“It’s all about escape.” That’s what my father said to me this past Thursday night, his mouth full of lasagna and an ice cold beer dripping on the table beside him.
When it comes to living life without my mom, the only thing my father knows is how to escape. People find the word ‘escape’ to be a daunting one. It carries around this negative connotation that you’re somehow removed from reality. How can you ever grow as a person if you’re constantly trying to escape the horrid memories of your past or the depressing moments of your daily life? As I’ve been told on more than one occasion, “You need to face what happened.”
We all can empathize with grief. Loss begins at an early age when your mom accidentally vacuums up your hamster who got caught running loose outside his cage. From flushing goldfish, to the family dog dying slowly, death is something we deal with from an early age. It’s one that preps us for the larger deaths we’ll face down the line: aunts, uncles, grandparents, perhaps a friend.
By the time your 20s hit, you’ve greeted death in several ways. We can all understand grief.
Losing a parent is one form of grief that’s at the top of the pyramid. It’s one you don’t expect to understand at 26-years-old. It’s something you expect when you’re 40, after you’ve graduated college, or found your dream job, bought a house, had a baby, bought a wedding dress, and walked down the aisle. Things my mom is never going to be able to see.
I watched my mom decline for seven years, never realizing that the cancer was killing her. I watched her turn from a vibrant woman into one whose face was puffed out twice the size thanks to steroids. In the last 13 months of her life, she lost the ability to drive her brand new car. She lost the ability to walk on her own, to stand in the shower. On our last depressing Christmas together, she could barely walk the mall, having to ask me to wrap my own gifts for myself and my fiance, because the five brain tumors took away her ability to focus, to use her hands, her ability to see.
When I stood beside her casket, holding on to her for the only hour I’d have left, the people around me saw my grief. They heard it.
When I went back home, having to walk over the same spot where she died on the hardwood floor, the reality of what had just transpired seemed like a distant reality. It was a cloud. It was fog.
Grief on that scale doesn’t go away with the celebration of a new holiday, their birthday, or the first anniversary of their death. Grief on that scale is greeted, every second of every moment that you’ve had to readjust your life in even the smallest scale. I can’t text my mom. I can’t say hello. At times, when I think of her, I find disappointment when I start to forget what her voice sounded like. I fear what else I’m going to forget in five years, 10, and 20.
Escaping is a rigid term that people who haven’t experienced this level of grief, toss around like it’s something harmful. When you’ve lost a parent, who died in front of you for seven years to terminal cancer, whose life was taken away by a doctor who made the decision for her, you have every right to want to “escape.” Grief requires distraction because grief is a process that has no time constraints. My grief didn’t go away in a few months, nor has it lessened any more 14 months later. If anything, my grief is worse. It’s more pronounced. The first 10 months were filled with shock, financial struggles, and coping with my newly heartbroken father. It was filled with spending all my free time with him, ensuring he wasn’t alone, even on the days when he broke down wishing he would just join her. Even on the days when he confided that he’s scared to die because he doesn’t know if he’ll be with her.
My grief is a part of my existence. It exists from the moment I open my eyes to the time I go to bed. My grief doesn’t mean I can’t function. It doesn’t prevent me from going to work, or playing video games, or redesigning my house. My grief doesn’t prevent me from wanting children, wanting marriage and looking into my fiance’s eyes thanking God he’s mine, for forever and always.
My grief is a part of who I am, and it’s a part of me that will never fade or change with time. Escape is necessary to step away from the natural loss you feel on a daily basis. Escape isn’t bad. It isn’t a negative distraction that holds you back from accepting a truth you don’t want to be a part of. Escape is to rejuvenate. It’s to heal a part of you that gets clogged up. It’s to smile without feeling guilty about your happiness. It’s about getting away from the same streets you used to drive down, the same bad memories, and sounds, and even people who look at you with this indication that you’re incapable of coping. Who look at you like you’re fragile.
If you tell someone who is grieving that they shouldn’t want to escape from their grief, regardless of your intention, all it says is that you can’t fully comprehend the magnitude of the loss that person is suffering with. And for that, those of us who feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, are thankful that you don’t. Because at the end of the day, we wouldn’t wish our reality we’re so desperate to “escape” from on anybody.