On Losing a Family Member, Gaining a New Life, and Processing Gratitude and Loss in the Midst of Change

It's been a really chaotic and emotional month and having the time to spend in quiet, even for an extrovert like me, has been an exercise in slow-motion catharsis.
Publish date:
December 4, 2015
death, weddings, living alone, moving away, catharsis

While I was perfectly content with my Chinese-delivery-and-mostly-not-wearing-pants plans for Thanksgiving Day, Amanda Blum (who lives on the other side of the country) put me in touch with a D.C.-based friend of hers. Suddenly not only did I have a table to join, come to find he and I knew a few other people in common independently of Amanda as well.

And then there was drunken group karaoke and it was good.

It was so good, but I honestly wouldn't have minded spending the day alone either. It's been a really chaotic and emotional month and having the time to spend in quiet, even for an extrovert like me, has been an exercise in slow-motion catharsis.

My grandfather, who had been struggling with pulmonary fibrosis, died about a month ago. It was an incredibly painful loss. There are tons of metaphors out there, already established, about the way it hurts to lose someone who is part of the fabric of your identity but I think sometimes just saying it plainly is the most accurate: it hurt and it still hurts and it will continue to hurt. And that's probably how it should be so it's okay.

All of the phone calls and negotiation that led to me taking a job in north Virginia happened at the same time as the arrangements for the funeral and spending time with family. It all got jumbled up together and I didn't have the energy to sweat the job stuff because I was spending much-needed time with, like, family members I haven't seen in years.

People, not just actual family but so many loved ones, descended on my grandparents' house. Most of them brought food, because that's what you do. (There are things to be said about the kinds of foods that we bring to homes full of mourning, but I don't have the heart to say them yet. Maybe soon. I hope soon.
) We ate and we cried.

What I hadn't ever articulated until I was trying to prepare my part of the eulogy was the way my grandfather, who never met a stranger and who knew how we were related to almost everyone, had of letting you know you were loved no matter what. He might not have approved of what I was doing (he'd have been happier if I'd stayed in that small town and also maybe never gone out dancing probably), but that didn't ever make me question whether or not I was worthy of his love. I'm still not really capable of thinking about it straight on without crying so I'm going to leave that there for now, too.

Do you ever do that? Approach things in your own head kind of sideways because they're just too tender to breathe through? Maybe it's just me and maybe I should have a phone session with my old therapist. Something to add to the list.

That's all emotional digression, sorry.

The same week as my grandfather's funeral, I attended a wedding I have been so ready for: my cousin got to marry his partner FINALLY. They've only been together since high school, you know, like, 1995. It was a beautiful night and I am so fiercely joyous that I was there to be part of celebrating them. Also, the rice crispy treat wedding cake was the cutest thing ever.

It felt appropriate to bookend the week with my cousin's wedding. I felt a little hungover afterwards from the emotional whiplash but it felt right, like there was some balance to be found between the two events.

And then I got a new job. And had a week and a half to get my shit together to move away from the home I'd spent nearly twenty years building.
(And had another wedding to attend, one with a keg and a bounce house and the family that we've built for ourselves in Orlando.)

I miss my husband Ed. I miss our pets. (I've been asking Ed for pictures of our dog literally every day.) I miss those wonderful friends I got the luxury of spending years with. I miss our stuff! At least some of our stuff. And I'm glad that he'll be here this weekend and I'm glad I got to spend Thanksgiving emulating my grandfather and figuring out the connections between me and other people because I have also never met a stranger.

But the hours alone and in the dark and the quiet mean I have had time without distraction from all of the things.

And in this temporary space, the intensity of recent events has been companionable instead of frightening or overwhelming. Grief and mourning and missing what is distant and being so joyful and feeling happiness like a splinter: that's what it all is, all at the same time.