On Nov. 9, 2008, my Blackberry buzzed on the counter and jarred me out of my Sunday morning daydream. It was my grandmother.
“Sosh, I don’t know how to say this but to just say it; Darlin’ your mom is gone. It’s over, baby,” she said.
My mom had overdosed.
I don’t remember if we said anything else. I knew that I needed to get my husband, Tony, who was outside mowing grass under a crisp, fall, Carolina-blue sky. I walked toward the front door, but before I got there my legs gave out and I dropped to the floor and sobbed.
Two years and 10 days later a call from an unrecognized number. I only answered it because it started with 304 — my home state’s area code. On the other end a cousin delivered the news that my little brother had been found dead that morning due to an unknown health issue and a series of missteps by local law enforcement.
I told her she was sick and then abruptly ended the call, believing that would make what she had said untrue.
As much as I know that it was just coincidental that two of the saddest events of my life happened in the same month, I still dread when October’s Jack ‘o Lanterns turn into November’s pumpkin pies..
This year it will be nine and seven years, respectively, since my mom and brother passed away. The cliché goes that time heals all wounds. Seriously, WTF does that even mean?
Time heals wounds like the one you get when you bite into a piece of piping hot pizza and singe the roof of your mouth, but time does not necessarily heal the wound of your mom never meeting her granddaughter, nor does it patch up the fact that you never got to buy your baby brother a legal beer.
If we’re lucky, the passage of time teaches us how to adapt to our wounds.
I can’t bring my mom or brother back. I can’t heal those wounds completely, but I can bandage and treat them.
From the worst moments of my life I have tried to grow and learn, to become a better version of myself. I have a deeper appreciation for the people in my life.
Another way that I try to deal with grief is engaging in something new or challenging or exciting every November. I’ve run a half marathon and I’ve gotten a tattoo. This year I started CrossFit and I think that I’ll get my nose pierced. I do these things to remind myself that I no longer have to be scared of embracing the life I’ve always wanted to lead…because despite the heartache and despair, I realize that I have one helluva life.
Yet, my wounds are still there. As the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to change I can feel my injuries start to flare up and I know that I must deal with them.
This is a struggle. I don’t want to deal with them. I don’t want to worry about if people are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Damn, woman! It has been years now. Aren’t you over this by now?”
I talked with Jude Johnson, a behavioral health therapist at the Charlotte office of Monarch, a nonprofit organization that supports North Carolinians with disabilities, mental illnesses, and substance-use disorders. We talked about the grieving process and he said that one of the most important things that people can do when dealing with a loss is to allow themselves to feel what they feel.
“We have to be kind to ourselves,” Johnson said.
Some of those closest to me may say that I fail miserably at that, that I am anything but kind to myself. I still struggle with the guilt over my strained relationship with my mom and brother when they died. I still beat myself up over the fact that I had not spoken to either of them in months before I got the calls telling me that they were no longer here. I fear that they both thought that I hated them.
I am learning that the best type of treatment for my sadness is to love openly. Through words and actions, I attempt to tell the people in my life how much I love them and how much they mean to me.
It’s not always easy, especially in a culture that Johnson says is addicted to looking strong.
For years, I was so guilty of this phenomenon. Even as my world crumpled around me, I would tell people that I was fine, everything was A-okay.
Being vulnerable is so damn scary.
I am better at expressing my feelings through the written word. I am trying to get better about telling people face-to-face, but I often end up sounding awkward and ham-fisted. Inevitably, I’ll end up making a terrible joke rather than telling my loved one that the nearness of them puts my soul at ease.
Johnson recommends writing letters of gratitude.
I did that in 2011.
I thanked my husband, my daughter, my grandmother, my sister, my in-laws, my friends, my high school guidance counselor. I let my old bosses know that I appreciated them.
I thanked my parents. Although they provided an incredible amount of heartache in my life, I am thankful that they brought me into the world, and through their struggles and failures taught me how to be a good parent and how to appreciate the beauty of my life.
I thanked my little brother, Zack. I miss him every day. I am thankful for his kind heart, his good manners, his beautiful smile.
Photos: Sosha Lewis