Tag Archives: grief

Resurrection in the Living

Growing up, I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated or understood the meaning behind the Easter holiday. I loved chocolate and bunnies, and I liked that the season was one of beginnings and joy. But this year, the idea of re-birth and transformation hits home in a new way because, unlike when I was a kid, I have contemplated the first step in resurrection: death.

The sermon at my church today asked us to consider what part of us is stagnant and needs resurrecting. As I sat listening to the rolling r’s of my Scottish minister’s words, I realized that grief is its own process of death and resurrection. I have been slowly coming back to life since my dad died two years ago, and this new person, with new perspectives and a permanently altered existence, takes some getting used to.

When my dad passed away, some pieces of me froze, some parts disappeared, and some broke into unrecognizable shapes. The depression of grief is like an emotional and mental death (though it also has many physical aspects as well). I lost touch with who I was. There was serious stagnation and hopelessness in my heart, and key pieces of myself seemed unreachable.

The hardest part of any change is the loss. When that loss is a fundamental and formative person, such as a parent, it permeates every aspect of your identity. But following death and loss, we have the potential to grow into something entirely new. Sometimes, people like to simplify this and say it ‘makes you stronger,’ but the reality is more complex.

Starting over is a long process, and it’s scary, lonely, and difficult. Maybe we end up stronger in some ways, but also more sensitive or more guarded in others. Maybe we aren’t better or worse, just different. A few more jagged edges, a new scar or two, and our insides completely rearranged.

It took me at least nine months after my dad passed away to start to feel emotions on the positive end of the spectrum again. It took another six before my shifting pieces seemed to begin to settle into their new homes. And now, two years and two months after my dad passed, I can finally start to peek inside my sensitive newness with a gentle and open-minded wonder.

Like opening a box after its been rolled down a flight of stairs, I don’t know what to expect.

My point, I suppose, is that the original resurrection story takes only a few days. Renewal and transformation seem to be presented immediately to the world. Humans do have a fascination with the big reveal. Makeover shows take advantage of this, as do diet and exercise programs. We like being able to have a date to declare a ‘new’ personhood. But my experience is not like that at all.

When you’ve died in some way, approaching life again can feel like inching your way out of a dark cave. You need time to adjust to the light, the air, the rain, the grass. And even when you finally reach the open world, you will be unsteady on your new feet.

Like a baby, we have to learn to do everything again as a new person. I think it goes a little faster the second time around, but that doesn’t mean it happens in a week. Or a month. Or a year. We slowly discover where each piece has fallen, which parts of us are nowhere to be found, and where there may be new nooks and corners to explore.

Maybe resurrection is more about the left behind than the deceased. Whether or not you believe Jesus was physically resurrected, it is apparent that his followers were forever altered by his death. Their personal journey of loss and renewal is its own resurrection story, and it’s one I think we can all relate to. Grief is one of the most unique and vital of human experiences, bringing us to our lowest despair, our fullest love, and perhaps, our truest resurrection.

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What Young Grievers Want You To Know

The best tactic of any villain is to isolate you from those you care about–just ask any fictional protagonist’s best friend.

Grief is the ultimate villain. It knows exactly how to make you most vulnerable, inflicting a lethal combination of loneliness, irritability, and self-doubt. It touches everyone eventually, and we know it’s a part of the deal we make when we love someone, but somehow, we still underestimate it.

We don’t understand it. Society doesn’t really accept it. So, the grieving are often left in the clutches of the villain’s most powerful tool: shame.

I’m tired of allowing grief to be the unknown enemy. I am reaching out to you, fellow grievers, because I want to know what your life looks like after loss. I am most interested in hearing from the younger crowd, like myself, because I think we have a particular challenge that is rarely discussed outside of counseling offices and support groups.

Being young, we’re supposed to be in our prime, full of the energy and passion for life that gets us through the grueling early years of our career and helps us grow, explore, and fall in love. Our friends and peers are mostly doing that. Are we? Grief changed so much for me, and I don’t think I’m the only one who wishes they had a bit of that pre-loss optimism back. I’m probably not the only one who feels like the world expects from me a totally different story than the one I have to share.

I would like to feature guest bloggers on these themes. If you’ve lost someone close to you, and you have something you’d like to share, please reach out to me. What do you want people to know about your grief? Where did you find support, and where did you wish you had more? How has life changed for you? What do you know now that you didn’t before?

I’ll start with my own post on the topic, but I hope to have more perspectives to share. Everyone has a unique experience and process, and I want to hear about yours.

If you’re interested in sharing, please write to:
elenamcoe@gmail.com

Off Again: Leaving the City I Love

Today I officially hand over my heart from one city to another.

Seattle has been my emotional home since my sophomore year of college (2010), comfortable with the dreary, coffee shop streets nestled in the middle of mountain and sea., Dripping from winter rain storms, boots squishing into tiled university buildings, the strongest bitter kick of a Stumptown latte, diving into chilly Washington water, the indescribable perfection of a spring forest smell, swing dancing swivels on shiny wood floors… So much of the beauty of life in this city is sensory.

As I type this, I sit in yet another coffee shop near Greenlake–one I’ve never been in (and that’s saying something)–finalizing plans and getting things done before working up the nerve to drive down I-5 and not look back.

Of course, I will look back. I will even come back. But right now, I know that it is important for me to move, without hesitation or regret, forward. My adventures this summer have brought me through so many new places–physically, of course, but also emotionally and mentally. I find myself a little more awake than I was when I left, and for that, I am most grateful.

I never would have expected that this year would bring me so many positive things. I enter this new space of love and relationship and connection with people that I had almost thought was impossible after my dad passed away. I still struggle, don’t get me wrong, but unlike the first year after losing my dad, I can see the beauty in that struggle a little more now.

My hope for my move down south is that it feels fresh, revitalizing, new. I feel like a different person now, one who has been shaped by my specific grief and love, and as much as I love Seattle, it represents me as I was and not necessarily who I am becoming.

A new place doesn’t necessarily mean things will be better. It isn’t a solution to any problems. But, there’s a lot to be said for the way places hold memories. Seattle has me all over it. And I have Seattle all over me. I’ll take a little bit of this great city with me to its southern sister, and I’ll let it keep little ghost memories of the Elena that used to live here. College-age Elena who made goofy YouTube videos and did choreographed dances and sang in the choir and didn’t know what she was doing at all. The most carefree Elena will always live here. I’ll miss her, but she won’t be forgotten.

So, Seattle, take care of yourself. I’m sure I’ll see you around.

My Next Adventure is…

Much more local. I had to put a lot of my dad’s stuff into storage a year and a half ago because I had no other place to put it all. I don’t own a house, and all my family lives more than 12 hours driving distance from me. Even then, most of them don’t have the space to store this stuff for me.

So now, I’m moving out of state, and I needed to feel a real fresh start. So, this stuff has to be figured out. A lot of my goal here is to sort and sell. Some of this stuff is being shipped to family members, some will be shipped ahead of me to my new apartment. But these videos will hopefully keep me sane while I figure that all out. Wish me luck!

Processing

With everything that has happened in the last year of my life, I’ve been thinking lately about processing. Most of the time, when I say that I need to process something, I mean that I need some time and space to work through my feelings and thoughts about it until I reach some kind of definitive answer or opinion. There is nothing more that I hate as an introvert than spewing off half-formulated ideas and opinions that may or may not even be what I actually think.

But lately–and when I say lately, I mean since January–I don’t think I’ve been processing properly. It’s as if there is literally too much to process. I desperately crash through all the thoughts and feelings without ever reaching any kind of solid ground, and before too long, my brain completely shuts down in an “Elvis has left the building” style, exhausted from all the fruitless effort.

Evidence of my lack of processing is what weighs on me at the end of the day when I think about all the weird things I said or did that I don’t feel like I wanted to do or say. It’s the feeling of, “That’s not me. Why did I do that?” Gradually, when this continues to happen, the question becomes, “Is that me? Do I do that? What if I don’t like that I do that? Why am I still doing that?”

Having narrowed down the primary cause of this mini-identity crisis, I am realizing that somehow, I need to find a better way to sift through my feelings and emotions to process more effectively. But… how?

I decided that since I’m a word person, and since I really like etymology, it might be useful (or at the very least, interesting) to look up what it really means to ‘process’ something.

Some of the definitions of ‘process’ as a verb:
a: to perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it.
b:  to subject to or handle through an established usually routine set of procedures
c:  to integrate sensory information received so that an action or response is generated
d: to subject to examination or analysis

Interesting!

But even more interesting is that when process was first used as a verb around 1530, it was primarily referring to the legal process (think prosecutor). Talk about having rules and order.

Somehow, when I think of processing emotional experiences, I don’t think about doing it in a mechanical or procedural way. But, maybe that’s noteworthy. Maybe processing huge emotional or intellectual ideas could be streamlined into a more task-oriented format. After all, when you write in a journal or talk through something, you have to sort at least some of your thoughts before you do so. Conversations don’t function well if you bounce all over the place and keep changing your mind. We already employ some systematic efforts in any form of communication, so it seems reasonable that if you have more to talk about, more organization may be helpful.

Another fascinating thing about these definitions is that they refer to a change occurring in the ‘process’ of ‘processing.’ While we all know that big life events can change us, I still think it’s a pretty scary concept to explore. I do, obviously, want to process everything that has happened so that I can feel lighter, more sure of myself, more aware, more open again. But, there’s definitely some fear associated with coming out on the other side and not being able to recognize yourself.

The third definition is most interesting to me because it says when we process things we generate an action or response. It makes me wonder: What action or response can I expect once I have ‘processed’ the last six months? I think this is also the challenge of processing because we have to admit to having an end goal, even when we know we may never reach it. It’s sort of like wanting to be happy or healthy or some other equally ambiguous and individually defined adjective–if you don’t define it for yourself, you’ll never reach it, but if you do define it, you feel limited. What if I reach my definition of happy, but I’m still not as happy as I could be? Similarly, what if I lay out goals for processing, but when I reach them, I still have more processing to do? Do we feel discouraged by that? Inspired? Disheartened? Motivated?

I still feel the gargantuan weight of all the things that I need to do, and it’s been easy to shove aside this whole processing business. But I know I can’t do that forever. So, I guess I will have to gradually steel myself up for the emotional, unpredictable, and turbulent process. But this time, maybe I will be armed with charts and lists and schedules.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Things My Dad Gave Me

I grew up essentially a daddy’s girl. I didn’t always love fishing, but I found myself wandering half asleep through a tackle shop at 4 AM more than once because it was something I was doing with my dad. I didn’t ever really get into science fiction, but I read through a lot of the Xanth series because my dad loved them. My dad was the one who sang me Eidelweiss when he tucked me in and taught me the German ‘mein hoot’ song that I loved. My dad was the one who usually made my lunches and drove me to school. My dad was the one who taught me how to keep track of units when I was doing pre-pre algebra in fifth grade. My dad was the one who took me camping and read stories around campfires while I acted them out. My dad was the one who bought me candy bars when he went to get gas–Crunch bar or Hershey’s Cookies N Cream, please. My dad was the one who took me out to see movies on Saturday afternoons. My dad was the one who knew what the weather was doing and whether we needed to go into the basement during tornado warnings. My dad was the one who read me The Hobbit and The OZ series. He was the person responsible for my understanding the difference between kinds of fish and different ways to catch them. He was the reason I was proud to be smart and careful with my money. He is also the reason I can take off in a car and never be afraid of being too far away from the familiar. My dad was smart, capable, thorough, and in my young mind, never wrong.

From my dad, I learned how to be logical, responsible, practical, and prepared. My dad grilled more guilt into me than any Catholic institution I’ve ever been a part of could have. Integrity. Honesty. My dad was the one I remember scolding me when I was three and had drawn on the couch in green marker and lied about it. If there was one thing I knew about my dad, it was that he never lied.

In high school, I naturally grew apart from my parents, as most teenagers do. But there was something else going on. I knew my parents were unhappy, but they never talked about it. Instead, they isolated themselves from one another, and I chose to isolate myself from them. After all, if your parents are avoiding their feelings, why would you expect your feelings to be validated? Things got even more distant when I went to school and learned that my dad had been drinking consistently for my whole life without my knowledge. I couldn’t believe it. I was incredibly upset to know that something so big had been kept a secret from me for so long. I was even more upset at the damage this new information did to my image of my dad. Since my family was still pretty much not talking about it, I kept to my old game plan: avoid dealing with parents at all costs. Two years later, my parents divorced, and I was thankful to be far away from the whole thing. But of course, the result: I had become pretty distant from them both.

That being said, I feel like I never really got to have an adult relationship with my dad. I never got a chance to have ‘real’ conversations with him the way I imagine fathers and their grown daughters do. While I was taking care of him, the stress and unresolved feelings made those conversations near impossible for me to initiate, and he certainly didn’t bring them up either.

Compound this strange, abrupt end of a relationship with the challenge of suddenly having to sort through and get rid of a life-time supply of photos, books, clothes, and all sorts of stuff my dad had accumulated, and suddenly I’m confronting the fact that I didn’t really know my father that well at all.

In finding old marriage and divorce decrees, aged brochures from vacations, a couple old college essays and awards, family heirlooms, and millions of pictures, I have been given a look into my dad’s past that I never had before. I have been reminded of the things I sort of knew about my dad’s life, but didn’t take seriously because I was just a kid. The idea that my dad lost his parents when he was about my age, and that we never once really talked about it, is one of those heavy, darkly ironic truths that haunts me.

I’m lucky to get to know my dad through relics, but I’ll always be sad that he can’t tell me himself how all those experiences made him feel. I’m disappointed I never asked. Never really paid attention. Never really got the chance to.

I think sometimes we forget that life isn’t like the movies. If our only concept of what happens when people die is what we see in film, we might expect that great life-altering deathbed conversation that seems so integral to literature and movie plots. Well, I’m here to tell you that this beautiful moment doesn’t always happen. I don’t know that I can speak to its regularity in general, but I can say for sure that it is not a given.

So, I guess if I have any advice to you, it’s to start listening. Start paying more attention, start asking more questions. Because the future is incredibly uncertain, and if you want to know someone–and I mean really know them–now is the time, while they are here to tell you.

Life in Too Many Water Metaphors

I’m beginning to understand just how much work life is.

As I was inching along with the monotonous I-5 traffic the other day, I couldn’t help sinking into this devastating realization like quicksand. For the last six months–has it really been that long?–my life has been at its turbulent best. I’ve been frantically treading through the tumult of legal terms, the undertow of financial changes, the huge emotional whirlwinds… Are you getting tired of the imagery yet?

I used to think that we could choose to take on new stages of our life when we were ready. If you aren’t ready for college or grad school, you work a few years first. If you aren’t ready to buy a house, you don’t. If you don’t want to deal with a car, don’t get one of those either. If you don’t want kids just yet, you take all the necessary precautions, and barring some crazy accident, you don’t get pregnant. If you don’t want to figure out how to invest your money right now, you can just wait until you do. And by ‘ready,’ I don’t mean prepared. You may never be fully prepared for anything in life. But I guess I thought you would get a little more chance to choose when you embark on certain adventures.

But it seems I was a little delusional. I am sure that some of those things can indeed be postponed if you are lucky enough. But my particular circumstances have required a lot of abrupt change. I feel very much that an entire life I didn’t want has been handed to me. As I go through the daily motions now, all I can think about is how little I care about everything that is suddenly my responsibility. I care inherently because I know it has to be done, but that’s really poor motivation for getting through 90% of your life.

And the saddest part of that realization to me? That I am definitely not the only one that this happens to. Life throws us curve balls all the time, and as kids, it’s typically our parents who deal with whether or not we strike out.

Maybe it’s partly just me being a naive young twenty-something who has finally understood the truth about adulthood. The harsh reality is that no one wants to do their taxes. No one enjoys muddling through jargon they don’t understand (be it legal, medical, scientific, etc.). No one likes going to the dentist. No one likes paying the dentist, especially. But most of all, no one enjoys giving up pieces of their life because they have to take a second job, or because their spouse wants a divorce, or because their sibling is a drug-addict. No one wants to deal with custody battles. No one would choose to see a loved-one with a disability or a terminal illness. These are not easy things, not emotionally, not financially, and not intellectually. No one asks for a life like that.

These tsunamis wash away pieces of the life you always thought you’d build for yourself. Your beautiful, mythical palace gradually loses bricks and glitz, while you struggle to simply rebuild the retaining wall in the midst of the flood.

I always used to say these struggles were beautiful in their own way–that life was only so wonderful because it was so terrible, too. In my head, I can still see that perspective, but it’s a lot harder to feel it in your heart. Lately, when I look at what could be the light at the end of the tunnel, I can’t help the dread that it’s only a barred window of a jail cell. I realize now just how much your perspective has to matter to your happiness. But that doesn’t make it easy to stop hating the thing you feel chained to. In fact, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t make it a little harder.