Lessons of Loss
When somebody dies, you lose more than just that person.
It’s been a year, today, since we lost Robin. It feels impossible and horrible to reconcile. A year without her vibrance and warmth. A year without sending her new pictures, or planning visits, or sipping wine. A year with no phone calls, no check ins, no emails of her European travels.
She is so missed. It’s been lovely to see how deeply she was loved, but it’s miserable to have to see it through the lens of death.
I’ve learned a lot in this last year. Lessons I was happier not knowing.
When somebody close to you dies, so does your normal. For a long time happiness feels taxed. Are you allowed to smile, or feel joy without them? For a long bit, I couldn’t. Or didn’t. Or wouldn’t. Then you get over that hump, but you feel pings of guilt. You paint a very rosy image of your loved one in your mind, and you silently whisper, “We still miss you”, when you feel those moments of happiness. It took getting permission from Tom, my father in law, to dance and sing with the girls. “Robin would want you to!” he reminded me. I knew he was right, but that took time to embrace. (And still feels awful on occasion. Feeling happy when things are sad is complex to digest.)
Your memories solidify and fade, both, and all at once. You try to hold on tight. Realizing, begrudgingly, that you won’t get to make more. I cling to her voice. For some reason that’s what echos in my heart. I have treasured voicemails of Robin telling me how beautiful the kids are. Of her being ordinary and calm and it’s wonderful and crushing to hear. But mostly I imagine hearing her say “ish” or her laugh. I miss the tenderness she used when speaking to the kids. Her voice was decidedly Minnesotan, and while I can’t say I loved the accent the first time I heard it (being southern and all) I have certainly grown to adore and (now yearn for) it.
You lose other people too, when somebody dies. After much research, we found out that it’s common for relationships of varying kinds to fall apart through death. My father in law lost some friends. We lost a set of parents. Things shift, and it’s impossible through grief to overcome certain behaviors or blind spots that others may have. I don’t think it’s all poor intentioned, but culturally, we don’t know how to support each other through a loss. And so, you lose more than one person along the journey.
The hardest change of all, outside of the death itself, is seeing the pain reflected in others you love. Seeing and feeling them suffer, with little to no ability to fix or comfort them. Initially, I called my father in law regularly. I wanted so badly to connect with him, and goodness, we had some beautiful conversations. But then I fell into the trap of not wanting to call just to talk about pain, and not wanting to call and skip over the pain. Not calling, which I have regrettably settled in to, is worst of all. It’s difficult to navigate another person’s pain and grief.
And then there’s Johnny. He is struck by grief in spontaneous waves. It’s soul crushing to see your partner wilt. It could come because of a photo. A date. A memory. It could come from a dream. What triggers the pain is anyone’s guess, but it happens often. This summer, while visiting Nashville, he was overcome by a memory brought on by a menu selection at Robin’s favorite BBQ joint. We were both blindsided to feel that surge of emotion at a loud and crusty restaurant. It hurts beyond comprehension to miss somebody for yourself. It’s magnified when you’re missing that person for someone you love. Robin was a dear part of my life. But she was Johnny’s Mother. The magnitude of his loss, of my father in law’s and brother in law’s loss ... What words do I even have to express what they’re feeling? I feel their loss too. I carry it with my own.
I wish I could just call her. The finality is perplexing and overwhelming. I just wish I could pick her brain about how to help nurture her loved ones. To talk politics (she’d be so outraged!) and drama. To hear her coo over how darling her grandchildren have become. To hear her excitement at some of the growth in our family (I’m not pregnant. But somebody in the fam is!) I wish she would buy a movie on our Apple account and tell us about it afterward. I wish she would come and clean my microwave. I wish she would tell me about her two rowdy dogs, and shoot, I even wish she would tell me how tired the chemo was making her feel, or groan about hyperbaric chambers. The point is, I miss her. Johnny misses her. Tom and Andrew. All the grandkids. Anne. Her siblings. Her parents. Her friends, local and worldwide.
A year has passed, but we have not been able to carry on, business as usual. Our hearts are forever broken. We lost our Robin, and with her, we lost our normal.