Sorry, Charlie. Grief ain’t good.

IMG_1627Be careful asking me how I’m doing these days.

I might just answer you.

Several of my co-workers have fallen victim since my return to work. They approach with genuine concern to inquire about my mental health. I tell myself I don’t want to talk about it as the words come gushing forth. Given the opportunity, I talk. And talk. And talk. I listen to myself as if hearing a stranger, unable to follow my own reckless train of thought. It’s not that easy to close the floodgates. I talk until I’m exhausted, still unsure how to cure the confusion and pain.

Over the past several days I have collided with feelings of grief, comfort, confusion, and…get this…guilt. Yep. Guilt. While I’ve moved on with work and family life, back in Florida there are people struggling mightily with the loss of my sister. My brother-in-law is without his wife and best friend. My two nieces, not yet out of their 20’s, have lost their mom. In the last six years, my own mother has said a painful good-bye to her husband and now her only daughter. Yet here I am, back to my routine. It seems I’m supposed to do more than just “move on”.

There’s also my own brief tussle with cancer to consider. For me, dealing with prostate cancer was not much worse than getting over a cold. I had surgery one day and I was cancer free the next. Meanwhile, both my sister and father suffered as cancer marched through bone and organ. The debilitating side effects of treatment might have been worse, especially when you consider that none of it saved them. It’s as if I cheated cancer while they paid the price. That’s enormously unfair, and I haven’t yet come to terms with that.

There haven’t been as many tears as I expected following my sister’s final breath. For awhile, it was as if God guarded my heart and put me in “duty” mode. I was distracted from the grief by a self-prescribed responsibility to comfort others. I accompanied my brother-in-law to the funeral home. I went on walks to try and counsel my nieces. I stayed busy. I was numb. When the tears arrived, and the arrived on a couple of occasions, they came by the gallons. Twice during Nancy’s memorial service, I dropped from my robotic state into a blubbering mess. I refused to let it last. Big brother had to hold it together for the sake of the family.

Friends keep telling me to “take care” of myself. I understand, but I have no idea how to do that. I’m not bad at comforting others, but I have absolutely no clue how to care for myself. Several co-workers have suggested I haven’t given myself enough time to deal with the loss. They’re probably right, but I fear another day away from work would result in a day to sit around and mope. I try to stay busy. I try to focus. Much of what I do is entirely out of focus, but it is getting better. I’m easing back into the routine.

But routine brings guilt, and that leads to depression, then confusion.

Good grief. As if there was anything good about it.

When I feel upbeat, I wonder why. When I feel depressed, I wonder when it will end. Mostly I flounder around somewhere between dazed and lost, and rare are the moments when my mind isn’t meandering toward thoughts of my poor sister and her final months of suffering.

I know grief is complicated. I’ve been through it before. After losing my father to cancer I was shot into an emotional pinball game. There were moments of anger that I haven’t experienced this time around. You would think by now I would know how to handle grief. I’m older, wiser, more experienced.

This is so different.

I know I need to focus on Nancy’s courageous legacy and the memories that always give me a lift. It seems each day brings a new email or Facebook message from someone impacted by my sister’s upbeat spirit. One woman tells me how she was struggling on a college campus where she felt she didn’t belong until she met Nancy’s infectious laugh. And my sister’s memory could possibly save lives. Dozens of people have donated, in Nancy’s name, to Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer, a group that has helped buy two digital mammography machines and free screenings for women in need.

We couldn’t save Nancy, but she can still save others.

That’s just like her. Still bringing hope and joy to other people in ways I never dreamed.

It occasionally, when I let it, brings a smile to the face of despair.

So, if you ask, “how are you”, and I don’t mention Nancy’s amazing legacy, please remind me.

And set aside 20-minutes or more if you ask. I’m in a talkative mood. A complicated, fragile, talkative mood.

You’ve been warned.



9 thoughts on “Sorry, Charlie. Grief ain’t good.

  1. Jerry, part of my story I haven’t shared with you is this:
    My husband and I relocated to Tallahassee FL in 1986 with 2 young children. The first time we had moved away from home-ATL.
    I was having a tough time when we first moved. However, that all changed when i began new employment at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. There I met my BEST FRIEND, Kathy Peyton. We lived life, loved life & our families both ended up back in ATL. We continued to live & love life. Our children were great friends & we did lots together. Kathy & I battled the ugly cancer together. Kathy’s was melanoma. Kathy battled, I battled. Kathy lost her battle eventually. My heart was broken. Not only had I lost my best friend to this ugly disease, but “why” did I survive it’s ugly grip. I survived through lots of surgery, chemo, radiation but “why” didn’t Kathy survive doing the same.
    Our July golf tournament is a tribute to Kathy. It is Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer, Kathy Peyton Memorial. I know hers was melanoma but she was one of my biggest cheerleaders, I was hers.
    It took me a long time to get past it; no, that’s not true… I am not over it but I am better. I direct my energy to this charity because she was my cheerleader & that is what she would want.
    Talk about Nancy, tell other’s how you are really doing & put that positive energy into something that means the most to you & Nancy. I know, it will make you feel good!
    Peace to you friend

    • What an amazing parallel to my story. Those of us who have survived must lean on each other and remember those we’ve lost. Thanks again for all of your support Teresa. I’m so glad I met you.

      • I’m thankful to have met you.
        I have many friends in my life that, unfortunately, I have met because of the ugly “C”.
        But, you know what, I am so thankful & a better person because of all those friends. So it ain’t all so bad!

  2. Jerry
    I lost my father just 2 weeks ago and reading this post explained me to a T. I feel like I am having an out of body experience and not sure how to act. My dad was divorced and not remarried so I am left to take care of everything for my sister and I. I often wonder when the real tears will come.

  3. Jerry, You are dealing with the grief exactly the way you are supposed to. All the feelings you are having is why they call it the grief process. It isn’t always in order, but it is consistently changing emotions. You are so right when you said you didn’t deal with the loss mentally…When your mind doesn’t take on the grief, your body does, and that too goes back and forth. You have to let your mind grieve, and also your body. Crying, emotions, etc., is the mind, and exercise helps the body grieve…if you don’t do both, we can get sick as well. It is God’s way of protecting us, so grieve when you need too and take an exercise break when you need too. When your mind and your body meet the grief together, you will know it is time for closure. You are in my prayers. I hope that explanation makes some sense to you…many good books out there on grief. As a Certified Grief Counselor, I still recommend reading to those who are struggling.

  4. I could not hit “like” and “reply” seems wrong. Empathize? Understand? Hug? I hate responses so over simplified that our emotional states become like little lemmings hurling themselves over a cliff a la Disney – they pushed them over a cliff for that film. Lemmings will not fall to a watery death after one another. So sad am I for you. I’d say feel what’s inside let it out when and where you can, and who cares what anyone thinks.

  5. Seen or unseen, healing leaves scars. Scars remind us of the slings and arrows that our souls take over time and cannot be ignored. One day the good memories overtake the sadness. Funny, human brains differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, that and our opposable thumbs, in that our prefrontal cortex let’s us play our out future in movies, which never get released. We cannot control others nor does self control take a front seat where we sit in the upright position with our seat belts pulled tightly around our waists. But remember we have to use our own oxygen masks before we can help anyone else’s with theirs on this flight. And that’s an appropriate metaphor for this situation. It gets better. When you’re ready you’ll be ready. No one handed you a schedule with which to shed your grief. Move on? No one moves on, they just move and wear their oxygen mask and breathe.

    Your brain will protect itself from your future tripping prefrontal cortex by pushing good memories like a warm comfortable blanket to let you feel better again. That’s the truth. Grief loses over good memories. Grief may never fully give way, it’s our way of remembering, albeit bittersweetly.


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