I just got home from my aunt’s funeral. By the time the service was over, I had a pounding headache from restraining my emotions. There were times when the girl inside me sobbed and sobbed, while the shell that held her in blew it’s nose and wiped away any tears that managed to escape. My friend told me last night not to do that, to just let myself have whatever emotions I felt. But that’s easier for me to imagine than do.
My main method of emotional coping is escape. Perhaps in some part, small or large I don’t know, it’s denial. As long as I don’t face it, it’s not real. It didn’t happen. It won’t turn out the way we all know it’s going to turn out.
My aunt has been sick for a couple of years now, and when I was told that they found a cancer, I thought, “Ok, so now we know what to fight against.”
The next week I was told she had between a month and a year to live. My heart sunk, but then I thought, “Ok, a year’s a long time…there’s time to fight or to make peace with it.”
The next week I was told the doctors couldn’t do a thing for her and she probably wouldn’t make it through the end of the year. I thought, “Ok, I’ll go see her next week when she gets settled back at the house.”
Two days later I was told that she died.
In all that time, as quick as it seemed to pass, I only called them once. As long as I stayed away, as long as I put off a visit or call, then I could believe she was well. It was the same after she died, when I should have called or stopped by to offer whatever support I could muster – I didn’t. I sunk further into myself and the shield that denial and escape offered me. In my mind, I could still almost believe that she was walking around that house, the same. Alive.
So, guilt tinges my grief. I feel guilty that I didn’t say goodbye. I feel guilty that I didn’t offer support to my uncle. I feel guilty that I wouldn’t believe I had any amount of support to give. I feel guilty that I chose to believe staying away was better, since it was all I could do not to cry all over him in that last phone call. Even today I kept my distance, because I could barely look at him without bursting into tears.
(So instead I came home and started crying all over you. Thank you and also sorry about that.)
I’ve been alone for a while now, and emotionally speaking I’ve been alone most of my life. That’s not on anyone but me, because there have been and are people who love me and are available to me. But I am so much more comfortable – and safe – inside of myself. Even today, as my mom or dad showed concern for me, I wanted to turn away from that. I don’t want my uncle to have to comfort me in my grief, when his is so much greater. So I abandoned him. I don’t want my parents to worry about me, so I shut their concerned words down. I just want to hide away – I want to worry about no one but myself and I certainly don’t want anyone to concern themselves with me.
I have been as open and honest and vulnerable to my aunt and uncle as I’ve ever allowed myself to be with anyone. And in some ways, much more so. And yet when this all happened, I sucked right back inside myself. I disappeared again. These are people who nurtured my relationship with Christ, who challenged me and helped me build my faith, who led by example. And as much as they’ve done for me, as much as they’ve given me, I ran away instead of being there. That sucks.
Death sucks. Saying goodbye sucks.