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A Date Burned Into My Memory

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I can remember every detail.  Every experience.  Every word.

March 5, 1990.

The day my beloved grandfather died.

He was the only grandfather I had known.  Both of my mother’s parents had died before I was born.  But, my father’s parents made up for it in abundance.  I was the first out of twelve grandchildren.  The oldest child born to their oldest child.  I was extremely close to them.  They meant everything to me.  I worshiped them.  Through all the madness of my parents’ divorce, they were a force that kept me from swirlling away.  Just being near them made me happy.  And I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

Pop-Pop’s health had been failing for awhile.  He had been having small strokes for about a year.  Those aweful TMIs.  You could be just standing there, talking to him, and he would suddenly start talking nonsense.  A few moments later, he would be fine.  Well, as fine as he could be.  When his memory started failing, it was heart-breaking.  He was so insanely smart.  He read all the time.  He loved those big coffee table books on every imaginable topic.  You could ask him for information on just about anything, and he would reach over to a stack of books, pull out just the right one and then tell you exactly what page you would need.  It was incredible.  But, he had gotten to the point when even faces escaped him.  But not mine.  He always knew me.

I had moved about four hours away from home.  I hated being that far away, but as it goes, I followed a man – but that is another story.  As Pop-Pop spiraled even further, I would come home as much as I could.  I worked as a manager in a department store.  I would arrange my schedule so that I would open the day before a day off and then close the day after.  That enabled me to come home at least once a week.  I would spend the day at my grandparents’ home.  For a couple of months, it became my new routine.

My parents and I had planned for a few months to meet in Orlando the first weekend of March for a little visit to Disney World.  As the time drew closer, neither my father nor I wanted to be away from West Palm Beach.  We felt a little guilty about going off to have some fun, leaving my grandmother.  Yes, we knew there was plenty of other family around, but we both felt like we HAD to be there.  My grandmother encouraged us to go.  Said everything would be ok for a few days.  So, we went.  And we had a great time.  We managed to let the problems back home slip from our minds.

We got back to our rented condo late.  It had been a wonderful day.  We didn’t check in with Grandma.  We didn’t want to wake her.  And the three of us collapsed into bed, exhausted – but happy.

The call came early the next morning.  Pop-Pop was gone.  He had gotten up that morning, gotten dressed and was insisting that Grandma drive him to his tackle store.  The one he had owned and single handedly run for almost 50 years.   Grandma was fixing his breakfast.  Pop-Pop was sitting in “his chair” (the very Archie Bunker-ish recliner that no one else was allowed to sit in without prior permission).  And then he was gone.

I can still here the tone of my father’s voice as he choked out the words.

I started crying and did not stop for the next five days.

I still miss him.  Twenty-three years later.

Grief…It’s a Sneaky Little Bastard

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About four weeks ago, the man I had been dating and I decided to stop seeing one another.  Not necessarily because we wanted to, but because it was what we felt we had to do.  We had been together six months, and because of forces outside of our control, it became too, well – complicated.  So, in order to protect everyone’s sanity, we parted.  Amicably, but still – we ended what we had and have moved on to another phase in our lives.  Not exactly the outcome we expected.

The relationship feels as if it hadn’t truly run its course.  Like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, an abrupt ending to something lovely.

It is sad.  And I grieve.  Not all the time.  Not everyday.  But, that grief – it’s a sneaky little bastard.  Just when you think you have it under control – it comes and smacks you in the head.

Put the event that caused the grief in perspective.  Lost a pencil?  Don’t let it get to you!  Is it a GOLDEN pencil?  No?  Get over it!  There are more where it came from.  Take a breath.

Acknowledge the event that caused the grief.  When we have experienced a loss, we want to do anything possible to NOT think about it.  We avoid everything that might have us think about the event.  Because grief HURTS and we are hard-wired to flee from pain – physical and emotional pain.  But, by avoiding it, we never truly deal with the pain, we’ve just bottled it up – and that sneaky bastard grief can come back and slap you in the head again.

When the grief returns, feel it – then release it.  Let the grief wash over you.  Feel the pain.  Analyze what caused the flood of emotion.  Then, breathe and release it.  Release it into the  world, into the heavens, to a higher power – whatever.  Just let it go.  Give yourself the permission to feel it, then let it go.

Don’t feel guilty about releasing it.   When we experience a loss, without realizing we are even doing it, we set a “deadline” for how long we will grieve.  Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves and set a deadline WAY far away.  Then, when we start to feel better, when the grief is no longer palpable and we stop thinking about it EVERY WAKING HOUR – we feel guilty.  Guilty for not feeling the pain.  We say, “Wait a minute!  It’s only been fill in the blank number for your time!  I should still be feeling pain!”  And we begin obsessively telling ourselves over and over again to remember you are grieving.  I experienced this when my grandfather died.  I was devastated.  For several years on the anniversary of his death, I would spend the day reminding myself.  Then one year – I forgot.  Two days later, it occurred to me and I was filled with so much GUILT.  I cried for three days. I had released the grief, without even realizing it, and then punished myself for having done so.

I can’t change the fact that my relationship ended.  That is a reality.  I can’t stop the pain from coming.  But, I am going to acknowledge it – then I am going to release it.  And then realize that everything is going to be ok.

And keep that sneaky bastard – debilitating grief – from slapping me in the head.