July 2, 2014

What Losing My Uncle Taught Me About Grief. ~ Sammy Nickalls

woman cry statue

A few days ago, my uncle passed away.

And I’ve never felt grief like this.

I don’t mean that I’ve never felt grief worse than this. I’ve felt crippling grief. When I lost my good friend a little less than two years ago, I felt grief vividly, like it had become its own entity, clawing at my chest and my stomach from within and sending waves through me that erupted into loud, painful sobs.

When I lost my grandfather, I felt the quieter but no-less-painful kind of grief that made you seek solitude outside, solitude that is both lonely and peaceful and the same time. It was the kind of grief that made you silently desperate, that made you look into the sky and try to find shapes of your loved one in the clouds.

But this time was different.

When my mother came home early from work and said “hi” to me through the window, I didn’t notice that her greeting sounded slightly off. But I did notice when she walked into the house, her eyes red, her face twisted into some unreadable expression that I had never seen before.

The seconds it took her to find the words to tell me what had happened felt like hours.

And when she finally said it, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t feel anything. I just embraced her and let her crumple into my arms.

Over the next few days, I cried. Not only because I lost my uncle, but because I felt like this grief wasn’t right.

I hadn’t seen my uncle for years. He had always been a wild one. After he lived with us for a few years, he had run off to the Poconos, and we barely heard from him. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d spoken to him.

Him being gone, I thought to myself, doesn’t feel all that different. I didn’t feel the gaping hole like I had with Jason or my grandfather.

And, strangely enough, I found myself trying to make a hole. I tried to force myself to feel the kind of pain that I was supposed to be feeling. If he had come back, I thought, we would have great times together. We would have become close again. And now we don’t have that chance.

But I couldn’t do it. There wasn’t a hole. Of course, I was sad, but I wasn’t feeling grief like I’m supposed to. I felt cloudy. I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I felt listless. But it didn’t feel like the right kind of grief.

I received texts, messages, all giving their condolences, telling me they’re here for me during this tough time. Though I appreciated the gesture, it made my guilt worse. I kept thinking about the hole that should be there, that all these people thought was there.

Then, a day or so later, I suddenly remembered something, something that had somehow completely slipped by me during my attempts to make a hole.

He had called me on my birthday.

Let me explain this: he hadn’t done that in years. In fact, the last birthday I remember him truly celebrating was my 14th birthday, when he bought me the coolest lava lamp I had ever seen. (No, really. It was a damn good lava lamp.)

He had been living with us during several of my birthdays after that, but hadn’t acknowledged them.

But two months earlier, on my 22nd birthday, he had called me and told me in his gruff voice that he loved me. And when I realized that those were his last words to me, I cried for a long time, holding my chest, wishing he were here to say it again.

What I learned from my uncle’s passing is something that takes the passing of several loved ones to realize: there is no “right” kind of grief.

There’s the grief that they show in movies—when the character receives the devastating news, falls onto his knees, and screams in anguish to the heavens. And sometimes, that happens. It has happened to me before.

But sometimes, grief is quieter. Grief can be a slow-burn, taking a long time to sink in.

It can be an animal, clawing inside you, or it can be a soft cloud, hanging above your head, raining on you gently. Grief can hit those who haven’t seen the deceased for years, or even those who have only met the deceased once or twice on occasion.

To those who have suffered a loss and are still trying to get through it, I can’t tell you how to do it, because your grief could be vastly different from mine.

But I can tell you this: don’t think about it. Don’t question it.

Just feel.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Wiki Commons 

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