I am a grief counselor. My work usually begins inside the hospital and then takes me into the real life of people who are experiencing loss. Lately I have been talking with them by phone, or at parties. Loss seems to turn up everywhere I look. It reminds me of the pretend monsters I imagined as a child, the ones that lurk behind doors, waiting to spring out and surprise me.
No one ever wants to feel the loss of a child or a loved one. It is truly devastating. In fact, for me to even try to put words to it isn’t fair. What I have observed in my husband, in myself, as well as in those I help is that deep loss begins with a sense of numbness. It’s as if the body does anything it can to protect you from the awful, painful reality that someone is gone for good.
When my brother killed himself I felt for a month as if I was walking around in a haze. I could be happy at times, I could speak at his funeral with composure, I could go through all of his belongings, but I couldn’t admit to anyone that he was really gone. I looked for him everywhere. I just kept thinking that somehow, somewhere he would show up and proclaim that my bad dream was over.
As reality set in, the pit in my stomach grew. It was an appendage I welcomed because in the physical pain he was close to me. It was the only thing I had to hold on to. I remember one day going to Zilker Park in Austin, Texas after teaching tennis. It was hot and sitting there in early fall was painful because there was no relief from the heat. I sat and watched kids swing and run where we had played as kids. I sat in the quiet of my mind, blocking the sound of all of those around. Tears finally began to fall, tears I had pushed back for months since he had died.
In that moment the numbness began to recede. I was feeling again. There were all sorts of emotions ranging from anger to sadness to confusion. Part of me was afraid, wanting to push it all back inside of me. Another part of me was relieved. I wasn’t hiding anymore. Gradually I was coming to accept that Rod was gone. Some days I was okay with that reality, other days I wasn’t.
I came to realize that it is all part of the process, of this stark and lonely place that we call sorrow. I came to believe that Rod wanted me to face this grief head on, to miss him, to meet him in it, and somehow to get to the other side.