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Monday, June 04, 2018

When the Dirt Settles


On  Friday, May 4th, 2018, my brother Gregory called to let me know our younger brother, Anthony, had been shot.  I could hardly understand him as he tried to speak through his despair, but he didn't have many details at the time.  I just needed to get there, I told myself.  But, as soon as I got off the phone with him, I immediately became hysterical and felt as if I couldn't breathe.  This feeling would last for days afterward. When I arrived at the hospital Anthony was still in surgery, and although the doctors said they did all they could he did not survive.

Sadly, death isn't new to me at this point so my initial reaction during the arrangements phase is not to focus on my grief but to immediately jump into processing mode instead.  My thoughts raced the first night, and I didn't fall asleep until 5am...

...I need to call the funeral home first thing in the morning.
...I'll have to ask if he can be buried close to mom.
...His favorite color is red, that'll be the main color throughout.
...I never got insurance for him. F*ck!
...I'll work with aunt Tasha and Charlotte to figure out the program details and who can serve.
...What color casket do we use when we bury our men? Why can't I remember?
...I need to remind the women in the family to go ahead and find white to wear, as per our tradition.

....Oh, God...

...My brother is gone.
...I can't believe I have to bury my baby brother...too.
...I can't believe this.
.......I can't believe this.
............I can't believe this.
..................WHY, Lord, haven't we been through enough?!

ALSO READ:  Losing a Parent

The days leading up to a funeral are always so incredibly tough, and the day before and the day of are days you so desperately want to just get to and through.  You become somewhat eager yet anxious to get through it so that you can get beyond the planning phase since all you really want to do is ball up somewhere, mourn, and figure out how to breathe regularly again. But the thing is, as much as you want to get beyond the funeral, the weeks and months to come are the hardest of all.

When the dirt has settled on your loved one's grave, and the checking in starts to subside, that's when grief really takes over what feels like every aspect of your being. I want to share a small portion of how that looks for me so that others can understand what space my head is in and why I might do/have done certain things (like shut people out in the past).

Understanding
Eventually, it starts to feel like the world forgets.  That feeling comes just a couple of weeks after your loss and it's a painfully harsh feeling to deal with.  As you continue to hurt, life moves on for everyone else and you're even forced to move on too, in a sense, because in most cases you have to continue to function in some way (i.e, manage a household, work, etc.) and this occurs pretty soon after your loss as if you're not losing it inside.

I've learned to remind myself that although this frustrates me and makes me feel like I'm alone, even when surrounded by the most caring, thoughtful people I know, I have to understand that this is just a part of the process.  I have to find a way to work through what this 'feels' like, versus what is actually happening, without shutting people out along the way.

Adjusting
For me, I've noticed it takes at least six months to a year to truly adjust to the loss of a loved one.  I continue to grieve, in some way, long after this.  But, what I mean by adjusting is to get to a point where I'm not overwhelmingly distraught, easily irritated, somewhat depressed, ready to make rash decisions, emotionally unstable, vulnerable, etc.  When I finally do adjust, I'm still in mourning, but it means I've found a new normal where I can better cope and live life without feeling like I'm going to break down or fall apart at any given moment.

Masking
I am the type to try to mask my grief.  It's as if I'm wearing this armor of strength that everyone can see except me. I do my best not to cry too much in front of people, if at all, and I talk about my loss(es) as if I'm handling things fine.  But, I'm not.  I cry all the time; in the shower, during my commute, during bathroom breaks, when everyone else is asleep.  I cry out to the Lord often as well, letting him know that this is more than I can bear.  Yet and still, you'll find me fighting not to say or do things that I feel might make people uncomfortable.  I'm sure this is unhealthy and I'm trying to change this behavior.



Coping
It starts with therapy for me.  I realized after my grandfather died a few years ago that I can no longer get through something like this on my own if I want to not only survive it but stay sane in the process.  I recognize that I need help with fear -- I constantly worry about more of my family dying too soon, especially my husband and children, guilt -- I can't stop thinking about what I could have done differently to save my brother from this fate, and anxiety/depression -- I often feel as if I can't breathe and most days I don't want to get out of bed.  I need coping mechanisms for all of the above and more, so I start therapy again this week.

Sharing
As good as I am at masking my pain, I've found that it's becoming increasingly hard to be this pillar of strength after dealing with loss after loss after loss.  One of the things I've tried not to do this time around is telling people that I'm fine or that I'm doing well when they ask. Again, I'm not. I want to be authentic when I share how I'm doing so that people can support me appropriately, and so that I can grieve and heal properly.  I believe being honest with myself and others about how I feel will play a major part in helping me get through this, and sharing here is a step in that direction as well.

Just know that the months ahead will be another difficult valley along my journey.  Don't let my smile fool you, continue to pray for me when I come to mind.  Know that I am aware that I will eventually be fine in time.  But for now, it is taking everything in me to get through this.

xoxo, Nicole

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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2 comments

  1. Continuing to pray for you! We are alike in the sense of masking and trying to be strong, so I definitely understand you. But as I'm reminded constantly, remember it's ok to let people in and let people know you're not ok. It's hard, but it's needed.

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  2. It’s therapeutic to share...we are not superhuman, and simply put we are not built for this trauma but Lord help us... I know that your story will help others on their grief and healing journey. Continued prayers 🙏🏽.

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