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Nothing Says Love Like Grief

Ahhh. It's February. Love month. And nothing says love month like grief.

You may be thinking, "Wow. That's a strange transition". I know. I get it.

But still, I maintain that nothing says love like grief.

I think about it: You wouldn't grieve someone you didn't love. You could mourn. You could empathize. You could feel sad or blue; you could feel the heaviness of those around you. (I say this as I sit at my desk in Los Angeles as the city processes the loss of Kobe. Trust me: you can feel the heaviness.) But to actually grieve, to go through that process, there has to be love. Love for the person, love of the person, or love of what could have been. Grief is complicated like that. You know that saying, "There cannot be darkness without light"? I figure grief and love work the same way.

I'm not going to lie; February holds another grief reminder for me beyond love month. It's also when my Dad passed away. So, it's always on my mind when February approaches. February 5. The day my life was turned upside down. It's also no coincidence that grief is on my mind as my extended family lost another member a couple of weeks ago. And my Bradley University Theatre family lost a teacher. And all of this loss got me thinking about grief and the role it plays in our lives not only at the moment of impact, but also down the road. How it can be so apparent and also so inconspicuous; so predictable and yet so highly individualized. Not just for each person who's grieving but also in regards to the relationship of the person being grieved.

If I'm being perfectly honest (which I am always perfectly honest in blog - I'm just not great at being honest with myself): I'm not good at grieving. That's not to say that I think anyone 'comes by it naturally', but some (seemingly) handle the process better than others. I don't think I've really let myself thoroughly, properly grieve the losses in my life.

Let's face it: grieving is not comfortable. And we are creatures of comfort. We seek comfort. We even seek comfort in the un-comfortability we know. We are essentially thermostats. We regulate to our comfort zones. My comfort zone doesn't lie in 'negatives'. I tell myself that I don't often talk about my grief because there's enough pain and suffering and negatives all around us. And I do believe that's true. I tell myself I don't often talk about my grief because, although I know we all experience it at some point in some way, I don't want to bring someone else down emotionally. I want to bring people up. I want to be a light. Again, I do believe this to be true. But, if I'm being perfectly honest with myself, I don't often talk about my grief because I'm afraid to go down the rabbit hole. I'm afraid I'll get stuck. I'm afraid that if I truly let myself feel all the feels in the process of grief for all the people I've lost, well, that's just too much, and I'll never come out of it.

2004 - 2005 is what I refer to as 'The Year From Hell'. I wrote about this is a previous blog post, so I'm just going to copy and paste from there:

"October 2004 - November 2005 nearly destroyed me. I lost my Aunt Carol (my second Mom) to Cancer, my cousin was in a motorcycle accident, another cousin passed away from Cancer - this was October, November, December. I came home from my semester abroad on December 11. December 28 my Dad had a quadruple bi-pass. On January 18 I had my first day at Bradley University as a transfer student. On February 5th my cousins knocked on my bedroom door to tell me my Dad had passed away. I collapsed. The next weeks, hell, even months are a blur. I wasn't even close to having grieved my Aunt Carol, and here I am starting the process with my Dad. March and April - 2 more deaths - same immediate family. Unfortunately, this trend continues. In November 2005 my Grandma Alice passed - my Dad's Mom. I remember getting the call and just saying, "Ok" and hung up the phone. No emotion. Completely deadpan. I looked up, caught eyes with one of my acting teachers, and told her, "My Grandma just passed away." Again, completely stoic. She took my hand and said, "Lets go for a walk", and she walked me over to Mental Health Services.

I wish I could say 2004-2005 was an isolated incident, but it's not. Our family was dealt even more blows (and yes, I realize all families go through this): My Mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in December of 2006. My Uncle Ike passed in Spring 2008. I moved home from Chicago because I needed to be with my Mom. He was my second Dad. I had barely begun to scratch the surface of the grief process with my Dad, and losing Uncle Ike was like losing Dad all over again. I am as much raw about the death of my Aunt Carol and Uncle Ike as I am about my Dad. No doubt about it. In 2012 my oldest brother passed away. This was new terrain for me. And again, we continued to lose even more members of that immediate family, and not that I don't love them and miss them, I do, but I'm still lost in the grief process."

Yes, I just quoted myself.

But the fact of the matter is: Since October of 2004 my family has had 17 deaths. And I realize it's been 15 years, but if it were only a death a year that might be more manageable. (Not that I think death is ever quite 'manageable'.) But it wasn't one a year. And those 17 were from my Mom's family alone. That doesn't include the friends of our family. That doesn't include friends. That's just my cousins, aunts, uncles, and yes, Dad, brother, and Grandma. And other Grandma. It's a lot. It's overwhelming. And the pain of it is all so raw. Still. Like compounded grief. But I also realize that ignoring the grief, not processing the grief, rather not holding space for the process of grief is like piling sh*t on top of sh*t: in the end, you either deal with the sh*t or be buried under it.

This is my way of dealing with it. The next two weeks my blog will consist of my un-shoveling of the sh*t: next week will be my Dad and the following week my brother Rick. Both were massive losses for me but in completely different ways, with completely different emotions to deal with. Then I will write a post with the insights and lessons I've learned in the process.

Technically grief is the acute pain after a loss. It's complex. Some believe there are stages - I believe that sometimes there are. But there is also something called Complicated Grief - prolonged grief - and that seems very real to me. Then there's the grief that's compounded by other feelings such as guilt or confusion or sometimes relief (say, after a long health struggle). Yup, I can check those boxes too.

There's a lot I don't know about grief. No one really knows anything for sure about it. Except that it sucks! However, one thing I do know is that grief looks different and feels different for everyone. I also know that many people I love and care for have also gone on this journey. This really, really sh*tty journey. And maybe by sharing two of my experiences a common thread can be found, or a piece of solace that you're not alone, or what you're feeling and thinking is 'normal'. And maybe, just maybe the 'lessons I've learned' will be useful to you too. I don't know, but I'm hoping it will.

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