My uncle has died. Not because of a sickness we knew about. Not a long fight. But a short, unexpected three week battle.
This is not the first death I’ve encountered in life. Not the only unexpected loss. Not the first of close family. Not the first I had a difficult time accepting. And certainly, because as the hard truth of life, not the last.
I can recite cliches for others in times like these. About loss, and grief, and love. These cliches however, seem to mean nothing when I say them to myself.
I, like so many people I’ve met over my life, have always receded in the face of grief. I did not want to embrace it, endure it, or face it. I was afraid. I did not want to get lost in the pain. I believed that once I found myself in it, I wouldn’t emerge from the other side okay.
What I’ve learned is that whether or not you acknowledge and face the grief, it’s there. You cannot truly avoid it, like I’ve willed myself to do every time before.
They say denial is a stage of grief. My denial in the past has always cemented itself within me. Denying that I needed to process my loss, denying I had to deal with it to move forward.
It’s taken me 26 years to realize this. Some may take longer, some less. But grief and pain are a part of life. You cannot deny them, nor should you. It keeps you stuck and frozen and creating additional, unnecessary pain. By grieving, you are not forgetting them. You are remembering them and honoring their life and their place in yours.
My uncle was a wonderful man. Kind, generous, loving. I have stories upon stories from my childhood, as he lived with my family for various portions of my life, nestled safely within my family’s basement. Many days since his death I’ve wished he was still safe within that bubble of my childhood. As I think back on his life, I am struck by the realization that he wouldn’t want me to put myself through extra pain or suffering.
For me, it always felt selfish to grieve. I think of endless excuses for those who were closer to the person. My mother, my grandma, my aunts, my cousin who lost her step-father. Urging myself to be strong for them, I belittled my own feelings and need to grieve.
Grief is an intensely personal thing. It is not dependent on a who has it worst battle. Your grief is legitimate, whether or not someone else was closer to them, or has it worse. Grief, when handled, is also incredibly unifying. This is why funerals are so powerful. Funerals, I’ve learned, are not for those who have passed but for the living. Funerals are for processing grief together. By grieving, you do not lose your ability to console and be with your mother, your grandma, your aunts or cousins. Instead, by grieving together, you strengthen that ability to be there for them when they need it most.
When you deny grief, you isolate yourself. If you shut down, and avoid, you often destroy the true possibility of helping your loved ones through their grief as well. Helping someone grieve can depend on the person or family. For me, I’ve learned that crying together is more helpful than I ever could have imagined. Shutting down, I wouldn’t have been able to tell my uncle’s stories I’ve shared with my mother since his passing. I wouldn’t have talked with her when she was angry, listened to her talk through tears, nor held her hand at his service. At the very least, not in the same way I was able to.
Through this loss, I’ve realized all of this. That grief is not a sign of weakness but strength. I’ve also come to the realization that I truly have avoided grieving in the past. So now, as I grieve not only my uncle, but many of the losses in my life, I am overwhelmed. I no longer wish to avoid and cause unnecessary additional pain. I wish to grieve with my family. I wish to heal, and I hope that you do too.
I hope you remember that by grieving, you are not forgetting them. You are not dismissing their life. You are not selfish. You are not alone. But rather, you are celebrating their life and their impact. You and your loved ones are stronger together. Never forget that.