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  • Writer's pictureJen C

Grief is a journey

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Grief is hard. Grief is raw…and if you do not appropriately tackle your grief it will literally consume you.

Everyone has a story about their grief. They have lost a loved one, whether it be a spouse, parent, child, or dear friend. No two stories are the same as grief is our own personal journey. This is my story.

My grief journey began on Leap Day 2020 a mere days before COVID-19 took over the US and shut down the country. I was forty-three years old when I lost my mother very unexpectedly. She went to sleep in her chair that night and entered into a deep slumber that would last for eternity. I was not ready. At 68, I do not believe SHE was ready. At least I would like to think she was not ready. She had two granddaughters and a grandson to watch grow up. She had a wonderful marriage to my father that was such a deep love and should have lasted for years to come.

The call came in the middle of the night and I missed the call. This is a stark lesson that I pass on to you: do not leave your phone on silent. I know we are bombarded with the dings and chimes of emails being delivered and social media messages that are such important messages to check out that meme. I joke but we can all relate. My Dad had left me a voicemail to call him immediately. I did not hear my phone buzz from the voicemail. I was awoken about an hour later to my daughter throwing open my bedroom door to hand her phone to me. My sister could not reach me so she tried my oldest daughter. I took the phone to hear my sister sobbing that Mom was dead. It still chills me to this day. I looked at my phone to check the time and saw numerous missed calls. My heart sank. I immediately called my father to let him know I was on my way. I was in denial though. My mother could not “be dead”. We did not have all the facts. I picked up my sister and headed to my childhood home.

As I entered the door I was greeted by the police. It was a blur at the time but this moment is etched in my brain forever. There, on the floor, was my mother covered with a sheet. Why did the paramedics not try to save her? Why did she not transported to the hospital? Why? Because she was already gone. My Dad was sobbing in the kitchen. All I could do was hug him and apologize for missing that call. This is a guilt that will stay with me forever.

The next few hours were an absolute blur. My siblings and I had a pact: I am the more logical, unemotional one. I would jump to the business and arrangements. I lacked the human touch, never having the right words. My siblings were comfort-givers. They would take lead and take care of everyone else.

I phoned the funeral home to make arrangements to transport my mother. Phoned our brother who was out of town enjoying a weekend getaway. Phoned endless relatives to pass on the news. My first call was to my Aunt. “Aunt Pam, my mother is gone and I don’t know what to do.” I didn’t know what to do. I had never planned a funeral before. I had never experienced this type of loss. I had no idea what to expect.

We picked out her clothes for the viewing. Did we need a bra or shoes? We had no idea. What should the prayer cards read? How many days did we want a viewing? Did we want a mass or prayer service? All of the things you don’t think about until you’re in the moment. Ultimately, we were able to have a wonderful goodbye for my mother. A week later the country shut down and we were quarantined. I’m forever thankful that she was properly celebrated.

Grieving during a quarantine is difficult. There were no in-person therapist visits. No support groups. No hugs. We had each other on a screen. My grief journey was stalled. No healing. I became a caregiver for my father. I cooked for him, taught him to cook a little, paid bills. Ran the house. Six months later, I would encounter the same situation.

I lost my father on September 19th, 2020. We had spent the day together at the zoo as my brother proposed to his fiancé. An all-around family day with my siblings and the father’s grandchildren. It couldn’t have been a better day. As I dropped him off at home he had mentioned heart burn. I lamented that it was probably the hot dogs we had at the zoo as I was feeling icky too. We brushed it off and he agreed to take some medication, a quick hug, and promises to call and check on him later that night. At 7pm my future sister-in-law called. I almost didn’t take the call. My father was having a heart attack and the paramedics were at the house. OK, I can handle this. Dad had open-heart surgery years before, he’d probably have a bit in the hospital but he’d be fine, right? I wasn’t so sure. “Ed, I’m not ready to go through this again,” as I left the house to head to the hospital. I phoned my sister from the car, explained what I knew, and said I’d call here after I got there to assess the situation.

As I pulled into the hospital lot the paramedics pulled in with my father, sirens singing in the evening. It was chilling to know that was my father. Sirens still chill me to this day. I was immediately taken back to “the quiet room” by the chaplain. It was dire but they were doing all they could and would continue to. As my brother, his fiancé, and I waited patiently we called my sister to make her way down. Ultimately, she wouldn’t make it in time. Dad was suffering with every chest compression and was up and down so many times we knew it was futile. We just knew. I made the decision to let him go. My grief journey would continue.

This is a PSA that if you’re not an organ donor you might reconsider. Dad wasn’t able to donate much but they were able to take his eyes and tissue. Mid-America Transplant treated us with such respect during such a difficult time, still reeling from the evening’s emotions. We made the same calls, made the same arrangements. We did not have the same farewell that we had for my mother but it was still nice.

It took me years to heal. I do have some parting advice if you find yourself starting your grief journey.

Rely on others. My siblings and I had each other and I had my family. I found that a lot of people say “let me know if there’s anything we can do” and they mean well. Even if it’s a night out or a night in. I found that initially keeping busy held the grieving at bay but I was simply ignoring it. Eventually I would share my story and talk to others about the childhood I had. Rely on others. They’ll listen.

Rely on support groups. I attended a grief support group and this was very helpful. It was helpful to share my journey and listen to others share their journey. We were on our journey together.

Rely on your faith. No matter what faith you have. I found that for me it was comforting to know my parents were together again.

Rely on a counselor. Once the quarantine had lifted I kept regular appointments with my therapist. It was incredibly helpful to talk through it, process my grief, and learn ways to redirect and retrain my brain to not replay the vivid negative memories surrounding their deaths.

This is my personal grief journey. Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope that my experience resonates with others and to know that you’re not alone. Be patient with yourself. There is no timeline for grief.

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