For the last couple of weeks I have been grieving. Fuzzy passed away on August 1st. He was my grandfather, but more than that, one of my closest childhood friends, my greatest critic and supporter rolled into one, my favorite grouchy senior.
A couple of years ago, I might have cried for a couple of days and then would have brushed it off, resolving to get back to work, back to life...things that I would tell myself he would have wanted me to do. I would smile and tell friends that I was sad, but I would be "strong" instead, squashing any hints of sadness at first glimpse. I would write one journal entry about it and then force myself to think new thoughts. I would remember my grandfather here and there but try not to miss him. Push myself out of missing him.
But I have taught myself how to grieve. A couple of years ago, my first really big break-up clotheslined me, waited for me to get up, and then kicked me in the gut. I didn't see it coming and it hurt me more than any other loss I had experienced up to that point. In the first week, I defaulted to my usual tactics:
- Cry for a couple of days (a week at most) and then tell myself I was over it.
- If I felt the urge to cry again, I would yell at myself and fight myself not to.
- Busy myself with work and side projects galore.
- Watch more tv and movies than I was used to, to fill up the silence.
- Smile all the time, to convince myself that I was happy.
- Tell myself that it was his loss. List out the reasons why.
But after that first week, I somehow realized that if I didn't really learn how to grieve, I wouldn't heal sufficiently. Without grieving, I would bring a ton of junk into the next relationship I would try to have and probably ruin it. I knew that if I covered things over, rushed myself through it, and moved on more quickly than I was really ready to, that the feelings of loss and sadness would be waiting for me. They always are.
So instead, I practiced sitting with my feelings. Literally. I felt what I was feeling instead of ignoring it. That pit in my stomach. The urge to cry. The loss of energy. The sadness. All of it. Wherever I was (yes, I cried on the subway a couple of times. If people can yell and carry on, I figured I could cry quietly in a corner). I didn't stop myself if I felt the need. And I didn't rush myself. I didn't curse myself for feeling these emotions; instead I was kind. I told myself that I understood. That I was sorry I was hurting. That I was here for myself. It may sound crazy, but changing the voice in my head to a kind one was critical. We are usually very mean to ourselves. If you aren't convinced, pay more attention to the voice in your head anytime that you make a mistake or experience some loss. We tell ourselves that we are dumb, pathetic losers all the time...mostly without realizing it and probably fully used to the self-imposed abuse.
I started to meditate, and I read books on mindfulness and grief that helped me to process loss and understand better the concept of being present. I worked at it and taught myself how to experience loss in a healthy way. And it's funny to think that I had to teach myself, but I don't think our culture does. We are taught to move on. Forget things. Half the books I referenced to get through my break-up prompted me to do strange activities including one to creatively write an imagined obituary for my ex (!! I didn't follow through on this and returned the book immediately) or jokingly advised me to eat ice cream until I didn't feel the pain. We get angry at others (apparently wish them dead) and take it out on ourselves when we feel loss. The last thing we think to do is actually feel it.
So I am grateful that this time around, I knew how to set things up for myself. I canceled commitments while my grandfather was in the hospital and right after he passed, so that I had the time I needed with family, as well as alone (to think and process). I make sure to be kind to myself. When I feel weak and exhausted, I let myself rest for a couple of minutes instead of pushing myself to get right back to work. I know I am tired from being sad. When I feel the pit in my stomach or a sort of pain in my heart, I turn to Gerry, to my dad, to my mom or to my brothers and tell them that I really miss Fuzzy. And I cry when I need to. A couple of nights after Fuzzy passed away - lights off, Gerry trying to go to sleep - I was thinking about the conundrum I have with reading. I want to read voraciously because I love it, but then I am not always able to remember everything I read. I thought, "Fuzzy used to read a book a night and would totally get this! He would have an answer. I want to talk to him about it." I cried nerdy tears at the thought that I would never get to talk to him again, let alone ask for his wisdom about reading books or anything else (he seemed to know something about everything). I placed the picture of a young Burby and Fuzzy at the top of this post in a frame on top of my dresser to keep them near me.
I think about Fuzzy every day and remember our walks around the block; our visits to the local library; and how he sat between my bed and Davey's bed every Wednesday night, holding our little hands in his giant tobacco scented hands as we watched Perry Mason, Hunter, Magnum P.I. or Matlock until we fell asleep. Squeezing our hands every now and then to see if we would squeeze back. No squeeze meant we were already dreaming away.
I miss Fuzzy a lot. Every time I think about him, I think that it's just been a little while but that he will call me. I somehow can't fathom that I will never again hear his voice on the other end of the line, wondering "anything new?" I'm sad and feel like there is a hole in my life. Something big missing. Even though we weren't as close in the last couple of years, he has been a huge part of my life, and someone who painstakingly concerned himself with the details. He cared about what each of his children and grandchildren were doing, and that they were happy. Until his last days. He was a fixture. Unmovable and unmoving. Someone who would always be there for me. Without his presence, it feels too quiet. Lonely, in a way.
Grieving in a healthy way means accepting with kindness that I will feel this way until I don't.