What It Feels Like To Learn How To Cope

Grief: deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. Some may say it comes in waves, but that would suggest a seemingly predictable pattern. There was no pattern in the grief of my aunt’s death. It was about as predictable as a blindfolded pitcher. I had thought that grief would be similar to having my heart broken. I imagined it like this deep, intense pain that would weigh me down like I was constantly dragging a boulder behind me.

But that’s not how it is at all.

I still lived my life as a fourth grader. I laughed, I played with my friends, I had fun like any other nine year old would and then bam. Out of nowhere, it would hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t matter where I was, I could be in school, at home or at the grocery store. It could last for ten minutes, two hours, or a few days and then just like that it was gone. It was a spontaneous and painful reminder that no matter what, my aunt was gone and there was nothing I could do about it.

My aunt lived an impressive life in her early years. She lived in Alaska during her twenties. She could go on for hours telling me about the different things she experienced in her time living there and I would never get sick of hearing them. One of my favorite stories was when she saved a drowning man from the dark and icy Atlantic waters when she was just 22. She had a yearning to help others, almost like an itch that she couldn’t stop scratching at until her fingers became raw, that explains why she went on to become a nurse. She was one of the most alluring people I have ever come across. She was a good person with a heart of gold but, you know what they say, bad things always happen to good people.

I don’t really remember when it started. I never really knew at the budding age of nine that there was anything wrong with her. I had no idea that the sparkling soul I knew was growing dimmer everyday. We started visiting her almost every single day instead of twice a week. I had no complaints, I loved seeing her. There were little things I noticed that had changed about her in such a short time. She became paler, thinner and fragile. But, me being only nine at the time, I never saw her as someone whose health was rapidly declining, I saw her as the strong willed woman with many stories. I wish I had known at that age what was about to occur. I wish I had known that on September 24, 2009, I would receive a phone call that would impact me for the rest of my life. I wish I had known that I was going to lose my favorite person. I wish I had known that there would be no more stories about the captivating scenery in Alaska or the gruesome atrocities of her time spent nursing. I wish I would have been able to say goodbye.

The worst grief I experienced was immediatly when I found out she was gone. When I get the random gusts of grief, I feel that pain all over again. My mom had been there with her when she passed, but my brothers and I were at home with my father oblivious to what we were about to find out. But, as soon as my mom called the house phone, I had the suspicion that something wasn’t right. I tried to shake it off but shortly after my suspicion was confirmed. I vividly remember that night. Thinking about it now I can still feel the shock wave I felt. I remember sitting stunned, unable to fathom what I had just heard with my sobbing siblings next to me. It felt like a bomb had just dropped. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. Then I was snapped back into reality and my breathing started to get heavier and more rapid, I felt my chin quiver and my eyes become filled with tears. I remember just hysterically crying, my throat was sore and my eyes puffy and bloodshot from the constant flow of tears. Everything had hit me so fast and all I could do was sit there and wonder why this had happened. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to cope with this.

But, eventually I taught myself how to deal with the grief.  I like to believe that her passing was meant to happen because it shaped me into the person I am today. Without having to endure the struggles I did while dealing with her loss, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I will forever cherish the time I was able to spend with her. As I get older, I continue to carry her wisdom with me as I hope to become half of the person that she was. Dealing with the grief of losing a loved one will never be painless. I still experience the spontaneous bursts of grief, of wanting to tell her about my day and being reminded that she won’t be there to pick up the phone when I call. Grief isn’t meant to be something that lasts for a couple of days. Once it hits the first time, it never fully disappears.

Overtime, I accepted her passing. I had to. My aunt taught me many things, mostly hidden within her infamous stories. She taught me how to see the light in every situation, she taught me how to believe in the kindness of strangers, and most importantly, to cherish every moment I spend with my two feet on this earth. Overcoming the grief that I dealt with was, and still is, the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my lifetime. I still miss my aunt, I think about her every single day. The pain doesn’t get easier, it gets more manageable. I still regret not being able to say goodbye to her. But, if I learned anything from her, it was how to push through the dark to reach the light ahead. As time goes on, I have taught myself through her wisdom to cherish every moment, every laugh and every conversation I share with someone because you never know when it’ll be the last.