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Grief… the unspoken emotion

I want to talk about grief.  We don’t talk about it enough and there’s this weird bubble of shame and disassociation around it. People tend to shy away from loss and pain… and I get it. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Which probably says something more about ourselves and not wanting to be vulnerable or experience pain openly. I’ve been there. When someone I’ve known experiences a loss, sometimes it’s hard to find the right words or say something that doesn’t sound trite, like the inside of a lame sympathy card. Plus, they start ugly-crying and it’s like oh geez, now what? Where do I put my hands? Do I sort of pat-pat their back? Or say “it’s going to be okay?” LAME all around.

However, when you’re the one going through it, what people on the other side don’t understand is, no one expects you to fix it, or make them better. I think we all want to have the perfect, comforting words and truthfully, sometimes there just are none. Just being there, witnessing someone in pain so they aren’t alone, and letting them process it, is enough.

To me, grief is like standing in the ocean. Sometimes you’re under water in the deep, feeling totally consumed by it. As time goes on, you sort of drift towards the shallow sandy edge, where it’s under the surface but you can function through your day. Then, just as the hurt starts to subside, out of nowhere, a huge wave hits you again and you’re flattened, suddenly excusing yourself in the middle of a meeting to bawl in a bathroom stall (truth). It’s a long process and not linear in any way. But time does start to heal your heart. And I think it’s constructive to talk about it. To admit, “No I’m not okay. But I will be, eventually.”

I lost my mother-in-law Barbara this past July. Although I only knew her for 6 years, we connected immediately when I started dating my husband and she welcomed me with open arms into their family. In fact, I jokingly used to say to her that she was the deal that sealed Brandon and my union. She defied all those Monster-In-Law stereotypes — we were genuinely friends. Just before Brandon and I got engaged, I was filming a movie in Michigan. I decided sort of randomly to take two days on the back end and go visit her. My way of getting to know her before we got married. And we had an awesome time getting pedicures, shopping, listening to music while tooling around on the boat and watching crazy Netflix shows (Shameless was her current favorite before she passed). She had a wicked and dirty sense of humor that always surprised me and she knew how to poke fun in a loving manner. She was a true light and one of a kind.

Anyone that came in contact with her, from people who knew her for years, to friends who met her once, were impacted by her – her
smile, her warm, friendly attitude, her genuine joy for and humor about life. She had her first son when she was just 19, and told me stories of picking up recyclables on the side of the road to make money to buy milk, running her own in-home daycare when her boys (she had three all before the age of 30) were still at home and she needed to figure out a way to supplement the family income, and then finally working a job at 3M for years that gave her a pension. She didn’t come from much but she didn’t need much to be happy. She was just waiting to retire and finally enjoy the life of leisure she had worked so hard for.

Then Barb was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012, a few years before her 60th birthday.  And for most of Brandon and my relationship, it was a lot of ups and downs.  Brutal chemo treatments, remissions, stem cell transplants, more cancer… loosing hair, regrowing hair… she went through it all. And we were there with her as much as we could be. Time off and holidays meant prioritizing family, staying in the transplant house near Mayo, going to see her when she wasn’t allowed to get on an airplane. And throughout it all, she never lost her sense of humor – never a woe is me moment, or wallowing in her lost days at home feeling sick. She had the most incredible, positive attitude through it all.

When the cancer came back in March and she tried two more aggressive treatments, her body broke down. At that point, she made the decision to get off the roller coaster and go into hospice. We knew this day would come eventually, but I guess with so many advancements, we also prayed they’d find a miracle treatment that would keep her in remission forever.

Cousins…

They moved a bed onto their sun porch at their home and she was assigned a nurse who would come check in weekly and she started to plan her own funeral. It was so upsetting and surreal in so many ways… how could this be happening? How was she giving up? Wasn’t there something else we could try? But I also understood it. This life of needle pricks and chemo and the waiting for the next drug wasn’t the life she wanted anymore, nor was it one she deserved.

It’s a really strange and surreal experience saying goodbye to someone who you know is going to die. My husband and daughter and I took a week and went and stayed with her. My sisters and brothers-in-law joined and there were cousins running around their farm property, playing games, laughing, sharing meals… it was truly an incredible week and she was still feeling good. It was beautiful. And morbid. I’d have these out of body moments, looking around, trying to memorize every detail, knowing it was fleeting- then she’d crack a joke and we’d all laugh and I’d think “how can she not be fine?”.

She had a friend’s daughter come over and take family pictures and Brandon and I went to Target to find her something to wear. Looking back, this was incredible foresight on her part.  I will now cherish these forever.

 

We got her on the boat one last time and those first memories I had laughing with her, drinking beer and listening to music, all came flooding back and I couldn’t allow myself to believe this would never happen again. For lack of a better way to explain it, it was fucked up.

The last boat ride.

We were sitting on the porch one morning and we talked about fear. I asked her, “Are you afraid that you know you’re going to die?”. She told me she wasn’t. She found a lot of peace in being able to have her

funeral the way she wanted it, to share in the special moments offamily time, to receive visitors, like the endless parade they were, with their casseroles and salads. It was like a festival of love for a month, both in person and through texts and letters and Facebook messages. Also, she was tired. Tired of fighting. She felt robbed of her golden years and the retirement she had so been looking forward to, not to mention her time as a grandma… but she had lived a good life. Again, no pity party for her, thank you very much.

I wrote her a card, telling her everything I wanted her to know, because saying it would have had me wound up in a puddle of tears, and she read it and we hugged and cried before we left.

Then end came, and my husband went back and stayed for the last weeks of her life until she passed. I’m not going to lie, the end of cancer is brutal. We give our animals the respect to put them down when they are in pain, and yet we make our loved ones suffer through the agony of disease killing them slowly, taking away their basic faculties, until they are so drugged up they are unrecognizable versions of themselves. It feels inhumane and cruel. I will never understand how he had the strength to bear witness to that but I admire him greatly for his compassion and his sense of duty to a woman who gave him life. Even as the pain took over and she was no longer able to speak or eat, he sat with her so she knew she wasn’t alone. God, it makes me cry thinking about it. I cried a lot that week actually, which is also hard when you’re home alone trying to care for a 2 year old and explain why Mommy is sad.

I was also so angry this was happening. It was so unfair. That her life be cut short like this while other people, healthy as horses, complain and dwell on petty shit. Death, at close hand, puts a lot into perspective. And the fact she had to suffer through to the end as a result. Why her? Why anyone? Fucking cancer.

I had laid down to take a rare nap while Georgia was sleeping when Brandon called to tell me she had passed. I missed the call but woke up half an hour later and knew. I was almost 8 months pregnant at the time. The dawning realization that it was over hit me. She would never meet our little boy, who she was so excited about. Would Georgia even remember her beloved “Granny Nanny”? After years of fighting and weeks of pain and struggle, I felt both relief (for her) and utter devastation (for us).

 

 

We knew this was coming. I had prepared myself for it for several months at this point, which you would think would make the end easier. I ended up feeling like I mourned this loss over and over and over. And now I had to mourn again. It was an exhausting summer. We still had unpacked boxes in our living room and a baby on the way that I felt I had barely any emotional room left for. I was spent, and frightened we wouldn’t pull out of this.

                   

     Looks can be deceiving

My mom came in to help and I flew back to be with Brandon and the family. Everything went on like clockwork — she was, indeed prepared — and after two days of visitations, wakes, funeral and the burial, we were headed back to LA. It was over.

Material she had printed for her funeral. Genius.

With my mom still in town, I took Brandon away for a night. We went to the beach. He had been through a taxing few weeks and was nearly physically ill recovering from the stress. I jokingly called it the “Death Decompression”, but it worked. We swam and read and watched TV and ate at a fancy steakhouse and slept in. And, although still sad, we felt nearly felt human again, and drove back down the coast.

It’s been over a month since she passed. We’ve slowly started to work through the wave pool that has been our grief. Most days we’re good and then something dumb will remind me of her and I’ll get weepy all over again.
Or Georgia will ask for Grandma and I’ll pause, trying to figure out how to explain this to her without crying (simple and honest I have found is probably best).

I know we all have to die. I certainly don’t look forward to loosing my parents but I’m grateful to have a partner who will be there to support me. I hope everyone I know is super old and goes passively in their sleep. But I know in our lifetime, that’s not realistic. People get cancer and people die suddenly and it’s shocking and unfair and it hurts.

We have to talk about it. Holding that pain inside isn’t healthy, nor does it help us cope for whatever is next. I’m still super sad, and I’ve cried many time writing this, but it’s been therapeutic.  I’m choosing to reframe Barb’s passing as my joy in getting to spend 6 wonderful years with someone, rather than all the time I didn’t get. It’s taking awhile, but I’m getting there.

One last story… one of the nights we were there in June, the guys carried the family dining table outside and we all had dinner under the big tree in their backyard. The heat had broke and it was beautiful out. Afterward, my nieces wanted to take rides on the 4-wheeler. After a few rounds watching them, Barb insisted she, too,
wanted a ride. Who was going to deny her that? Her sons helped put her on and her youngest, Joe, rode behind her. As they finished the loop, she came barreling around the corner, fist up in the air… victorious, right up to the end.

 

 

Life is beautiful, it wouldn’t hurt so much if it wasn’t.

Love you Barb.

xC

 

Christine Lakin

  • Linda Cooper

    Wow, what a beautiful tribute.
    I lost my husband of 35 years last December. We met in kindergarten, started dating in high school. Two kids and three grandchildren later he was diagnosed with cancer March of 2017. Many months of chemo and then experimental drugs we thought we were winning. He passed In December 2017. How you described the wave is exactly how I feel. Those waves still knock me down when I don’t expect it.
    Sending hugs to your family, because there are no words

    August 27, 2018 at 5:40 pm Reply
  • Andrea Banes

    While I’m so sorry for your loss, I am happy you were able to spend such a wonderful time with her before she passed. This is so beautiful and a great reminder to us all that life doesn’t suck – life is amazing and we should cherish it.

    August 27, 2018 at 6:15 pm Reply
  • Kimberly Croft

    Thank you for writing/sharing this! This was Beautiful…I can relate to everything you wrote. I lost my Dad 7/10/2018 he fought for 8 long yrs right until the end. I’m lost everyday with out him but I’m trying to tell myself he’s no longer suffering he’s out of pain❤️

    August 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm Reply
  • Wendy Chandler

    My dad passed almost exactly two years ago after more than 25 years with non-hodgkins. So while I don’t usually comment on blogs this just spoke to me in so many ways. The journey was long and filled with joy and agony (ours and yours), but I remain grateful that we had 25 “extra” years together that easily might not have happened. I take so much comfort in knowing that he’s finally out of pain and is able to watch over and protect us all as our angel. She’s so proud of you right now for honoring her in this deeply meaningful way. Good for you for using this platform to talk about it, something most people simply can’t bring themselves to do. Wishing you all love and hugs as you move through this process.

    August 27, 2018 at 6:25 pm Reply
  • Jo Cernohous

    You definitely have a way with words and have certainly captured the essence of the Babsi that we all knew and loved. She was SO crazy about you the minute she met you — and told me many times how Brandon had found just the right soul mate. You two were so good to her and she cherished every minute together. While we are all grieving now, take comfort that her life of needles and tumors and decisions are over and she’s in a better place playing the piano and talking smack! We are all better people for having known your fun, loving and crazy mom-in-law!

    August 27, 2018 at 6:35 pm Reply
  • Melanie

    What a beautiful tribute to a woman who was clearly well-loved.

    August 27, 2018 at 6:36 pm Reply
  • Robert L.

    I feel your pain, you and your family are in my prayers during your time of loss. I too lost my Aunt last year of Breast Cancer at the age of 60. She was diagnosed and eventually put on hospice. She was real nice and sweet and I asked myself “Why her? She is as healthy as a horse.” Just remember this too shall pass. Keep pressing on.

    August 27, 2018 at 6:48 pm Reply
  • Melissa Abbott

    I am so truly sorry for your loss. Your writing is so beautiful! So much love! It’s sounds like she was an amazing woman and loved you all dearly. The love you have for her shows immensely.

    Over the past year grief has pretty much consumed our family. Last September we found out my father-in-love had a brain tumor. He had it removed but suffered a stroke during the operation. He decided to not get treatment. We spent 4 bitter sweet months caring for him before he went home to the Lord on February 3rd. Unfortunately in January while this was happening, my mom went into the hospital with what she thought was a heart attack. It turned out to be metastatic lung cancer. I left my job to be with her and help her while she was going through chemo and radiation treatments but she was too sick. She left us May 18th. She was my best friend.
    I love how you compared grief to the ocean. It is so true and fitting. Some days the waves are small and calm and some days the waves keep crashing down around me. For me I know I need to just let the waves take me down and not hold it. As time goes on I know there will be more calm days.

    August 27, 2018 at 6:55 pm Reply
  • Shelby McAnulty

    Christine,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful mother-in-law…I’m sorry ya’ll had to go through the pain of losing her in that way.

    My daughter Presley passed away from leukemia in 2012…so I agree…cancer is a piece of shit. You’re right about grief being this taboo topic, and I so wish it wasn’t. Thank you for being so open.

    I feel like you never get over these kind of losses, you just get through it the best you can.

    Hang in there. Sending love and peace to you and your family. – Shelby

    August 27, 2018 at 7:01 pm Reply
  • Aimee Brennan

    Christine,
    I hung on go every word of this beautiful piece. I lost my 14 years ago. She was 47 and fought 10 grueling months of the wrath of Lung Cancer. I still grieve often, behind closed doors. I am now the mother of 2 beautiful children which I thank Heaven for Every single day. Without them I feel I would have just fell victim to being Grief stricken for all the tears following my mother’s death. My father passed away 11 months after my mom. He was 53. I truly believe he died of a broken heart. We all grieve differently but I can promise you there is nothing wrong with taking your time to actually be in it, to go through it. I still have moments where a song, a smell, the feeling on a breeze gets me and I allow it to do just that….. get me. I am careful to not stay in it for too long though. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss.
    “A life well-lived is a precious gift
    of hope and strength and grace
    from someone who has made our world
    a brighter, better place.
    It’s filled with moments sweet and sad,
    with smiles and sometimes tears,
    with friendships formed and good times shared
    and laughter through the years.
    A life well-lived is a legacy of joy and pride and pleasure, A loving, lasting memory our grateful hearts will treasure”. Author Unknown

    August 27, 2018 at 7:05 pm Reply
  • Michelle Myers

    What an amazing lady! That was a Beautiful tribute and an emotional read. Losing a parent/in-law is incredibly heartbreaking but you find solace in the memories and good times. I have been there recently and it isn’t easy. Many condolences to you and your family.

    August 28, 2018 at 2:22 am Reply
  • Nadine

    What a beautifully written piece. I particularly like the imagery of grief and the ocean, how you seem to be handling things and moving forward, although the grief is still present, and then something happens and a wave knocks you over. Grief is something you can read about, but until you meet it personally you just don’t fully comprehend how it can overwhelm you. Thank you for writing this. This piece is also special to me because I grew up a block from Barb and went all through school with her. I enjoyed reading your description of her, brought back some wonderful memories. She had a very special ‘something’. After I married I moved away from our hometown and the last time I saw Barb was at our 40th class reunion 4 years ago. I am so thankful I attended that reunion, we had a very nice time talking. We did talk about her cancer, at that time she was in remission and doing well. She was such a fighter and I so admired her zest for life. She certainly knew how to put the F- in fun!! I am sorry for your loss, I know it’s a big one. I also want to say thanks for this piece because I lost my dad 18 months ago (He and my mom went through school with Jack and Willetta Breault) and I understand the grief you wrote about. Thanks for your insight.

    August 28, 2018 at 2:26 am Reply
  • Brittany Owens

    Thank you for sharing your journey of pain, healing, and moments of difficult joy, Christine. My father passed away a year ago in September. He fought cancer for 11 years. He was the guy who never smoked, ran every day, and had a positive outlook on life. Yet, he was also the guy who got cancer. It wasn’t fair. It isn’t. My son was just 4 months when he passed. The cancer had spread to his bones. It was SO difficult to watch him quickly go from active to crippled. Yet, he would struggle to walk just to be able to see his grandson, just to be able to live the life he had left. My dad was selfless. I get so angry when I look at my son (now 16 months) and think about him not knowing his grandpa Tim. But just as you, I try to refocus on the days dad did get to spend with Fletcher. They were some of his happiest despite his struggle. He just deserved so much more. I wanted to take some of the weight of his pain. I couldn’t. All I could do is sit next to him, put Fletcher on his lap, and tell him we loved him. I hope it was enough.

    August 28, 2018 at 9:49 am Reply
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  • Elyse Kehe

    It’s having people like this in our lives that make them so worth living. Saying goodbye to these wonderful people also bring some of the toughest moments in our lives.

    I lost my mom when I was 21 — in 2006 (12 years ago). She was 55. She’d had a prior heart attack 6 years before but was taking medication for it. She went to sleep and never woke up. It was completely unexpected, and it was, to date, the worst day of my life.

    My mom was like your mother-in-law, Christine, in that she was loved by all who knew her.

    I left for college in 2003, and my friends STILL went to my house to visit my mother!! She would laugh about that, but she was the only parent anyone did that with.

    My mother was my best friend. We talked every day on the phone or via email (I still have many of them saved). When she died, I lost a huge chunk of my heart. She wasn’t there to call when I got engaged. She couldn’t help me plan my wedding or help me get dressed on my wedding day.

    I miss her every day.

    I’m truly sorry for your loss, Christine. Keep the memories close. If I’ve learned anything over the last 12 years, it’s that someone is never TRULY gone as long as others keep their memory alive.

    Many hugs your way.

    August 29, 2018 at 8:02 am Reply
  • DAWN HERNANDEZ

    I lost my Dad last year on Thanksgiving weekend. Today I wept in a B&N when I saw a children’s book about Grandpa. My kids miss him so much.

    September 1, 2018 at 3:07 am Reply

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