He is the strongest man I know. He is the most faithful man I know. He is the most influential man I know. And now he is gone.
This incredible man, the man who was more of a father than an uncle to me, lost his battle to cancer. He had beaten it once, so I was hopeful. But round two of this ghastly disease bested the best man I know. It was crushing. The weight was heavy on my chest. I felt as if my body just was moving with the forced motions of this overwhelming time. I felt as if I had to be strong for everyone else and never take my feelings into consideration. I didn’t want to process this loss yet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the most incredible man there ever was. So, I remained strong. I wrote the obituary. I spoke at the funeral. I helped make the floral arrangements. I sat front row at the graveyard, next to my grieving family. I held their hands. I took my place at the luncheon afterwards. I smiled and hugged people I hadn’t seen in years.
I was vacant. A hollow version of myself.
Three weeks later, as I was attempting to avoid the emotions associated with his death, we got another phone call that shattered my emotional evasiveness. This time I got word that I had lost another incredible man in my life.
He is my “work husband”. He is the family you get to choose. He is strong. He is capable. He is the most giving and loyal human I know. He is always early and always eager to lend a hand. And now he too, is gone.
This is it. I can’t do this anymore. I’m never answering the phone again. This madness has to stop. I haven’t even been able to process losing my uncle and now my work husband is gone?
They died within weeks of each other. Weeks. Three short weeks, to be exact.
Losing my uncle was horrific but cancer is a horrific disease. My work husband was too healthy and too young to fall to the ground while running a 5k and never return to his life again. This was too much to handle. It wasn’t possible. Nope. This is a bad dream. I truly didn’t know how to handle this. Normally, I’m an expert avoider but I was failing this go round. I couldn’t pin point why the trauma was so intense this time. I didn’t feel as if I was warranted all the feelings I was having. After all, he was not mine. He was not my father. He was not my husband. He was not my brother.
Grief is funny like that. I felt stifled due to my position. Who was I that I felt such intense pain at his loss? Why was I having these feelings? I shut my mouth for months but my mind swirled in a constant state of overwhelm. I pretended I was fine but inside I was bubbling with disbelief and disappointment. I finally began sharing my emotions with my husband who said the simplest yet most profound thing I had ever heard. “Babe, what can I do to help you through this?” He didn’t solicit advice. He didn’t minimize me. He didn’t make me feel like my emotions were unwarranted, unlike I had made myself feel. He simply offered his help in any way he could. Just the offer to help allowed me the space to breathe.
In the months since these grueling three weeks of death, I have been afforded the space to grieve. The space to process. The space to cry. The space to beg God for answers. The space to wish longingly that I could call these men on the phone and they would answer. But I am far from healed.
Six months or so after the nightmare of bad news had passed, my Aunt asked me a question that allowed my healing to come full circle. She asked why I hadn’t reached out to her. I was shocked honestly. Stunned. I had reached out to her but not nearly as much as I should have. I knew that and so did she. Taken off guard, I answered, quickly. I did explain that I wasn’t ok but I neglected to tell her the real reason.
The truth is, reaching out to see how she was doing would force me to think about how I was doing, which would force me to realize that on this side of heaven I will never see either of these incredible men again. I couldn’t handle that at the time. I didn’t want to check on her or anyone else because I didn’t want to ask myself how I was doing. I didn’t want to know the answer. I wanted to avoid it. I wanted to live in a place where both my beloved uncle and charming work husband were still alive and thriving. I wanted so desperately to erase those three weeks of my life.
Erasing the memories of their deaths isn’t possible. Erasing their deaths made me feel as if I was erasing their lives. I didn’t want to erase the memories I had of their existence. I just wanted the hurting to stop. Like the impenetrable humidity of a sweltering summer day, grief can be all consuming.
I’m no expert on the topic and I haven’t been to therapy to discuss this with a professional but I can tell you this, avoiding grief will get you nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. You have to feel the pain. You have to feel the emotions. Only then can you appreciate the life that your loved one lived. Embracing the space between their death and our reunion in heaven isn’t for the faint of heart but my hope is in Jesus and in Him there is ultimate healing.
I will never be the same. I realize this now. I was avoiding processing this pain because somehow deep down, I knew I would never be the same and for some reason, I thought that would be a bad thing. What I’m learning is that no part of me will ever be the same but I am better for having known these men. I am more resilient for having experienced such traumatic loss back to back. And I can only lean on my Creator for comfort.
My friend, if you are grieving or avoiding the grieving process, like me, I urge you to find someone who can simply allow you the space to breathe. The space to process. Please know that you are not alone. Even though that is EXACTLY how it feels.
You are simply a warrior left in the space between heaven and earth.