Oceans of Grief, Flames of Hope

This is another personal post, but with some thoughts I felt should be shared. As I mentioned in my last post, March is a difficult month for me, and today is the hardest. In the back of my mind, I knew the 10th anniversary of losing my dad was going to be hard, but I didn’t think I was aware just how painful it would be. I suppose it’s because 10 is a pretty significant number, because so much can happen in a decade, and because sometimes that decade feels like another life entirely.

Over the past couple of days, the memory of the night I told my dad goodbye became clearer, the memories of the next day when I was pulled from my Geometry class and received the news that he’d died. I remember the room in the hospice, speaking to his seemingly unconscious form, half in some kind of coma state that I can’t recall the name of. He couldn’t speak and his eyes were closed, but I was certain he could hear me. I talked to him, knowing on some level this would be the last time I saw him, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I remember the following day, going about my normal school schedule, remember how surreal it was, knowing that nothing that I had ever perceived as normal would ever exist again. There would be a new normal, but never again the one I’d known before. I remember falling into my mom’s arms, tears pooling in my eyes. It was the only time for the next few days I cried in a legitimate way:  When I’m sad I have a habit of freezing up, of sitting quietly lost in my own head. Crying for me is something that happens either when I’m shocked or when I trap my emotions down for too long and they come bursting out.

Or when I’m watching musicals. Then I cry a lot. Also when I read books or watch Dead Poet’s Society for the first time. Anyway. I actually cry more when I’m happy than when I’m sad.

I was thinking on all of these things today, all of the memories, and those hurt. They choked me and made it hard to breathe. I actually did cry, and I felt myself slip deeper into emotions that frightened me. Why? Because I couldn’t control them. For one of the few times in the past decade since March 10, 2004 at the age of 15, I let them wash over me almost without meaning too. Don’t get me wrong, I like to feel all kinds of emotions because that’s one of the beautiful parts of life. I’ve felt numb before, and that is actually the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. These particular emotions though, these are hard and sharp and difficult and they me feel like the threads I used to sew up the cracks in myself after all this happened might rip apart. They feel almost dangerous.

I fell asleep at two in the morning and woke up with my head pulsing, so I laid around for a bit, calling into work late because there was simply no way I could handle the Metro at rush hour with a migraine. I begrudgingly got on the train to work, doing my best to go about my day when really what I wanted was to curl up in bed and sleep till noon. Had it not been for all the snow days recently, I probably would have, but as I’m now the managing librarian, I wanted to save my days off, so in I went. Instead of the barrage of memories coming at me like knives as they had the previous night, I awoke with the feeling of a hollow ache within, a sensation of missing my parents so terribly that I wasn’t sure what to do or how to cope with it. I wanted to call them, I wanted to see them. Most of all, I wanted them to see me, wanted them to walk through the door and hear them say they were pleased with who I’ve become, feel them hug me tight and keep me safe, and I could have none of that. Those feelings were perhaps worse than the memories, because the memories were just that: memories. They evoked confusion, sadness, anger, but they were wispy shreds of something past, capable of hurting certainly, but the present ache was in the here and now, and a feeling I know will follow me as I go through life, and on more than just anniversaries.

But with this strange ten-year reflection going on (the anniversary of my mom’s death is in June, so I suspect there will be a great deal of introspection over the next few months) there also came hopeful thoughts. Even happy ones. Ten years, I thought. An entire decade. 15 to 25. 2004 to 2014, I had a life, I realized. A full, wonderful one. There are empty spaces where they should be, and that will never stop hurting. But somewhere along the line I stopped letting that hurt define who I was entirely. It will always and forever a part of me, my tragedy, this monumental loss of the two people who brought me into this world in the first place, but they at least, would not want it to be everything. In many respects, and this is a tough subject for me to grapple with still, the life I have now sprang from the path of these losses. Would I be the same person? Would I be in the same place? Would I love writing as much as I do now, writing, which is one of my biggest passions and a centerpiece of my life? These are the questions I wrestle with, but in the end, this is where I am, and this is my life.

I looked in the metaphorical mirror, examining myself, and considered all the things I’ve learned about myself over the past decade, the things I’ve accomplished, the people I’ve met:

Despite growing up in a small southern town, I am a city girl in my heart. I love the sounds of it, I love the buildings sweeping beneath the sky, I love the fast pace, the culture, the inspiration I see at every corner. It makes me feel monumentally alive.

I actually am smart.

I am so happy I died my hair blonde, because I am in love with it. Also with the curls I fought against so much as a teenager.

Red is my absolute favorite color, and every time I wear it, it makes me feel empowered. Red lipstick is also now a thing in my life.

My empathy is one of my best qualities.

So is my logic.

That I am an optimist, an idealist, and full of so much hope that sometimes it feels like it burns through me. This does not mean I have blind faith and vomit rainbows and turn my head to the nasty and painful and unjust things in the world. It means that I actively recognize those things and believe something can be done about them, that humanity is good and the fight for a free, equal world is worth all the pain some of the losses we face along the way might cause. It’s not about the battle, it’s about the war. It’s about searching for the good among the bad and believing in it. In fighting for it and cherishing it.

I’m far more politically liberal that I realized. I also have a penchant for reading modern political books and any book I can get my hands on about the French Revolution or the philosophy that inspired it.

Writing is like breathing.

I’m a cat person.

I love musical theater.

My spirit animal is compromised half of Enjolras from Les Mis, and half of Hermione Granger from Harry Potter.

I freaking love being a librarian and I like argyle, waistcoats, Converse, skinny jeans, cardigans, and boots a whole lot.

I’m capable of being an excellent leader.

That God is present in the most unexpected of moments. The smallest ones.

That I have an incredible army of friends spread across the country and the world, without whom I don’t know where I’d be. Friends who are talented, intelligent, and who light up the world with their beautiful existence.  This goes for my family as well, because they are responsible for helping me perhaps more than they even realize.

That family is an amalgamation of wonderful, hilarious people you’re related to, and fantastic people that you’re not.

That I’ve got a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in subjects I respect and have a passion for, and that is worth every penny of my student debt.

I could go on, but as I sat at my desk in the dwindling hours of the work day, drinking a green tea and trying to be polite to a book hoarding patron, my heart aching, my head throbbing, and my soul twisted up in knots, I realized I knew who I was. That I was proud of who I am. I am a far cry from the 15 year old girl who stood in silent, almost stoic horror, tears locked up tight within me at my father’s funeral, not knowing that I would lose my mother three months later, my life shattered before me, and I didn’t know which pieces to keep and which to toss away. That girl is a part of me, and I keep her safe inside, because she is the most vulnerable piece of me. She would be happy, I believe, to see me now, becoming that person I always longed to be, that I fought to create. Sometimes in my dark moments I worry over whether or not my parents would like me, whether they’d be proud, but the best parts of me know they are, and thinking on that eases the pain and the doubts.

I sat, overcome in what from the outside might have seemed in inconsequential moment, in the midst of something very important, as the bittersweet mix of pain and hope washed over me. Sometimes I think that is my favorite kind of emotion. The ocean of my grief that ebbs and flows upon the sand, sometimes better, sometimes worse, lit on fire by the hope I will never let go of. That hope for the future. That sense of purpose, and that desire to make a difference. That desire to live fully and for something.

That is who I am.

I have lost much, but I have also gained a great deal. This could not have been more clear tonight when I slipped in Beauty and the Beast into the DVD player, a movie related to my absolute favorite memory of my dad (at my fifth birthday party he waltzed with me to the title song as I wore my homemade golden Belle dress, referring to me as Princess the entire time, complete with my curtsy and his bow) and my roommate and most phenomenal friend Katy came out to sit with me and watch when she heard the opening theme from the other side of her bedroom door, knowing what the day, and the movie, meant to me. She didn’t want me to be alone, and while it might seem small, it meant more than I could really articulate.

To end, I shall leave you with the song that inspired the title of this post. Give it a listen!

 

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2 comments

  1. Timothy W. Sullivan · · Reply

    Katie, you’re a fantastic person and a fine writer. This is a wonderful essay. Thank you.–Tim

  2. Thank you, Uncle Tim! That means a lot, I appreciate the read. 🙂

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