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Knowing Grief

I can remember when I was about six or seven, my parents sat me down and explained that my grandpa had passed away. I didn't fully understand it at the time. I'd only met the man a handful of times. I couldn't understand why everyone was so upset. I don't remember going to the funeral, just the look on my dad's face when he explained that his dad wasn't here anymore. He seemed so sad, but I didn't understand why. This was my first real interaction with loss and it didn't really seem to phase me.

Then, when I was about nine or ten, my grandma loaded me and my sisters in her car and we headed to Minnesota. I remember asking her where we were going, and she said we were going to visit her dad. He hadn't been doing well. I'd met my mom's grandpa a few dozen times. He lived about six hours or so away from us, so we usually visited in the summer months. He had a large white house on a small acreage near a creek. I remember that my great grandpa was a quiet man. He wasn't especially tall, he always looked extremely frail to me, and he was a terrible cook. These are the only things I remember about him. Turns out my grandma was trying to get up there before he passed away. We didn't make it. About an hour before we would have been pulling up to the acreage, we stopped at a gas station and checked in with the family there. He'd passed just moments before we'd called. I remember my grandma crying and I remember feeling sad for her. She was so devastated over the loss of her father. I couldn't comprehend the grief that she was dealing with. All I felt was empathy for the people that were devastated over his loss.

My senior year of high school I had lost my mom's brother in law, my dad's aunt and his uncle. Then a few months later my mom called me out of school to go say goodbye to her brother, Randy. He'd been sick and she knew he didn't have long left. When we got to the house, it was just my aunt and my grandpa in the house with Randy. When I got to see my uncle, he couldn't speak. He used a whiteboard and marker to express what he needed. He told me he loved me and held my hand. Throughout the day I watched as everyone cared for Randy and made him as comfortable as they possibly could. Slowly, the house filled with people coming to say their goodbyes and express their condolences to the family. Some said unbearably sweet things, while others took out their frustrations and anger about their loss of him. Randy had just lost his partner, David and I remember my grandpa saying Randy died of a broken heart. I remember the thought scaring the hell out of me. To love someone so deeply that, that love kills you when you lose them... I couldn't imagine it. He was always so fun and energetic. He was the kind of person that drew you to him. He had a way of making you feel special and wanted. Randy's death was hard. Harder than anything I had gone through before. I couldn't imagine the pain I was about to go through. I'd never realized how hard losing someone you loved could be.

Over the next ten years I lost more people. My great grandma had lost all of her children, save for my grandma, before she passed. She was 98 when she died and she'd emphatically expressed that she was done. She refused to outlive her last child. Who could blame her? It was still hard though. Harder than the loss of my uncle because we were so much closer than I'd been with Randy. Then, a few years ago, we lost my grandma too. She'd fought cancer and won more times than we'd thought possible, before finally losing her last battle. She was tired, and she didn't want to outlive any of her children. My dad was sick and she didn't want to live to see him die. This one wrecked me. I remember as they unplugged her machines and silenced her alarms, everyone sat and cried. She'd drawn her last breath just a few weeks before Christmas. Everyone left the room and I asked for a moment. I held her cold, lifeless hand and sang her the only gospel song I knew; Wade in the Water. I cried through each word, before finally standing and walking to the door. We headed straight to the funeral home and amidst all of the loss and grief everyone looked to me to make the arrangements. Me, the youngest of three daughters. I was surrounded by my sisters, my mom and dad, my aunt, and my grandma's husband. They all looked to me. Over the next three days I drove myself into the ground to make sure every small detail was handled. After the funeral, I left with a car full of memorial flowers. I unloaded them all into my house and when I locked the door behind me, I sunk to the floor and cried. I was finally allowed to fall apart. Everything had been taken care of, everything was done. The only thing left to do was allow myself to grieve.

I never imagined grief could get any worse than that. I never believed you could feel anything any deeper than I felt the loss of my grandma. I was so, incredibly wrong. My dad had been diagnosed with liver failure about a year before my grandma passed. He spent months fighting to get better before he finally landed himself in the hospital. We spent two months with him in the hospital. He moved from a regular floor to a rehab unit, where he broke his rib after a fall. He was in the ICU twice and had flat lined once before they decided to send him home on hospice. You don't know what it is to love someone so completely, that you would do anything for them. You don't understand that level of love until you're the one that has to take care of them. When someone you loved has to depend on you for everything. My dad was my superhero, he was larger than life and everyone that knew him loved and respected him. He earned everything he had in life and he did right by people. Here he was, in a hospital bed, in the middle of his and my moms living room. Medical equipment and monitors lay everywhere. I never thought I would have to manage his meds, monitor his vitals, or care for him in the way we did. We cleaned and bathed him, we fed and clothed him, we changed and wiped him. Then, on the day he turned 55 he passed away. He'd been home one month before he died. I never could have imagined that I would have lost my Dad a few months after my 30th birthday. It was too soon. I was too young. He was too damn young.