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I remember wondering after Benny passed how I would navigate through my grief. How would I handle all of the holidays without him? Could I survive his birthday?
Benny was born in May, a big month for birthdays in mine and my husband’s families. We start with Mother’s Day, which I had just finally stopped grieving once Darcy was born, throw a whole bunch of birthdays in there, including my father’s and Benny’s, and wrap it all up with the day my mom died. All of this happens within a span of 13 days or so. It. Is. A. Lot.
Every year around Benny’s birthday in May, we do a gathering at the cemetery and then something small for the kids back at the house. We sing happy birthday and share memories. I want to celebrate the fact that my son lived, not focus on his death. I have one child who barely remembers him and two children that have never met him. It’s complex and confusing and we muddle through this new world as best as we possibly can.
Every May I am sent into a tail spin. I will add as many projects to my ‘to do list’ as possible. I spend hours on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist looking for bargains that I can transform into something.
I need to keep my hands busy. I need to keep my mind clear. I just need to get through the next 13 or so days. I am in survival mode.
It’s as if I begin to notice everything around me that needs to be fixed. Oh, the cats destroyed the couch?
I got this! I just noticed that the kitchen looked very blah, looks too much like every other new house. Time to add a backsplash!
I’m desperately trying to fix my surroundings in an attempt to fix myself. It’s not possible. I cannot fix this.
No matter how much planning I do, no matter how much I think I have done, I will always add something to Benny’s celebration of life. In part it has become my way of still planning a party for my son, even though he is not here.
I try to find the perfect book to be read at the cemetery. I look for a creative craft for the kids to do in Benny’s memory. I am constantly looking for new ways to celebrate his life. Which is hard because it was so short.
Is all of this crazy? Sure. Do I need to put more pressure on myself to what is already a month heaped with emotional grief? Nope. But here’s the thing. This stuff, this trying to fix things, this need to plan a celebration of my son’s life, it helps. It helps me feel the tiniest bit like I can have control over something, anything in my chaotic life. I like keeping my hands busy and my mind focused. It’s like meditation to me. It gives me a chance to be truly present in the moment.
This is my process. This is how I have learned to make it through an emotionally charged month of ups and downs. My husband and kids have learned to take it all in stride and just accept that this is what I do. This is what I need. And for now it works. Maybe some day it won’t and that’s ok too.
There is no guidebook friends. There is nothing to make it all better. But if you can find something constructive to make it tolerable, you do you. Do what feels right.
I have come to the realization that my father’s death will be the first one where I can have my grief all to myself. I am only in control of my own feelings and my own journey. As it should be in any healthy, normal relationship. You cannot control others grief, but oh how I’ve tried.
When my mom died I was 16. She had been sick for 2 years prior, so I had slowly been becoming more independent over those 2 years. She knew that she wasn’t going to make it, so she tried her hardest to prepare me for life on my own. I think she knew that my father was in no way equipped to handle her death. I sure wasn’t, but I was just a kid.
If I’m being candid, my father failed my sister and I. He was the adult and he fell completely apart. He began drinking again, he began dating almost immediately. I was only 16, but I was able to recognize that his behaviors were not healthy. He was never around and when he was, he was drunk.
I tried my damnedest to make things easier for him. I tried to step up and help out. I put my grief on the back burner while I tried to navigate this new normal. It was extremely frustrating and exhausting. It was probably easier for me to deal with him than it was for me to deal with my own grief.
It took a lot of years for me to make my peace with this and be able to forgive my dad. It was a lot of counseling and trying to look at things from his perspective. It didn’t make it ok, it just made it a little more bearable to live with.
When Benny died, I was once again consumed by everyone else’s grief. I am Type A and always need to feel a sense of control. I was so focused on my husband and my daughter’s grief. It was easier than dealing with my own feelings. What I learned is that control is an illusion.
Being at home for a year is a long time and eventually I had to begin to allow myself to grieve. I couldn’t push this down so far and hide it behind my family’s grief this time. I had to face it head on. It took a bit, but I finally let myself give in.
So, here I am grieving my dad. Alone. There’s no alcoholic to take care of, no husband or child to worry about. Just me. And this grief feels so free and so terriffying all at once. It’s all mine. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.
To be honest, it’s kind of lonely. My family hasn’t stopped and wallowed like in the past. Life is still moving along for everyone. Grief and little kids don’t mix together too well anyway. You cannot just stop when the baby has a fever, or your tween is struggling in dance. Or when your husband gets heat stroke.
I had this idea in my head because this grief was all mine that I would be able to sit with it, yell at it, scream at it, cry with it, maybe even laugh with it for a bit. As usual, life had other plans. That free feeling I felt in the beginning is more like a drowning feeling now as I try to navigate this alone. And that’s ok. I’m used to doing things alone. Sometimes I actually prefer it.
But tonight I will go to a Support Group at Hope Lives Here. I will laugh and cry and probably leave there feeling a little bit lighter. These are my people. They get it. And I absolutely hate that I have to go there, but love being there, if that makes any sense. I’ll feel a little less alone in this.
It’s amazing to me how you can grow up somewhere, spend your entire childhood there and feel absolutely no connection to that place. Maybe I’ve been gone for too long. Maybe the memories have faded too much. I’m not entity sure.
I’m sitting on the ferry leaving the place of my youth and I feel nothing looking at the beaches that I used to play on. Maybe I’m just getting old and have lived in Massachusetts for too long. Maybe it’s because that childhood chapter of my life closed when my father died yesterday.
I’m still pretty numb, because that’s what happens after death. Grief is so damn complicated for me in general, so this is going to take time. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but he was my dad and now at 40 I’m an orphan. Which sounds ridiculous but no one prepares you to lose both of your parents.
When we lost Bennett we lost our hopes and dreams for the future. Losing both of my parents now I feel like I’m losing my past. I’ve always really struggled with not knowing much about myself when I was little because my mom was gone. I constantly look at my kids and wonder if they’re like me.
So I’m sitting here on the ferry, a trip that I’ve taken a million times before in my life and I’m taking a moment to breathe. I’m taking a moment to enjoy the rumble of the engine and the chatter of the people around me. I’m taking a moment to realize that this is once again out of my control.
I’m going to sit here and smile for the life that my father lived. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, unabashedly. While I didn’t always agree with his choices, he never stopped being who he was. Before he was sick, he certainly lived life to the fullest.
So this is going to be sad. And this is going to suck. But this moment, right here, right now, this moment is ok. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Maybe I will appreciate his death for what it was, because he didn’t suffer like my mom. Who knows what grief path I will take now. I do know that for the first time in my life I feel prepared and emotionally healthy enough to deal with this one head on.
It’s taken me 23 years to even begin to understand grief and how it affects us. And I’m still learning. This is a process that never ends, just like your love for those lost never ends. And I’m finally beginning to come to terms with that.