I was stopped at the grocery store, again, recently when I passed an acquaintance who wanted to tell me how sorry she was to hear about my father-in-law’s passing. I keep saying the same thing over and over: That he gave us enough time so we could all gather, we were all with him at the end, it was super peaceful and super fast, and that is a blessing. That it sucks for us, but was the best case scenario for him, and we are at peace.
And that’s the truth. We are. Even my mother-in-law.
Processing grief is … well. I had a really hard time with this one at first. I couldn’t reconcile the sight of my father-in-law unresponsive in that hospital bed with the man I knew to be an unending ball of energy. But as the week unfolded and the inevitable occurred, that feeling of anger and denial were replaced with gratitude. For the love and support we were shown (I mean, my friend Beth and her husband Jess actually left the funeral reception to get me a Trisha-friendly lunch. They asked the girls what I could eat and presented me with a bag. I can’t even tell you what that meant). For the memories we have of my father-in-law. That the Walkers are a close-knit bunch and readily support and love each other.
This is the easiest grief process I’ve ever experienced. And at first, I was wondering if maybe that meant I was weird or that some sort of something was missing in me, if I wasn’t still a wreck two months after the accident.
But I’ve realized that grief is different in every situation. I completely lost my shit at my grandfather’s funeral. It took me two years to get over my Grandma M’s death — which surprised me a bit because she had dementia issues for several years at the end and wasn’t even really the same grandma anymore; you’d think I’d have already processed the grief of losing that relationship. (She called Abby “Trisha,” and Johanna was “Trisha’s sister.” Well, she did rather love me a lot.) My lovely Aunt Jan passed away in February, and there is sadness there, but we also knew that was coming. (Although there’s grief in knowing ahead of time and coming to terms with it.) My Uncle Bob’s passing seemed like the end of an era.
There have been more losses, of course — some more intangible, like the miscarriage I had in 2003, and I would even count my jealousy at couples with two kids in this category, that loss of something that you never had, before I got pregnant with Johanna. And each has had varying degrees of grief.
I’m an English major, not a therapist, so I don’t have any grief tips or websites you should look up to help you “get over” a loss. I hate that phrase anyway: Get over. Screw you, I’ll take as long as I need, but you never “get over” something like the loss of a person, so why is that even the goal?
What I’ve learned from this latest loss is this: That it’s okay to feel what you feel as you feel it. That there are no rules for grief. That death might be inevitable, but it is still surprising. That all I can do is embrace this messy existence.
Accepting the unknown is hard for me — I don’t like surprises — but that’s another lesson this experience has taught me: It’s all unknown. All you can do is react. And positive or negative, that choice is yours.