During my junior year of high school, the first paper assigned in my English class was something along the lines of “write about what makes you who you are today.” I remember that I got my paper back with a “B” grade instead of my usual “A.” On the margins was a note from my teacher which said, “I think you know you have other things you could have written about. See me.” I have no recollection as to what my topic was, but I definitely remember what it wasn’t.
She wanted me to write about my dad’s battle with cancer. I very politely ignored her request to “see me.”
At that point, I simply couldn’t put pen to paper and write about that experience. That was six years ago, and I haven’t written about it since.
So here I am, somewhat ironically finding myself jumping on the opportunity to become a contributor for Too Damn Young!
As Vivian and I spoke about becoming a contributor, something she said stuck out to me: no grief is the same. The goal is to help people feel less alone while still allowing their grief to be a unique experience.
I’ve experienced a wide variety of losses by a variety of means, and I completely agree with that sentiment. No grief, for me, has been the same as the one that preceded it; they have each been a distinct, unique experience, but all equally difficult.
I’m going to relate my experiences to Grey’s Anatomy, because:
A. I’m completely and utterly obsessed with that show,
B. This current season is ending with the death of a major character,
C. Every time my dad was in the hospital, he would insist on binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy episodes. We would regularly poke fun at him for watching a hospital show while he was in the hospital.
Meredith Grey, the show’s heroine, has gone through a lot since Season 1.
Meredith has experienced a serious break up.
She has experienced losing a pet that was a crucial piece in her grief process.
She has helped her friends cope with deaths of family members.
She has survived attempted suicide.
She has experienced the death of a parent.
She has experienced the death of her roommate.
She has experienced friends walking out on her life.
She has undergone major surgery in an effort to save a loved one.
She has survived a shooting.
She has survived a miscarriage.
She has gone through the loss of her job.
She has survived a plane crash.
She has experienced the death of a sibling.
She has struggled with being the medical power of attorney for a loved one during a life-threatening situation.
She has dealt with her best friend moving away and losing contact.
And now, she has experienced the death of her husband, Derek. She is having to start all over again as a single mother to three kids.
As Derek said once on the show, “We have survived an unusual number of bad things.” And Derek is right. As a TV show, I fully admit that the unusual number of bad things can get a little ridiculous sometimes. Like…seriously? I thought they just had a ferryboat crash, now they’re in a SINKHOLE?!?
But for anyone who has gone through grief, one loss or more than one, it can feel like an unusual number of bad things.
After the loss, everything else is affected by that loss. You deal with everything differently than you would have before.
The first loss I was really affected by was the death of my “Paw Paw” (dad’s dad) in 2010. My dad died two years later, and I subsequently lost a lot of my friends. In 2013, my dad’s best friend (who became my mentor after his death) also passed away. Then my friend’s dad died, which brought back all the feelings of my own dad’s death. Then a co-worker and friend was murdered. Then several pastors/mentors moved away, followed by my best friends. This past year my cat, who really was my dad’s cat, died suddenly.
At this point, it’s hard to not live my life constantly waiting for who will be the next “then,” wondering who is going to leave me next, who is going to die now.
On Grey’s, Meredith would often describe herself as “dark and twisty.” Experiencing death can absolutely make you feel that way.
Then there are the days when you’re okay, but your friends treat you like you’re dark and twisty anyway, and all the “dark and twisties” that you weren’t feeling come trickling back in.
It’s very much a real struggle. But if there’s one thing Grey’s reiterates over and over, it’s SURVIVING. When you feel dark and twisty, you find the light. When you want to be finished, you’re not. You keep going because there isn’t another option…the other option is not living. And there’s always more to do and more to live for, even when it’s hard.
“Most of the time, pain can be managed. But sometimes, the pain gets you when you least expect it. Hits way below the belt and doesn’t let up. Pain. You just have to fight through. Because the truth is, you can’t outrun it, and life always makes more.“
“Doesn’t matter how tough we are. Trauma always leaves a scar. It follows us home, it changes our lives. Trauma messes everybody up, but maybe that’s the point. All the pain and the fear and the crap, maybe going through all of that is what keeps us moving forward, it’s what pushes us. Maybe we have to get a little messed up before we can step up.“
“There’s an end to every storm. Once all the trees have been uprooted. Once all the houses have been ripped apart. The wind will hush. The clouds will part. The rain will stop. The sky will clear in an instant and only then, in those quiet moments after the storm, do we learn who was strong enough to survive it.“
…those Grey’s Anatomy monologues just speak to you, don’t they? They spoke to me as that high school junior who couldn’t articulate any of my thoughts, and they speak to me now that I’m mildly better at it.
Things are hard, but I’m surviving. Surviving is something worth sharing, and worth writing about.
(If you want to write for Too Damn Young email firstname.lastname@example.org or go here.)