Thursday, April 08, 2010

Good Grief, Grieving SUCKS!!

It's been 2 months now since Alex's passing. We've cleaned out his room, packed away clothes and remembrances his mom wants to keep, friends have also taken various items -some practical (e.g. clothes, sleeping bag, etc) and some not so practical (a bendy smile face guy). Just whatever we felt we could honor, or remember, Alex by holding on to.

I've compiled all of his external hard drives (3), laptop and desktops (2) ... boiling it down to less than 1TB of data... mostly pictures and music. Along the way I've read some very touching stories he wrote, a whole lotta school stuff and the various random assortment of just random bits and bytes.

Slowly I'm getting back to doing the things I enjoy (I actually wrote most this post from Yosemite). So today I'm going to write about my grieving experience over the loss of my bud, Alex.

Everyone is unique. Everyone grieves differently and differently for each relationship lost. How I grieved when my Italian grandma died from the cancer that was noticed years earlier and never treated until it was too late was very different from how I "grieved" over my Czech grandfather who finally passed away in October after being on death's door for some 6+ years. Neither of those deaths had the sudden impact, nor the same grief I felt at the loss of Mark, an extended family member and friend in 9-11 who I was suppose to visit that summer, but pushed out the trip to the upcoming Christmas break due to work.

Yes, there are general phases that folks can go through. You can DABDA me all you want - but remember those are just general, and fluid, phases. Grieving isn't some step-by-step process, it's a day-by-day, moment-by-moment one. Folks don't go through it like Lowell on Wing's: (time frame: 5:07-5:55)... but it sure would make thing easier.

This is just how I'm grieving... how I'm feeling... what I'm experiencing... over the loss of my buddy, Alex.

Losing someone sucks. As an extroverted-introvert I'd love to have 1:1 time with everyone. Fortunately over the last few years I had a lot of 1:1 time with Alex.

"But he's just a friend?!"

Yeah - I've heard that from folks by their words and actions. "Just cheer up!" has been another common one. Those comments are seen in the opposite extreme from folks who just look confused/hurt around me and do the stutter speech and quickly retreat.

And, of course, my grief just isn't for my loss of Alex, but also those I know who cared about him greatly. Time and time again I use to watch as his mom did the same thing I saw my mom use to do when my sister was going through chemo. She'd come into the room with a tray of food and a smile on her face and try to make some joke or smart aleck comments which just usually was responded to with eye-rolling and a groan. She'd sit and encourage her beloved child to eat "Come on, just take one more bite" and when finally finished she'd pick up the tray which still contained most of the food it entered the room with, walk out of the room and in to the kitchen and by the time she put the tray down on the counter the tears streaked her face.

I saw this time and time again, until the tears ran dry and just a sullen look remained. The only grace I could offer was a hug - a hug to let her know that though I'd never know her pain, I do recognize that she is in pain and loved.

It's a Toothbrush!

While going through the boxes of items which were his, I found a toothbrush with his climbing and camping gear. Climbers use them to brush off holds, this one could have been used for the same purpose.


I drop it.

I stare at it.

I slowly reach down and pick it up again. I examine the worn and splayed toothbrush that belonged to a friend of mine... and I toss it out. It's only a toothbrush.

There are still moments when it really gets to me that he's gone. And even though I may "accept" it, it doesn't make it suck any less. I miss my bud.

It is good to know I'm not alone. As Janet put it after editing this post:
"2 months has almost returned to normal, which, not too long ago, seemed unimaginable. of course, it's a new version of normal, and i'm certainly still very fragile emotionally, but at least i don't feel like my world is about to fall apart all the time. it still hits me every once in a while, and i'm momentarily stunned by the reality of it, but it doesn't entirely overwhelm me like it used to. guh, but i do miss him. a heart-wrenching, insides-twisting-up feeling of loss. i wonder if that'll ever go away."

Yeah... grieving sucks.

Doesn't just suck for the bereaved either...
Not knowing what to do though also sucks. I had a lot of friends say they didn't know what to do or say. In response, I put together the below things that will hopefully help. Again though - this is just from my perspective of this loss.

"I'm sorry"
Just saying "I'm sorry" means and helps so much. Don't try to search for "the right thing to say" just keep it simple and say "I'm sorry"

Understand the relationship

Ask "How did you know ____
", "When did you last see him/her", "What did s/he mean to you" That way you'll get an understanding of the level of a relationship the person had and the level of loss now felt.

Be there, not just "available".
A person grieving doesn't (usually) want to depress others - so s/he will withdraw. So don't say "Call me if you need anything" but "what can I do to help?" Don't say "Call me if you want to grab a bite" but "Let's go get something to eat/drink." In the immediate aftermath of the events the bereaved doesn't think clearly and proper eating, sleeping and exercise habits are gone. In the immediate future - food is generally the most important, so work on that.

Laughter, isn't always, the best medicine
Don't try to cheer your friend up, just hang out and be with him/her. Be supportive, understanding, and above all - patient. Phrases like "Just cheer up!", "I hope you're feeling better!" and "C'mon- smile!" just hurt. They trivialize the situation. Yes - all meant with best intentions I'm sure - but it's like having an arm ripped off and someone saying "Here's a little band aid for you!" and expecting it to be all better.

Don't force/drag your friend out, but just nudge 'em along. "Hey - lets go grab some coffee" and later "How about dinner with some other folks". It's much easier to hang out with people who are like-minded... who have suffered the similar loss... but it's also necessary to get back to living and hanging with others who may not have felt the loss.

Love on & Allow time (aka Be Patient)
In all you do, in all you say - just love on your friend as much as possible. Even if you're confused - just be there; if you don't know what to say - just hug; if you don't know what to do - just sit down and hang out. Life does go on, but for the bereaved it just slows down to a crawl. So try to match the pace for a little while and just take it slow.

These are the things I found most helpful - so hopefully they'll help you. Please feel free to add on your suggestions as well.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

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