother died. I lost my past.
Two months later, Mom started to succumb to her Alzheimer’s and went into a home. I was losing my present.
And then a few months later, Dad was gone. My present had blown up like Hiroshima.
I cannot even begin to describe the hole that had been blown inside of me. I felt like a 5000-piece puzzle that had been tossed into the air as soon as its box was opened. It will be eight years this June since that happened, and I am not sure that I have even recovered half.
Life went on. The world kept turning, even though you cannot comprehend how it doesn’t just stop. Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought of my parents and my grandma. They may have been on my mind daily Before, but I didn’t pay as much attention until After. It’s kind of funny how your head will fill up so much more when your heart has been drained.
So I stumbled my way through seven years. Fear of Mom leaving was ever-present in my brain. I did the best I could to get back to visit and to spend time with her. It was never enough, and yet it had to be. And then after so many years, and yet too soon, she was also gone. And I don’t know what to do with that kind of hole that has been left behind. I will explore that later.
2018 brought about more loss than most people see to normally deal with, especially at my age — 14 in total. Each loss would just gut me more and more. And yet I was powerless to stop the devastation.
You would think that I would be a shell of my former self with the emotional erosion that has taken place in my life. And perhaps I am that giant conch shell you find on the shore. But beware, there is still something alive in there. I may have a ton of loss that has left an empty space, but I am still here, grappling with it all.