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April 2024

Last November I got a text from one of my oldest, dearest friends. She'd been following this blog and had a suggestion: "You should do a post about grief during the holidays."

She then sent this:

“Come to the hospital now” were the words I read in a text message during my back to school staff meeting in August 2022. I ran out of the auditorium, to my classroom, grabbed my car keys, and ran to my car. I knew what was happening and I wanted to throw up. I remember going around 90mph on the highway to Duke Hospital. I had my hazard lights on, hoping I wouldn’t get pulled over. I pulled into valet parking, jumped out of my car and yelled at the guy, “my Grandma is dying, take my keys” and ran into the hospital. I ran up to her room, not knowing what I was about to see. 

I could not believe this was actually happening. We had just spent 3 days together at Wrightsville Beach and it was such a special trip. I had just moved back home August 2021 to be with her, how was this already happening? I felt numb. I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt lost. I felt miserable. I felt confused. I felt hopeless. I felt heartbroken. I felt sick. I felt empty. I felt alone. I felt helpless.

When I walked into the hospital room, my precious Grandma was in the bed with her mouth open and head tilted back. Her body was there, but she was not. Seeing my mom in that moment was so difficult. She felt helpless and I felt so sad for her because she was also losing her mom and best friend. Over the next couple of hours the rest of the family came up, I cried and screamed, and we said goodbye. This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

My Grandma was my best friend. I have so many memories as a kid going over to her house and doing fun things. I was then lucky enough to live with both her and my mom growing up. She was that second parent I didn’t have. She was my biggest cheerleader, the best listener, and my favorite person. Holidays are such a tough time because I think back to all of the holidays we spent together. They were my favorite because they were spent with her. I try to create new memories and new traditions, but at the end of the day, it’ll never be the same.

I remember sitting in my parked car reading my friend's words and feeling incredibly moved. I was honored she'd shared this meaningful reflection with me. And I was so sad for her. Her loss was so huge, so consuming, so incredibly painful. Because I love her, I felt for her. 

But I did not — could not — feel what she felt. 

Hard as we may try to empathize, to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, it's not really possible, is it? It's unfortunate, but to know grief intimately we must experience it ourselves. Although I'd lost some of the most important people in my life (my Papa, my Daddy Bill, my Uncle Jack, my friend Charlie) I still couldn't fully relate to the guttural screams, the primal cries, the hollow emptiness, the physical sickness my friend described. 

And then my younger brother died. 

Pause, breathe. 

Typing those words is surreal. Surreal in the worst, most horrifying, gut-wrenching, heart-shattering way. Surreal as in: there is no way, absolutely NO WAY, that this is really happening. I will never believe it. It's not real. 

My beautiful, brilliant, thoughtful, funny, sweet brother. Here then gone, in an instant. The pain for those of us who love him and miss him is overwhelming. Unbearable. There are no words to express the depths of heartbreak, so I won't try. 

But I can use the words of the friend who texted me in November:  I felt numb. I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt lost. I felt miserable. I felt confused. I felt hopeless. I felt heartbroken. I felt sick. I felt empty. I felt alone. I felt helpless.

In the weeks after my brother's death, visiting my Mimi was one of few things getting me out of bed each day. Like the friend who texted me I, too, call my grandmother my best friend. 

Then she died. My mimi, gone. 

In a span of less than two months, I'd lost two of the people I loved most in the world. 

No words. 

There are no words. Not any "right" ones, anyway. 

Again, I thought of the text from my friend. I'd read her message and had seen she was drowning. I'd seen her pain but I didn't know her pain. I couldn't. I stood comfortably on the edge, peering down as she tried to keep her head above water. I was unable to be in the depths with her. And I preferred it that way.

Now I've been plunged into the depths. I know the pain that rushes over you and knocks you down and takes your breath away.  I know the darkness. Like I couldn't before, I now know more accurately what my friend meant when she talked about grief. 

And maybe you know, too. 

And if you do, you're not alone. 

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you feel in the pit of your stomach in the middle of the night:

you're not alone. 

I cannot pull you out, but I can tread water beside you. I know that's not enough, nothing is. But it's all I can offer — so I will.


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