Sep 5, 2017

Life and Mortality and Grief

This isn't a particularly well thought-out post.  I didn't have a specific concept going in that I wished to express.  But I did want to write it.

A family member died last week.  Abruptly and unexpectedly and, as far as I know, it shocked everyone.  It's not my place to go into details and I don't want to be disrespectful to her immediate family, but I am sad and it feels wrong to go about daily life pretending everything is normal.

It's weird what your brain does in times of grief.  I should mourn my relative, feel empathy for those closest to her, and sadness for myself for all the future conversations and time I won't have with her.  But instead I felt disbelief, then sadness, then guilt.  Who was I to feel sad about this?  This person wasn't a part of my daily life.

Our family is a fairly close one.  Despite living on opposite corners of the country, we have reunions every 2 years, with occasional extra gatherings, and we chat via family email threads fairly often.

I've probably seen my relative in person 20 times or so.  It's a countable number.  But my sense of her feels much stronger than that.  Sometime in the future, I'll tell my grandmother this.  Because her goal was always to have strong family ties and I think she succeeded, despite time and distance and obstinate personalities.

We haven't experienced a ton of loss in our family.  The few occasions that I can remember losing someone they were even more distant, but the feeling of disbelief is a constant factor.  It's hard to process and feel that loss when the person you mourn is across the country and not a part of your daily life.  There's no hole in each day to remind you or instill a feeling of wrongness.

I don't want to go back to life-as-usual, but I also do.  After the first day when we tried to grasp it, and my mom, sister, and I spoke together about grief and death and remembrances, I've felt my mind instinctively shoving it away whenever something reminds me.  Because it hurts and it's easier not to think about.  Life goes on, after all, and I need to function.

But that, too, feels disrespectful.  And I think I need to make time to think about it and feel the pain and process what we've lost.  I think sometimes being hurt is important and it's part of the process of living.  Hiding from feelings and bottling things up might be easier but is ultimately more destructive.

It's hard to feel helpless.  To know that I'm across the country and can't offer much solace to my relatives in their time of grief.  To not know what the best course of action would be even if I was closer.

Death is such a hard concept to wrap your mind around.  How can a life, particularly such a warm, loving, vibrant one, be so suddenly gone?  How can life continue on without this force in it?  It feels distant and incomprehensible to me, but what really breaks me down is thinking of those still living.

Thinking of her daughter, so recently engaged whose mother won't attend her wedding.  Thinking of our next reunion planned for summer 2018 and what it will be like without her kindness.  Thinking of her husband and their interrupted plans for a retirement filled with travel and togetherness.

I hope she got the most out of life.  I hope the time she had was happy and filled with joy.  I hope she had all the things figured out that I still struggle with and that her time was better spent than mine.

I have an advice book that my sisters made with tips from all the parents in our family.  I'm so glad I have some of her words to remember.  I'm so glad she contributed to my life in tangible and intangible ways.  I'm glad I can look at the picture of her from years ago and read the words she gave me.  I'm glad I knew her.

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually


  1. Oh Jenn, so sorry to hear about your loss. These thoughts that you've shared are ones that I, too, have experienced and it is never easy to wrap your head around the way that grief manifests. I hope you and your family find healing.

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss, Jenn. I understand completely what you mean about the awkwardness of death. The sadness and shock and guilt... But then my logical side says, "We're all going to die... Some before others. Why do we mourn that?" But then I feel terrible for the family and friends left behind. Perhaps, truthfully, we mourn for them and ourselves. I don't know. Death is strange. That said, my thoughts are with you and your family and her family.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, Jenn.

    What I've come to realize through loss — some of it expected and difficult to overcome, some unexpected and easier to understand, some of close relatives or friends and some of distant friends or family members whose loss was much easier on me than their nearest and dearest — is that there's nothing to make sense of. The closest I can come to understanding it is knowing that it's a fate we'll all meet, but the when, where, how, and why, as well as the "what do I do now?" feeling can't be logicked about. I've felt selfish for being so affected by a loss that "shouldn't" have impacted me much, and felt guilty for not being more devastated by others. But the important thing, I think, is that you honor your needs while being kind to others in whatever way you can and they will allow. There's no right way to grieve or support the grieving. But being a good human who is aware of the nuances of death and mourning is the best we can strive for.

    Hugs to you and your family.


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