Why It’s Important To Share Grief

If you are a regular reader of the site, you’ll know that my primary focus is movies and I’ll occasionally cover some sports. You may have also noticed that I haven’t exactly been on top of either of those lately. This is something of a departure for me so, if this is your first time here, I hope that you can take something from this.

Aside from round two versus Covid over the past couple of weeks and dealing with that particular brand of illness, there’s been a lot more going on that I’ve been wanting to talk about. I have also been waiting for the right time. I am still unsure whether or not now is that time but I feel like I’m in a better headspace…or at least out of the Covid fog enough to have gained some clarity and motivation…so I am going to try. 

(Image: Western Oregon University)

I knew I’d sit down with it at some point but being in the thick of things has made it difficult to find the time, gather my thoughts, and commit them to paper in a productive manner.

My goal in sharing this is not to garner sympathy or condolences, but rather to share my experience in a way that may be beneficial to others because losing a loved one is incredibly difficult and painful. I have met a lot of people through social media that have experienced significant losses of their own and I know that having a place to talk about it can be therapeutic and cathartic.

When my girlfriend and I traveled to Hawaii a few weeks ago, it wasn’t for vacation. Yes, we got to have a day at the beach and we enjoyed it thoroughly but we flew in for a celebration of life for a friend of hers who had passed away. Even though I had only met this person one time, I wanted to be there for my partner. It was a nice memorial and it was great to see that her life was celebrated with love and laughter, but it’s never easy to see your partner in pain.

We had traveled during a precarious situation at home and two days after we got back we got a call in the early morning that my girlfriend’s grandmother had passed away unexpectedly in the hospital. She had been admitted after a fall before we had left for Hawaii and the doctors had subsequently found that she was also battling pneumonia. We had visited her in the hospital before we left town and she was improving. When we got back, we went to see her and she had stabilized. She even asked us how our trip was and appeared to be in good spirits. She was no longer on oxygen and her tests were good, to the point where the hospital was planning her discharge when we saw her the day before she died. So, getting that news the following morning was a massive system shock.

(Image: WeliaHealth.org)

We went to the hospital to see her one final time and to say our goodbyes. It was very difficult seeing her like that, let alone trying to wrap our heads and our hearts around what had happened. We stayed until her body was taken away and her body was interred on Monday, May 1st. That was eight days after that memorial in Hawaii.

My girlfriend’s grandma was always very warm and welcoming. She always had a smile on her face and was ready to laugh. There was no hesitation on her part to welcome me into the family. It was through getting to know her and her husband (and getting to know myself better) that I learned that it was not only okay but wholly positive to have a mature relationship with them. I found immense value in getting to know them both as people. 

The last of my living grandparents passed away in 2014 and over the past six years I’ve been with my girlfriend I’ve really enjoyed getting to know hers. Part of that, I’m sure, was due to some regrets I have for not having that same kind of quality time with my own grandma when I was an adult. She was in a house fire around the time I was 19 and her heart actually stopped before she was revived by paramedics. I was the first one to see her at the hospital after the fire and it was traumatizing, but she required long-term care for the rest of her life after that and was never the same. That said, I still regret not having a close relationship with her.

(Image: Georgtownpsychology.com)

Before things got locked up during Covid, we of course had the family events but we also had regular dinners with them. During the lockdown we were hesitant to jeopardize putting them at risk but, eventually, we started going over there to use the pool and hang out and we’d gotten back into the habit of seeing them more frequently. We were actually supposed to have dinner with them about a week or so before we went to Hawaii, but I was sick (not with Covid that time) and we had to cancel. Hindsight is 20/20 but I am mad at myself for getting sick. It wasn’t necessarily my fault but I still felt guilty…I still feel guilty. I loved her grandmother and I’m going to miss her dearly. Mother’s Day is right around the corner and it is going to be an especially rough one this year.

In the midst of all this, my partner’s uncle has also been in the hospital since before we left town; about a month in total now. The same hospital where his mother just died, in fact. He was admitted because of a half-inch kidney stone that had caused an infection and he likely suffered one or several strokes due to being taken off blood thinners while undergoing the procedure to treat the kidney stone. His communication is heavily compromised and he is unable or unwilling to lay still for an MRI, so the extent of any damage to his cognitive function can’t be fully assessed.

The doctors and the family just have to treat him based on the symptoms presented but he can’t swallow and is aspirating, so he is at high risk of choking and hasn’t eaten in a couple of weeks. He had previously rejected the use of a feeding tube, vehemently, which would require risky sedation once again and potentially intubation. So, the hospital has been giving him intermittent fluids and IV nutrients in the meantime. But, just a day or two ago, he apparently changed course and said yes to the feeding tube which only raises more questions and concerns about his ability to truly communicate his wishes and how his care team has approached his care as a result.

On top of all that, he’s also dealing with congestive heart failure and blood pressure issues, and he’s constantly at risk for more strokes while he is off his blood thinners. I thought the decision had been made to switch to palliative care because up until now he’s essentially been slowly starving to death. That may change as the family confers with doctors who were supposed to take him off of IV nutrients today, for some reason. That doesn’t sound like comfort care to me and the churn of different doctors heading up his healthcare week-by-week is becoming more and more of a problem.

I feel absolutely awful for his dad, my girlfriend’s soon-to-be 93-year-old grandpa, who went to visit him today. He just lost his wife and buried her, four days shy of their 72nd wedding anniversary, and his son is in such a precarious position that nobody is sure if we should even tell him about his mom because it may derail any chance he has at recovery. We will be keeping a close eye on her grandpa but we are all collectively in this grief circle hoping for some light in the darkness.

(Image: HealGrief.org)

I am no stranger to loss, unfortunately. That doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. My dad died from cancer the year I turned 8 years old and my mom died, also from cancer, the year I turned 32. That same year, my girlfriend’s dad died somewhat suddenly and we went through it again, together. The last of my grandparents, my mother’s mother, died from cancer a few years before my mom.

One of my aunts committed suicide when I was a kid and while I didn’t know her particularly well at all, the gruesome nature of her suicide was made very clear to me at a young age. And I can’t remember exactly when but, right around the time I turned 20, a friend and neighbor also killed himself in a devastating fashion. Both of those were graphic incidents that are seared into memory and I’ll spare you the details.

I never talked much about my dad’s death growing up because I didn’t know what to say to other 8-year-olds about it, let alone have the capacity to reconcile it for myself. Even as I grew into my teenage and young adult years, it took time to unpack that and open up the dialogue about it because no matter how good your friends are, through no inherent fault of their own, it’s just not possible for them to understand until it inevitably happens to them as well.

“Just try not to think about it” is a response I have heard many times as if it’s a faucet I can simply turn off. I don’t think it’s something that’s coming from a bad place though. The people close to you don’t want to see you in pain and perhaps the most strategic advice they can offer is to just ignore it. However, even if you manage to successfully divert your attention, not thinking about it doesn’t remove the sadness and doesn’t fill the void. It’s more of a distraction…a mask we wear so that we can get through the day. That’s a big part of why I sat down to write this because sharing it rather than hiding it is (hopefully) valuable for both the writer and the reader.

(Image: Grief.org)

I spent a lot of time in therapy at different stages in my life learning to process things in a healthy manner, rather than hiding my pain and trying to bury it under whatever substance or behavior helped me accomplish that end. I am also incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful family that cares about me a lot and has been a great support system. It took a lot to realize that, but it’s important.

I also have an amazing woman in my life who I am fortunate enough to call my partner, and who I’m considerably worried about her during all of this. She has so much on her plate right now and being sick with Covid made it more difficult to be there for her. We have been through so much together already and I will continue to be by her side through all of this, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s awful to see your partner in pain.

She knows my history and what I have gone through and I know she is worried about me as well. It’s incredibly sweet to know that her family has that concern for me right now too. That’s why I know it’s through the sharing of our experiences that we have been able to remain strong and supportive of one another even under the most emotionally trying of circumstances. Amid all the rest of this, our dog is also experiencing some weird health issues that we can’t pin down despite extensive testing, so it’s overwhelming.

I didn’t write this for her or for myself necessarily but just to communicate the value of sharing grief experiences. On the other side of processing my own grief, I have grown close to my girlfriend’s family. They are my family now too and I love them. Her uncle who is currently in the hospital lost his wife, after her battle with cancer, right before the Covid pandemic. That was like going through what I went through with my mom all over again, just a few years later, but over a prolonged period of decline. So, I know how incredibly rough it was and has been on him and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s just been waiting for his opportunity to join her. 

Watching her family go through that then was heartbreaking and I feel deeply for them again now, being back here again with them in such a relatively short period of time. My girlfriend’s mom and her sister have also just lost their mother and it’s possible that their brother may not be far behind. Her uncle’s two sons and their families are right in the middle of it with the hospital care and the quality of life decisions that are getting made while their dad doesn’t have his wishes on paper and can’t clearly communicate with any consistency. 

Any individual piece of this would be a lot and there is still plenty of uncertainty ahead. I have no exclusive claim on loss or trauma, and grief looks different for everyone. We don’t all move through the stages at the same pace. Sometimes not even at all. I don’t know exactly what to do. I am not even sure that there is anything to do per se, so I do what I’m most accustomed to doing. I write and hope that it helps someone. 

Thank you for reading and if you or someone you know may benefit from hearing something like this, please consider sharing it.

4 thoughts on “Why It’s Important To Share Grief”

  1. Nick, sending all the love your way. I will try and find this essay I have at home on this very topic and send it off to you. Much love, Kath

  2. This is beautifully written, but I am sorry for the circumstances that compel it to be written. Sending you all the love I always so plus more.

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