“All my life, people have told me, ‘You’re jinxed’, but I never saw it that way.”
My mom and dad, met and fell in love in high school. My mom was 15 and my dad was 17. By the time my mom was sixteen, they were engaged and they married the summer between my mother’s junior and senior year – she was 17. By the time my mother turned nineteen, she was a newlywed, a new mother, and a widow. My dad was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work when I was eight weeks old. The date was August 29, 1961.
Of course, because I was a new born, I did not understand all the happenings around me. However, Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. says, “Any child old enough to love, is old enough to mourn,” and I believe that even at eight weeks old, I was aware of the loss and it shaped who I was to become.
My first memory is of my grandfather dying before my eyes at four years old. My mother was in the hospital having my brother (she remarried when I was three) and I was staying with my grandparents. My grandpa got home from work, and even though he was thoroughly exhausted, he agreed to read me my favorite Bugs Bunny story, at my insistence. He was almost to my favorite part, where Petunia Pig shows up to the picnic with a delicious chocolate cake, when he dropped the book and rolled off the bed and onto the floor. My grandmother ran into the room screaming and the next thing I remember was sitting on the lap of a big man wearing blue. He had his hand over my eyes, so I couldn’t see, but I saw them wheel the gurney to the ambulance through the crack of the big man’s fingers.
So, I entered into my life, surrounded by grieving people and my first memory is of death. And it didn’t stop there. On my 18th birthday, my grandfather died – we got the call as my mother was lighting the candles on my birthday cake. On my 21st birthday, my best friend Becky was late to my party – as I was opening presents, I got a call from Becky’s mother saying she had been killed in a car accident on her way to my birthday celebration. And on my 25th birthday, I came home from my surprise party to a voice mail saying my great-grandfather had died. Some people said I was jinxed, but I never saw it that way. I had an extra-special connection with the three people who died on my birthday and I believe they chose that day to make sure I would always remember them. And I do. Every birthday, I not only celebrate the gift of years I’ve had so far, I also remember and celebrate those precious people and how they changed my life for the better.
Several years went by, where I had no great losses. Life is like that. It will go along smoothly for years, even decades, but sooner or later, it’s a given, you will lose someone. In 2001, it happened again for me. I had started dating a cherished man named Eric, that I had been friends with for several years. After only officially dating for about six months, Eric was diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, at the time of diagnosis, his cancer was advanced and in early September 2001, he ended up in the hospital with complications. We lived in a very small town in Western New York with limited medical resources, so he was scheduled to be taken by ambulance to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo for testing and possible treatment on the morning of September 11th.
I set my alarm extra early that day, so I could stop and say goodbye to Eric before I went to work. His face was pale and sunken, but his Cheshire-cat smile lit up his face when I walked in. He grabbed my hand and we hugged as best we could with me leaning over the bed. It wasn’t close enough, so I climbed in, laid beside him and rested my head in the crook of his arm – my favorite place to be. He kissed my forehead and told me he loved me. That wasn’t unusual, but then he continued on, telling me to live my life, focus on raising my kids and that he would be with me forever, no matter what. I looked into his soft hazel eyes and told him that it sounded to me like he was saying goodbye forever. He shook his head and said that no one knows if we’ll be here tomorrow and he just wanted to make sure I knew what was in his heart. I watched through blurred teary eyes as they loaded him into the ambulance and we waved goodbye to each other.
I drove to work through a flood of tears and when I arrived, the offices were empty. I found everyone huddled around the TV in the break room, some of them weeping. Just as I made my way to where I could see the television screen, the second tower fell. Everyone gasped in horror. I remember feeling relieved that other people were crying too. Now, my tear-stained face would be accepted without question. I stood there feeling numb. I knew that what we were witnessing was a tragedy of epic proportions, but all I could feel was my angst and fear of losing Eric. I stumbled robotically through my day and then made my way home, fell into bed and cried myself to sleep. I was awakened the next morning by the phone ringing. It was Eric’s sister telling me he was gone. And my heart crumbled just like the towers had the previous day.
For the next several months, I wandered through life, like it was a dark, murky fog, but eventually I came out the other side and enjoyed many years of calm, until this summer – the summer of 2018. I came to Colorado to care for my ailing mother in November of 2016 and brought my most recent senior rescue, Frank, with me. My Dad, my brother and I took turns visiting my Mom so she wasn’t alone during the day and of course, Frank came with me and delivered puppy love to my mom and her fellow residents. Frank had a rough life before I rescued him and subsequently was in poor health because of it and on May 8th, I held my beloved fur-friend in my arms and sent him off to The Forever Forest.
I decided to take a trip to Denver to see some cherished old friends, while I wasn’t tied down with a dog and I’m so thankful I did because I was able to connect with my close friend, Jennifer, who was battling cancer. She told me that day, that her doctors had told her there was nothing more they could do and that she would be stopping treatment and going on Hospice.
My heart was heavy when I returned from that trip, but I was so very grateful to have spent some quality time with Jennifer and I continued my daily nursing home visits. On the evening of July 2nd, after my Dad and I had just returned from the nursing home, the doorbell rang. It was the coroner telling us that my brother, who had been a Type 1 Diabetic since he was four years old, was found dead in his home.
My elderly step-father and I were so focused on preparing for my mother’s death, that the news of my brother pulled the rug out from under us. We held my brother’s memorial service and burial, and then faced the task of clearing out his home to get it ready to sell. Gratefully, we had family come to our rescue and helped us put everything left of my brother in boxes or storage. It was heartbreaking and again I felt that familiar murky cloud surround me, only this time it was compounded by my dear friend Jenny’s death. And so, I took a break from grieving the loss of my brother and the anticipatory grief for my mother, to say goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends.
The thing I have learned through all of this grief and loss in my life, is that no matter how dark and bleak life feels while walking your path of mourning, life still presents blessings everywhere. The death of my friend Jennifer fell extremely hard on me because it was the third death in three months, but I found myself surrounded by lifelong friends – some I hadn’t seen in 40 years. I had been feeling so very alone since my brother had died and being surrounded by the love and support of my childhood friends brought me a blessed comfort I did not think was possible. It was a time of deep sadness and pure joy, but that is the yin and yang of life.
Through all these experiences and the walk I am taking now through anticipatory grief (look for feature articles and helpful items in the Toolbox coming soon), I have learned so much. There are books I’ve read, music I’ve listened to and advice I’ve been given that have helped, but ultimately, everything I know about grief comes from experience. I believe this is one of my divine purposes in life – to offer comfort, advice and support to others who are grieving.
So, if you have suffered a loss, you are in the right place. Here you will find feature articles, helpful literature, music playlists and other tools to help you along your path of mourning. Be sure to subscribe to our blog, so you never miss a feature and remember, we are always here if you need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on – just tap on the chat icon in the lower right of our home page.
Remember, you are not alone and although you will never get over it, you will learn to live life after loss.