Grief and Turning 30

  • Many little candles burning.

I often think of grief as a heavy coat I can’t ever take off. Sometimes it’s what I need to be wearing to weather the place I’m in. Other times it’s hot and miserable and makes me feel totally out of place. June is a tough month under normal circumstances, and this one is no exception. 

I’ve had a hard time keeping track of time lately. Little things, like running late to a meeting, but big things too – days of the week, time of the year. And I’m not talking funny slips of the tongue. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding. I think through my to-do list and plan on doing x tomorrow because tomorrow is Thursday (it’s not.)

There’s this weird thing about working in a library where it sometimes feels like you’re always dwelling sometime in the future. Part of it is planning ahead, but the other is the endless due dates. Yesterday’s due date for items checked out was June 23, the day my brother died. I must have looked at it in print fifty times. June 23. June 23. Your items are due on June 23. He’s dead, and he died on June 23.

“Grief is an element. It has its own cycle like the carbon cycle, the nitrogen. It never diminishes not ever. It passes in and out of everything.” – Peter Heller, The Dog Stars

Earlier this week I was googling something involving my maiden name (a name that’s very uncommon in the US). Somewhere in the middle of my first page of results, completely unrelated to my search, was a link to a high school’s “Missing Alumni” page. This particular school keeps a running list of alumni they’ve lost track of – both recent and past. And on the list, my grandmother. Class of 1949. My grandparents are a post for another day, but suffice to say they were a major part of my life. Like my brother, I miss them every day.

The page wouldn’t let me update it online, so I sent them a message through Facebook. She’s not missing. She died in 2011. Here is her obituary. Please remove her from your list so I don’t stumble upon a gut-punch of grief in the middle of my work day again. I didn’t say that last part. Just thought it, real hard.

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I lost my brother days before my 25th birthday. Twenty-five felt like a big deal to me. I was in the thick of graduate school, I had made it through some rough post-college years and I felt like I was standing on the brink of an exciting, adult life. The afternoon before, I had flown to another city to attend my first professional conference, which I had won a scholarship to attend. I checked in early, attended an orientation session, and spent the evening chilling out in my hotel room. I painted my nails and ordered pizza. Looked over the conference book and chose the first few things I wanted to attend. Went to bed.

Very early in the morning, my phone rang. My father’s number. I answered it, but there was silence – I figured it was a pocket dial. A little while later, it rang again with my mother’s number and I knew something terrible had happened. In her grief, she apologized to me for interrupting the conference I was so excited about and asked me to come home. Of course, doing anything other than getting home as soon as possible never crossed my mind. I don’t want to share the rest of the story right now. We buried him the day after my 25th birthday.

I want to be clear: the enormity of my grief has nothing to do with a spoiled birthday. Milestones, though, are exceedingly hard. And at the end of this month, I’ll turn 30. In the intervening years, I’ve bought a house, finished grad school, moved into a professional position and recently into management, and travelled to a dozen foreign countries. Celebrated a ten year anniversary with my husband, who has a suite of accomplishments of his own. Saw my sister graduate high school, then college. I’m two years in recovery from an illness I never thought I’d make it out of. I feel good about my future.

But at the same time, I felt good about my future before, and the worst thing happened. As good as those achievements felt, each also made me feel the absence of my brother acutely.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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I hiked in an Arizona lava tube, once. I’ve been in a handful of lava tubes, but this one was a bit different. For one, it was freezing. And it was small. The low, sloping ceiling made it so I had to perpetually crouch. Sheets of rock had sheared off the ceiling and paved the floor. It was so dark I needed to perpetually focus my light on where I put my feet. Then I’d bump my head, startling and losing track of where I was stepping, and suddenly feel the flat rocks slip and grind beneath me. By the time I clambered out of the small cave, I was totally exhausted from maintaining the high physical and mental focus.

When I talk about losing time, that’s how it feels. Parts of the ground are sliding away beneath me, but I can’t look too long or I’ll lose track of everything going on around my head. When I do find moments of firm footing and take a good look around at the wonders around me, I’m very, very tired from the journey.

I know it’s temporary. I’ll stick my head up into the sun sooner or later. In the meantime, I’m lucky at this point in my life to have a good network of support around me. I hope they all know how much their support and guidance means to me.

This blog is a nice exercise in thinking about all of the things I enjoy. I’ll be working hard to find the energy to appreciate and share them with you. Thanks for sticking with me. // 7×35

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2 Discussion to this post

  1. […] I mentioned in a previous post, this has been a particularly difficult month so far. I have a lot of ideas for what I want to […]

  2. […] at it is sometimes the best I can do. The point is I’m trying. And today, five years after losing my brother, it’s what I’m doing still. Much love to you if you’re working at doing the […]

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