“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
“When I let go of what I am. I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
I don’t know what’s brought me back here. The anniversary of Curt’s death. The loss of so much support in my life. Henry moving back to the east coast. Another holiday season without mom. I have lost so much this year. I can barely breathe. A part of me feels stronger; more empowered by having survived all of this. But another part – a bigger part – feels completely hollow and listless. I feel as though I am careening through the universe with no axis or purpose. All I can do today is try and get out some of what I feel so I don’t drown in the tears that fill my eyes from the moment I wake up until I take two or three Melatonin to try and sleep.
I never thought I would be here. I feel defeated. Like a victim. Like I’ve never felt before. There’s nothing to really do but sit with the sadness and let it fill me. Sit with the change. Reflect. In some ways I am so much lighter and happier without Henry in my life. Though it’s harder to carry my grief on my own. I’ve lost a witness to my loss. Seeing him has twisted me up inside so much that I’m not even sure what our truth is anymore. He denies that his drinking is the cause of this breakup. He swims in the shallows of shit happens, people grow apart, and boys will be boys. I lose my breath trying to explain how much he’s hurt me and why I feel so abandoned. So he’ll go back to North Carolina free of everything he’s done and I’ll stay here tightly clutching my own reality and wondering if what we had was ever really real. The truth is there is no our truth anymore.
Going home for Thanksgiving, I was filled with hope. Hope that I would be able to save my sister, the grieving widow, from both the world and herself. Hope that there would be a new beginning. But she doesn’t want saving and she still doesn’t know how to love herself or me. I spent six days trying to be there for her while trying not to lose myself. Defeat. There is no amount of love or peace or energy I can bring into her life that will ease or erase any of the pain she’s feeling. She chooses to live in a world where she’s alone and it’s the only thing that makes me feel even more alone than I already do. Like Cut’s boots by the door in the garage, I am there but useless. Driving back home, I felt completely turned inside out. There is no mission or task that will save me from my own grief or loneliness. It is not my job to fix others’ pain or try or make up for anything lost. It is my job to sit with my own grief and keep walking through this painful mess. It is my job to sit on the back patio and miss Curt while Jackson runs wild. It is my job to keep memories alive and take care of myself so that I can be there to watch him run wild forever.
So much has shifted since April. I moved into my own apartment in Oakland, where I’ve always wanted to be. I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Denver, Barcelona and Sitges, places I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve poured myself into a steady yoga practice and have been accepted into a teacher training program in early January, something I’ve long-since dreamed of doing. The journey to self realization has been easier from a logistical standpoint.
For awhile, I felt like this breakup created space for me to be better – a better sister, a better friend, a better person. But now, as the seismic shift continues to grow, the cracks in my foundation are deepening and there’s a toxicity oozing out from beneath the surface. House of lies. So much of my identity has been taking care of the needs of others for so long. It’s what I’ve perceived as soul food my entire life. Realizing how much this has cost me and how different it’s made me has both steadied and broken my heart. The enlightening is so much easier than whatever is supposed to come next. I miss mom the most in these moments. This too, was her struggle.
The breaking open of self is irreversible. Like trying to put whipped cream back into the can. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. I’ve been studying some of the things I’ve held close for so long, trying to make them make sense. Some I’ve used as weapons but most I’ve used as shields. And though I’ve always known that this dark undercurrent inside of me exists, it’s been something I’ve chosen to revere as a form of self care, rather than a form of selfishness. Maybe to settle the score. Maybe to just be a complete asshole. There is no real power living in the gray. I’ve watched the aftermath of my grief and trauma these past few years grow to the size of an insurmountable monster that’s no longer after just me. It wants everything. I can no longer live in the basement of my own house of lies.
So here I sit, half sifting through the ruins and half looking for something to dry my tears. I am broken into a thousand shards and stand empty amongst the fragments of my old life. There are no words to encompass or remedy what’s already been. Nor can I go backwards and bury myself in the false sense of security I once had. I am free from most of what I was but still not safe. I have shed so much of my skin and am now raw against the wind. Caught somewhere between lighter and truly enlightened.
“Love is never any better than the lover.” – Toni Morrison
Today, I am so angry. I’m angry at the world for being such a cruel place where boys and men use guns to slaughter innocent people. A world where we care more about profits than each other. A world where we are still so divided. I’m angry that we have to keep having this same fucking conversation. Pretending like it’s video games, and sugar cereal, and parenting slips. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?
I am angry at myself for painting all of the red flags green. I am angry at him for doing this to us. Why? I go over and over everything in my head a thousand times and I keep coming back to this simple question. Why didn’t you care more about me than yourself? Why did you jeopardize everything we had? Why did you make a stupid decision and ruin my birthday? Why, when you knew how much I miss my mom, and how hard birthdays have been, would you go out and get blackout drunk and sit at a strip club for hours not answering your phone? WHY? This feels childish, to put it out here for anyone to see. But I’m angry and I’m still reeling and after four months I thought I’d be further on down the road by now. In a little over a week, I’ll see him at a friend’s wedding. My insides are churning just thinking about it. A strip club? That’s our ending? And even though I threw you out and made the decision to end us, you were the one who really did.
Choosing to completely uproot my life a day before my thirty-fifth birthday was not something I thought I’d ever be doing. Somehow, it seemed less uncomfortable than sitting down to dinner with twenty of our closest friends, pretending everything was OK for the thousandth time. I had no choice. I was no longer willing to ride the proverbial merry-go-round of “I’m sorry’s” and “it’s different.” I was finally ready to try and put myself first. I’m still not sure what inside of me changed. When I look back, I see pure rage, hurt, and panic as the driving forces. Maybe the little girl inside of me snapped.
It seems like I’ve been taking care of someone my whole life. Like I was born into a relationship I wasn’t ready for. My mom did everything she could to give me everything she didn’t have and somewhere along the way I became her best friend, her confidante, her keeper, instead of just her daughter. I know now that I am what’s called a parentified child, something I was initially defensive about because even now that she’s gone, I am still her best friend, her confidante, her keeper. As I continue to explore the ways in which being parentified has shaped my life, I’ve come face to face with certain truths that have helped me better understand why I am the way that I am. In my past relationships, I have been a compulsive caretaker. I’ve had major issues with boundaries and trust. I’ve had issues with self-esteem and seeking validation everywhere except within myself. Delving into the ‘why’ behind my actions has snapped together a few of the missing pieces and allowed me to start to process the weight of the traumas I’ve carried into my own adult life. I had to ask myself, and am still asking myself, why did I choose to make a life with someone who continued to choose himself over me? Why did I not listen when he showed me over and over who he really was?
Somewhere on that threshold of bursting into my thirty-fifth year of life, I had what’s known as an “oh shit” moment. My development has most definitely been stunted by my accelerated “adulthood” and my seemingly “abnormal” childhood. So here I am, stuck somewhere in between processing and practicing. Overdeveloped in so many ways and trying to catch up in so many others. Shortly after I ended things, my gut reaction was to scatter back to the comforts of my previous habits and dysfunctional relationship; the place I once hailed my safe space. My fears and uncertainty about the future have pushed me so close to making that phone call, where I don’t even know what to say because I am still so hurt and angry, but I so desperately want to be back there. As I sit with my anger, my fear, and my sadness, I realize that I’m stuck in the middle. I am in between holding on and letting go. I am in between broken child and whole adult. I am in between empowered and afraid. I have no idea what’s ahead of me. I only know that I am not willing to go backwards. I know that through my tears, and seeing red, and wondering why, I am worth the chance to truly get to know myself.
“Grief does not change you. It reveals you.” – John Green
Something that’s been really tough for me to navigate is what to do or say when someone else is grieving. I don’t want to be awkward or upset them by bringing up their person. But I know enough from my own journey that it’s upsetting to not talk about your person or feel like others are avoiding the subject.
After I lost my mom, I enrolled in an amazing online course called, Writing Your Grief, led by Megan Devine, author of, It’s OK That You’re Not OK. The 30-day course changed my life and introduced me to some amazing people who broke me open and challenged me in so many ways. I navigated the choppy waters of what to say, what not to say, and everything in between, all in a safe and encouraging space where I felt supported and heard. I made mistakes and watched others be human and shared my grief over and over and over to people who really got it.
Four months ago, my brother lost his childhood best friend, Mel, in a plane crash. We were transported back to that place again, together as a family, and I screamed again into the universe WHYYYY?! Mel’s wife Brittney was eight months pregnant, adding even more heaviness to an already unbearable situation. What could I say to her? How could I possibly give her any piece of comfort? There was no peace to be found. Wading through my own grief one night, I came across a letter that I’d started in the WYG course – a sort of love letter to someone who’s lost someone. I had stashed it away because like most things I’ve written throughout my grief journey, it felt like too much or not enough. Here it is:
I will sit with you in the dark.
I will not be your cheerleader or tell you to look on the bright side or give you reasons why you should not feel unbearable pain. I will not tell you what they would think, because I do not know, and I will not tell you where they are or what they’re doing, because I do not know. I will not say they have angel wings or that they are in a better place, because it is as horrible as it sounds – death. I will not compare missing my mom, dead or alive, to you missing yours. I will not assume I understand your pain because it is yours, alone.
I will not try and take your pain away with platitudes and stories of rainbows and unicorns. I will never try and take your pain away, period. I will honor and acknowledge the times when pain drives you to the floor and you are not strong, or brave, or inspirational. I will not tell you over and over how strong you are, because it makes you feel like you always have to be strong. I will never tell you how wonderful you are for surviving their death, because I believe in many ways, you didn’t.
I will never start a sentence about them with “at least…” or “the silver lining is…”.
I will not talk to you about the gifts you bring into the world, because the price you paid was too high. The price was and is too high.
I will join you in the ways you choose to honor them. I will speak their name, over and over and over. I will remember them with you, your person…
I will trust you to know what you need, and I will put aside what I think you need and listen. Just listen.
I will sit with you. I will sit with your sorrow. I will sit in silence and I will sit in sharing and I will just be. Even when I feel awkward or sad or guilty or jealous or exhausted by my own grief.
“In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.” – Rabbi Kamens & Riemer
Grieving someone who’s still alive is the most heartbreaking, bizarre experience. There is no ending; no finality. There are endless questions that can be asked but can’t be answered. There’s forever the possibility of running into them and having to exist alongside your “dead” relationship. It feels childish and unnatural. A chunk of your life that is both everything and nothing.
Choosing to end my relationship happened gradually over time, but the actual execution was quick – like ripping off a band-aid, they’d said. It doesn’t make the experience any easier and I’m learning (over and over) that like my finite losses, the road to healing is not linear. Post-breakup life is a constant balancing act. Back and forth, I swing like a pendulum, between my two selves. Most of the time, it’s shaky and I yearn for the days when I could hideout inside my comfortable discomfort. Because that felt real. Whatever this is.. doesn’t. So many questions. Where is he on his post-breakup journey? Is he asking himself these same questions? Is this as hard for him as is it for me? Keys and doors, again.
I replay memories and think about the places this hurts the most. Airports are at the top of my list. We traveled so much together; saw so many amazing places. I wonder if it will ever not hurt to stand behind couples in the TSA line, doing their couple banter the kind of comfortable ways couples do. I’ll flash back to my old life and stand in silence, aching for my person. I’ll remember all the ways we saw the world together and wonder if I’ll ever find someone that travels with me so perfectly. I look back on these times and think maybe there was someone back then standing in ear shot aching for their person. And my heart aches for that person – the one I never noticed. I’m changed. My heart is broken and hanging open. I look to all the things I’m learning about myself for comfort because it’s all I can do to not fall completely apart.
What I am learning, besides to stop and breathe, is to try my best to pivot away from the constant questioning and problem solving. The loop. This is where my mind so often goes within my grief (how can I fix this??), ruining my ability to be present for the new and real experiences in front of me. At this point in my journey, I am learning to sit with these feelings of sadness, insecurity, nostalgia, fear, and loneliness. And that’s it – just sit with them. Greet them, as if they were friends coming over for dinner. Hello, how are you? Really get to know them and what’s behind them. I’m noticing, that once I acknowledge and chat with them for a little while, they become less nagging and daunting. They’re still there, of course. But I’m able to name and tame them, instead of just push them away and panic even more when they stop by unannounced.
This is so hard. Writing this post has been so hard. I’ve come back to it at least 12 times before just accepting it for what it is. A fucking mess like me.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving
My mom died on a Tuesday morning, as I sat in a meeting completely oblivious. I found out as I was getting off the N-train, two blocks from my apartment. As my sister said the words, I sat down on the sidewalk, shocked and confused in the middle of the commuter chaos. The weeks to follow were a total blur, filled with every kind of emotion, but for the longest time I did not break down and experience that real guttural cry I’ve so often seen in the movies. I was frozen in my grief.
I sat motionless at her funeral, staring straight into the huge, canvas photo we’d had enlarged of her. I did not break down when her friends told me stories of how adventurous she was in high school. I did not break down when we picked up her ashes. I did not break down when I listened to the unchecked voicemail I still had on my phone. I did not break down the entire drive back to San Francisco. I sat in my apartment alone, listening to sad songs. I walked all around the city, passing by every place we’d ever been or never had the chance to go. I watched our favorite movies, looked at pictures, re-read letters and birthday cards, and still no monumental breakdown.
It was as if that part of my brain wasn’t functioning; a rusted valve unable to release. It wasn’t until I was standing in a crowded CVS downtown, trying to pick a Father’s Day card, that I finally broke into a million pieces. Father’s Day was always special to us. In our house, my mom – a single mom, always received a Father’s Day card. She was so proud of that. Sure, we sent the obligatory card to our dad, usually one that was blank inside or just said, “Happy Father’s Day!” We cried and then laughed after the meltdown I’d had as a teenager, also in a CVS, flipping through the wall of cards and realizing (again) that he wasn’t any of those hallmarks. She had always said that we got his best qualities: his artistic side, his sense of humor, his strong jawline, and his athleticism. She always knew how to shine a light into the darkness.
She understood the pain and loss of being abandoned. Her own dad was around but never really there. She tried to overcompensate. She tried to give us everything. As I stood there facing the wall of greeting cards, a mere month removed from her death, tears streaming uncontrollably down my face, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to laugh or cry with her ever again about finding the right Father’s Day card. And I wouldn’t be giving her one.
This year, like every year since her death, I mail her a Father’s Day card – no stamp or return address. As I drop the colored envelope into the big blue abyss, I wonder if anyone reads them. I like to think this makes her laugh..
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” –Queen Elizabeth II
It’s been two months and ten days and it didn’t really feel over until I watched the Warriors lose it all at Oracle in Game 6 of the finals. One of my favorite memories is jumping up and down, screaming at the top of our lungs in our San Francisco studio, tears filling our eyes as we watched them win it all in 2015. We were so happy. Now they’re on their way to Chase. They sold out, not unlike us. So far away from what and where they should be. Inevitable I guess..
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that our ten-year friendship, seven-year relationship, and two-and-a-half-year engagement is over. Of all the losses in my life, this is the one that has shaken my foundation the most. Maybe because you’ve been by my side through so many of the others. Each day I wake up and go over everything in my head.. again and again. What could I have done better? What are you thinking? Have you moved on? Are you happier now? Why did you continue to choose alcohol over us? Over me? I don’t have the keys to any of these doors and I go around and around until I’m exhausted or empowered by the answers I give myself.
When I look back on us, I am mostly happy for the time we spent together. I am grateful for your patience, your encouragement – the way you nurtured my mind, body and soul. I used to see a man who loved me so much that I never had to question it. Or at least that’s how I felt in those moments together. But when I look back at us now, I see that I did and I am questioning it. Why did you continue to choose alcohol over me?
I wonder if you’re still living in your house of lies, where things are on both of us and we just grew apart. I wonder if you’re still telling yourself that I made a bigger deal out of your drinking than it really was. I wonder if you’re still blaming my triggers. I wonder if you’re still putting all of your energy into facilitating the image of a life that’s so much better now that you aren’t being hassled or held to an impossible standard. I wonder so many things.
I asked for a clean break and I’m still so hurt and angry you haven’t reached out. I’m grappling with my lack of control and my need to shape the narrative to make myself feel better and stronger. I’m still looking to you to show me my reflection. This breakup has been so much more than just a separation from you. It is freedom from my own house of lies. The constant need to control, validate and be validated. Freedom from my dependency on others and my need to take care of everyone else around me. This clean break has left me alone with myself for the first time ever. Like a new friend I’m still not completely comfortable around, I lean a little further and further in each day. It is the one key I do have. I keep turning it over and over in the palm of my hand, wondering what I’ll find behind this door.
“Grief is not linear. It’s not a slow progression forward toward healing, it’s a zigzag, a terrible back-and-forth from devastated to okay until finally there are more okay patches and fewer devastated ones. The mind can’t handle emotions like grief and terror for any sustained period of time, so it takes some downtime.” – Lisa Unger
The family lineage of grief. This is something I’ve wrestled with since my mom died three years and twenty days ago. I watched grief start to take hold of her when I was ten, after her mother, my grandmother, died suddenly of a pulmonary aneurysm at 55 (so young, we’d said, not knowing that my mom would die of a blood clot at just 56).
I watched my mom shut off her grief. She had three kids to raise. She couldn’t process her pain – there was no time. I watched it come out sideways in mental health crises and addiction. I saw it manifest itself in bodily pain, dissatisfaction with everything, depression, isolation, anger, and loneliness. I watched her compartmentalize and stuff down her grief, as she put on a brave face for us kids. I watched her lay in bed every night, hiding from the world.
I watched her, always with a proclivity to overindulging in alcohol, become a full-blown alcoholic, mixing in prescription pills and later.. worse. I watched my amazing, driven, independent mom become a shell of her former self. I watched her struggle with memory and cognition issues as the booze and drugs began to rot her brain. I watched her care less and less about being our mom, and more and more about being alone; spiraling further into her cycle of pain and isolation.
I watched as the foundation of our home, slowly started to disappear from beneath us all. I watched my sister retreat further and further into herself, lie, cheat, and steal from our family and friends. I watched my brother nearly flunk out of high school and quit playing the sports he loved, as my mom fully let go of the reigns. I watched us all snipe and snarl at each other, each of us dealing with grief we could not name – not just my grandma’s death, but my parent’s divorce and all the other losses throughout the years.
As a teenager, I internalized all of this. I internalized the struggles of the house, as if it were my job. I’ve always been fiercely empathetic and couldn’t help but take on these feelings that were way too heavy to hold for adolescent me. I had no coping skills. I was overwhelmed and overwrought. I looked for myself in the eyes of others and made it my sort of life’s work to be in as many relationships as possible to distract from the too strong emotions swirling around me. My need to be loved, accepted and wanted grew like wildfire.
My own cycle of pain led to many dead-end roads after high school, as I began to experiment with other ways to make myself feel something. Drugs and alcohol entered my life steadily at the age of 18 and became band-aid fixes because really, no one could tell me what I was dealing with weren’t even really my own struggles – they were family traumas, passed down through generations. I now firmly believe that traumas get passed down until someone can process and deal with them. As a teenager, I didn’t have the skills or the maturity to deal with those feelings, emotions, and traumas. As an adult, now in therapy, I am realizing that I do have the skills, and with a supportive tribe, am working through these dark feelings that have come up in my own grief.
I know I can’t deal with the losses the way my mom dealt with them before me. I vow not to lose myself like she lost herself. Not just for me, but for her. Her pain was not in vain. Her suffering was real and was valid and it’s heartbreaking she could not allow herself to process it. So, I will process mine. For me, and for her, and for her mother before her.
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” ― Joan Didion
Over the past few days, I’ve been craving renewal and lightness. I watched a video of this little girl from South Africa absolutely killing it dancing and she looked so alive and free and it brought up all these feelings ― I want that. I want to feel free. I want to feel alive and to start living again. I don’t want to feel so heavy with grief anymore. But then when that wave hit me, another one came right afterwards. I do want to be in grief, to feel heavy, to be sad.
I believe that grief is the price we pay for our love. My love for my mom sheds light on my pain. Recently, I’ve panicked. What if as I heal I also forget how much I love her? Is it a trade off? Can they coexist? Healing and grief? I think so. I know I won’t forget how much I love her. I know I won’t forget her. It’s been barely three years and I’m feeling yet another shift. But I also know it could be temporary. Everything I feel is a mix of ups and downs. I feel sad about moving forward in some ways because she cannot move forward with me. Even though, somehow I feel that she is. I believe she’s happy where she is now. Without her pain. She can breathe fully again. She has energy and is probably dancing. And I know she would be telling me to go ahead ― live! Isn’t living the best way to honor her? I thought about this when I woke up today, about finding moments of happiness, and said, “It feels like you are healing. Not forgetting, still missing, but healing.” And I just don’t know how to feel about that.
I think, as with anything, it will start to unveil as time goes on. Things will fall into place, or fall apart, as they do. Nothing is linear. I guess all of this means I feel a stirring in my soul, and it both terrifies and excites me. For the first time in a long time I feel like really living again. And it makes me cry because I know my mom is watching and smiling at these words. I know that this is what she wants more than anything for me. We’ll see. Maybe for now I’ll just sit with it. See where it all takes me. I will still cry. Still be brought to my knees with sadness. Still miss her so much it feels like my heart may explode. But maybe this is a shift. One of the many shifts..