Grief, Loss and Getting Through Anniversaries
6 years ago today I was standing in my apartment when my phone rang. I looked down at the caller ID and saw my Dad's name on the screen. I assumed he wanted to talk to me about how I intended to budget my money while on summer vacation from College. I almost let it go to voicemail when, at the last minute, I decided to answer. The second the phone hit my ear, every hair on my body stood up. Something was wrong. I could hear my Dad breathing heavily on the other line.
“There’s been an accident.” He said coughing through tears.
The pause felt like it lasted an eternity. Finally my Dad whispered in a shattered voice I can only describe as a Dad trying everything he has to be strong, “Scott’s dead."
I remember screaming and collapsing on the floor. In the blink of an eye I became hysterical. My Dad tried to help me remain calm while he told me what I needed to do. He told me that I needed to come home but that I wasn’t allowed to drive myself. He asked if I wanted to wait for a family member to come get me. I told him that my friends were already on their way over and would drive me. He told me that my sister didn't know yet and was in the process of being escorted home. He asked me not to call her and said that he'd have her call me when she got home.
The rest is fuzzy. I remember mindlessly throwing clothing into a laundry basket, calling my best friends and leaving what I’m sure were horrifying and erratic voice mails. I remember the looks on my friends faces when they arrived at my apartment brave but full of despair. I remember my sister calling me soon after we left my apartment and I remember repeating that it wasn't real, that this was all some sort of misunderstanding. I remember sitting in my car when we arrived at my house refusing to get out. I remember my Mom coming out to get me being held up by her best friend. I remember not being able to sleep and feeling lifeless. But somehow, even though time felt like it was standing still, the sun still managed to set and rise each day. And even though it felt like I would never make it, here I am 6 years later. It’s just as hard and fresh as it was on June 23, 2009 but the pain is different.
No one knows what to do when someone suddenly dies. Reason goes flying out the window and your only job is to find a way to survive the mourning and sorrow. At first, the hardest part was getting used to not expecting my brother to walk through the front door. Then it slowly evolved into a paralyzing fear that I would forget him. I'm still afraid that I will forget the way he looked or the way he spoke. I used to see his name in my phone and fall apart knowing he'd never answer. Deleting him was the second hardest day of my life. It's hard, you meet new people or go on first dates and the first question is always, "Do you have any siblings." You never get to escape the fact that you've lost your person.
Loss in unimaginable. It's this awful club none of us really wish to belong to. But it's comforting to know that you aren't alone. Even though our pain and grief may manifest itself differently, we all fundamentally know what it's like to have someone taken from us.
There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have Scott back again. It took a long time for my anger to turn into gratitude, but with a lot of work and a lot of time, I was eventually able to believe that I was so lucky to have him as long as I did. I've learned a lot about myself from my brother's passing and it's because I lost him that I am the way I am today. Here are 10 things I learned from my brother’s passing that I wanted to share with you all.
1. Hold on Tightly and Let Go Lightly.
There are no guarantees in life but when it comes to what you believe in, you have to give everything and then surrender. That is how I try to live my life every single day. To hold on tightly, giving everything I possibly can but ready to let go when the time comes without doubt or regret. Control is a tricky bastard to surrender to, it’s not easy.
2. To Leave Every Conversation With A Good Goodbye.
It doesn’t matter how strained, betrayed or chaotic a relationship is. If I’m fighting with someone I love I always end with, “(insert swear words and how they are wrong) but I still love you fiercely. Call me when you’re not a (insert swear word and insult).” No that’s not true, I’m one of the most level headed people I know (meh that’s not totally true either) but it does take a lot to really upset me. Even when I’m at a 10 and seeing red, I still leave a conversation with an “I love you” because you never know if it will be the last time you get to say I love you and get it back. Nothing is worth leaving without a good goodbye.
3. To Say I Love You First.
And on that note -- to love fearlessly and without regrets. My brother died without getting the chance to fall in love. That is something that kills me every single day. I look at love like a selfless gift. If you love someone why would you wait to give them that gift? Some people may not be ready for your love, that’s not your fault nor is it a good enough reason not to not tell them that you love them. (I'm serious, unrequited love sucks but even if they're not able to accept your love, they still need it.) Love is a gift that shouldn't be given only when you expect the gift in return. That's playing it safe and there's no safe bets when it comes to love. You fall head over heels in love. You don't slowly wade safely into love -- right? (I stole that from a Ted Talk so you know it's true.)
4. To Have More Fun.
Last minute trip? Yes. Spontaneous adventure? Oh yes. Dancing like no one is watching? HELL YEAH. There is fun to be had everywhere you look. If you’re not laughing you only have yourself to blame. Find every single tiny opportunity to have fun.
5. To Stop Wasting Time.
If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret? What would you say, "I wish I would have..."? Do the things that you don’t think are possible. Attempt everything you don't think you’re capable of. Dare to fail. Stop wasting time. Don't wait for someone to validate you or give you permission to do something you aren't sure you can do. Make your own rules and surround yourself with people who are shooting for the stars.
6. To Tell Fear To F*ck Off.
I don’t know why we give power to the people and things who try to limit or intimidate us. After I ran my first marathon I told myself I was going to force myself to try everything I told myself I wasn’t capable of. It doesn’t happen overnight but you can start by looking in the mirror and believing that you really are enough. Be brave, be bold and be unapologetic about staring fear, doubt and insecurities down.
7. Family Is Everything.
And family doesn’t only mean blood. Anyone you let into your family is someone you should try to see and support as much as possible. Make time to be with your people. (Even if you feel like you've disappointed them. It's their job to be your biggest supporter and biggest critic. But at the end of the day, they want to see you soar.)
8. Practice Gratitude.
Say thank you to the people you love and more importantly the people you hate. Everyone has something going on, even the people you suspect lead perfect lives. Are there degrees of difference? Yes. But who’s counting?! If you’re sitting there saying, “She lost X but I lost X, Y AND Z” - I have nothing for you. Best of luck my friend, you're on a lonely and self destructive road. Gratitude is something we all need to practice every single day. Take nothing for granted.
9. Look Up.
Talk to your people who have passed on, I know they can hear us. As I was running the last mile of the New York City Marathon last year, I actually felt like I could reach out and hold my brother’s hand. That’s how tangible his presence felt. I’d never experienced anything like it before nor have I experienced anything like it since. Don’t stop talking to them. Look up.
10. Never Apologize For Feeling Sad.
Grief is an impossibly uncooperative state of being. You never know when it’s going to hit, how long it’s going to last or where you’ll be. If I had a dollar for every time I lost it in public, I’d own my own private island. There comes a point when you have to say to yourself, “I’ve suffered an unimaginable loss and it’s not strange that I’m affected right now.” Cry! Don’t apologize for feeling sad. No one needs you to be brave. Like that incredible movie “Inside Out” brilliantly illustrates, Sadness is just as important as Joy. (If you haven’t seen Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out” yet, drop what you’re doing and go right now. RIGHT NOW.)
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t think there is a reason why my brother passed away. It was simply a tragic, awful accident. Loss is senseless. The hardest part is that the world keeps turning when grief rears its ugly head. It’s not fair that we don’t get to call a time out while we struggle not to drown. We don’t get to wait until we’re ready to rejoin the world.
Today is a shitty day my friends, please do me a favor and go hug your people. Tell them how much you love them. And please go out and spread all the gratitude and laughter you can today because that is exactly what my brother Scott would have wanted. Be kind and patient whenever possible because some of us are just one step away from falling apart.
Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.