WARNING: This is not a feel good open letter. It is a raw, unauthorized, unapologetic rant about death and grief regard to any consequences. Side effects may include a damper on your holiday spirit.
I’m in Cologne, Germany strolling through an enormous crowd of fellow tourist inside the Cologne Cathedral. It’s only a few steps more to get to the small room inside on the left of the gigantic historical architecture. You see, I visited this place last October and I discovered the room that only a few entered. I assumed this because of the sign “Quiet Please” and “No Photos”. This was the first place I cried since her funeral. Twenty minutes straight with my last tiny travel size Kleenex crumbling in my pocket. Damp, full of tears and snot. I was sitting in a pew amongst a few others. Some silent. Some kneeling at the altar. What a beautiful place to grieve quietly.
Unfortunately, that afternoon my quiet room was roped off from all tourists for private ceremony and confession. Devastated, I turned around walking opposite of the hundreds bustling toward the entrance to climb the 533 steps of the Tower for an amazing view at the top and to see the St. Peter’s Bell. I’m sure this was far more interesting than an agnostic ugly crying inside a world heritage site. Me and my new pack of tissue would have to find another time and another place.
New at this, because lack of experience of someone so close dying suddenly, I’ve noticed my grief makes other people uncomfortable. And, I get it. I never knew what to say or do when a friend or colleague had a loved one die suddenly or from a terminal ailment of some sort. I felt uneasy and I didn’t want others to feel the same about my loss. So, when we scheduled a return trip to Cologne, I was ready to grieve amongst total strangers (my people) without pressure.
At home there are plenty of places to mourn in silence mostly in the bathroom of my apartment. I know my sweetheart wouldn’t mind me having a good cry in his arms but I often avoid it.
In the beginning, I found solace in binge watching Netflix and movies but even those ‘escapes’ seem to find a way to prompt bereavement even in the tiniest form. So what’s left? Happy holiday movies, right? Love Actually, The Holiday, Elf…yay!
Then without even thinking about it…The Family Stone. The Best Man Holiday. Characters die. Shit.
I think I’m ready to blow.
Suffering is personal. But I believe there is a danger in it becoming too personal that it leads to isolation. And, desperation.
I’ve avoided framing the last artwork she gave me from her adult coloring book session at the senior center. I have dreams that trick me into believing she’s going to call me soon about the ‘fancy’ new coloring pencils and markers she wanted for her birthday. When I don’t think about stuff like this, I can go about life as if nothing happened. But, no one can escape the first holiday without the presence of a loved one. No peach cobbler. No Christmas wreaths from the Senior Center. Nothing.
One positive is social media. It’s pretty fucked up to see posts on Facebook of others lamenting about the loss of a grandmother or college buddy post info about his father’s memorial service – and feel good about it.
When I do have a unique opportunity to talk with a friend or colleague about loss, it’s always brief, uncomfortable, and yet satisfying. Greg and Sam just lost their dad, best friend. Tina’s mom and sister passed away in the same year. Janine lost her adopted mom who saved her life. These posts are countless and they bring sadness but I cannot deny the joy of knowing that I’m not alone in my grief.
Melissa still has the same pit in her stomach when something reminds her of her mom who passed 20 years ago. My gut hasn’t been the same since the day my mom passed and it literally makes me sad and laugh at the same time. You see, her hugs always began with the usually bear-like embrace then she’d grab my waist and say “You look good, kid.” I’d, of course, tell her I gained a few or felt like a cow. Now, would kill for that waist grab.
At the risk of TMI to friends, family and strangers, I recently experienced a breakdown of sorts. It’s hard to describe other than a two-day marathon of crying and straight up depression. If I had to bet what was the trigger of this freakout, my money goes to the movie Wind River. Home alone one day I was in the mood for a good thriller featuring one my favorite actors, Jeremy Renner. Turns out later in the film he suffered the loss of his daughter a few years ago and when confronted by a friend who just found out about the death of his own daughter about how to cope, this was his response:
“You can’t steer yourself from the pain. You have to face the pain of the situation before you can move on.”
I feel for all my friends and anyone who’ll experience an emptiness this holiday. I feel the most for my brother and sister. It has literally torn us apart as people and family and no amount of Steelers football or Netflix can provide a true escape.
No one wants to deal with pain. It’s much easier to push it way. But, the only way to do this during the holidays would be heavy drinking or flying to a remote island. My liver is exhausted and I will always need wifi.
I’m angry. Fuck cancer. Fuck death. Fuck everything.
I’m also extremely sad and I want my mommy. Pretty pathetic but true. This Christmas I’m asking those who will listen to let me cry out loud…in your presence…with egg nog in hand. I don’t want to go to a room to sob in silence. If it makes you uncomfortable, with all due respect, YOU go to the bathroom and “NOT” cry. I demand hugs, kisses and tissue (but I ain’t too proud to beg either).
As much as I would like to believe this rant will have healing powers to deal with surviving Christmas, I have finally taken a step forward and scheduled an appointment with a grief counselor sooner than later with hope to not cancel out of fear and guilt. A recent book club read, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, alludes to finding who you are and your purpose through suffering.
If I’m going to survive the rest of my life without her, I have no choice but to find good in grief. I miss you Mary Gray.
***I’m offering to cyber sob with anyone who’ll take me. Tag me. DM me. Hashtag me: #forcryingoutloud #cryoutloud #imcryingoutloud