We recently passed the six month mark since Dad’s death. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since I’ve seen him, and yet I can feel the change. I’m starting to emerge from the fog of fresh grief, and the rhythms of life feel less jarring than they did a few months ago.
Here’s what I can tell you about the last six months: Grief is lonely. There is no getting around it–grief is a solitary experience. Though there are many people who miss my dad, my particular relationship with him was exclusive to the two of us, and that means that the version of him that I miss is different, even, from the versions my mom and brothers miss. We all have different memories, different images to hold on to, and we feel his absence in different ways.
Over the last few weeks, though, as I’ve placed a tentative toe outside of the grief fog, my eyes have been opened to a community I didn’t know existed; it’s a community of people like me who have all lost someone irreplaceable. There is an invisible thread that binds us all together, and suddenly I see it almost everywhere I go. The first time it hit me was several weeks ago when my boyfriend Luke swam in a race benefitting cancer care and research. As I sat on a hill overlooking the lake, waiting for the race to begin, I started looking around. Hanging a few feet away were flags inscribed with messages from participants. “Why I swim: Because my friend Barbara no longer can.” “Why I swim: For my family and friends impacted by cancer.” “Why I swim: Thinking of you, Dad.”
I am not alone.
On a recent episode of Katie Couric’s new talk show, Chelsea Handler had tears in her eyes as she spoke about her late brother and mother, and Katie herself spoke poignantly about losing her husband to colon cancer. Then, this week, I got to see my favorite singer/songwriter, Rufus Wainwright, in concert, and though for most of the show he maintained a certain emotional distance from the audience, his grief was evident as he spoke and sang about his mother’s death from a rare form of cancer.
I am not alone.
I think there’s a tendency among the grieving to focus internally. It makes sense. We feel like there is a gaping wound in our gut, and we devote all of our attention to the pain. For me, as I begin to slowly inch out of the fog and look around to see that, lo and behold, there are other people out here, I am reminded that each of us has a story. I’m coming to terms with the fact that no one will ever fully comprehend what is in my heart when I say, “my dad died.” No one will understand the details and depth of who he was to me, and maybe that’s okay, because those are mine to treasure. But there are others who have been through equally devastating loss, who made it out the other side. And that helps.
We are not alone.