By Rachel Hoeing
This time of the year is always difficult for me. In August, seven years ago, I lost my mom to ovarian cancer. Three months later, my dad died in his sleep from a blockage in his heart. The year 2011 was a tornado of events as well as a tropical storm of emotions. I start feeling the waves of it every year about this time. The heaviness in my chest, the dark cloud above my head, and the sadness that appears out of nowhere. It was a year and a season that I will never forget. My mom was 63. My dad was 67. And since I had already lost my grandparents years before, I was the oldest surviving member of my family at age 38.
Death is inevitable. We all know it’s going to happen at some point, but rarely are we prepared. I had lost a best friend a few years prior, and many relatives along the way. Death wasn’t new to me, but it never makes things any easier.
My sister and I planned the funerals, wrote the eulogies, muddled through paperwork, visited the courthouse and the bank, closed the estate, emptied and sold the house … all the things that death elicits, while preventing us from mourning and grieving as we should.
I remember feeling lost quite a bit. Feeling like I didn’t have a place. The two people who loved and cared about me the most were gone. The only two people who had known me since the moment of birth. The only two people who truly cared about certain trivial aspects of my life. I was an adult orphan, and it hurt more than I ever could have imagined.
I remember being unable to hug a friend without crying. I remember wanting to talk about my mom and dad all the time. I remember praying for signs that they were watching me, watching my children, and still with us in spirit. Rarely did I attend church, a yoga class, or a therapy session without crying. The silence always brought my pain to the surface.
I remember once I went to the mall and passed a grandfather pushing his grandson in a stroller. They were running fast, then slowing down, then running fast again, and all the while, laughing uncontrollably. All I could think was that my dad would never do that with my children. I could not stop the tears.
Another time I broke down crying in the middle of a restaurant because a Barry Manilow song came on. (My mom’s favorite.)
The majority of the time, I looked OK on the outside, and I carried on with life as usual, but the reminders were everywhere and the grief was tough. Even when I was having a good moment, or a good day, it was like that cloud of negative energy was right at my shoulder saying, “I’m still here. There’s still something to be sad about. You can put on a happy face, but I’ll still be right here.” It was almost as if I was always holding my breath. Almost like I was waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
Thanksgiving that year was a blur, as well as Christmas. We somehow made it through, and I tried my best to put on a happy face for my kids.
In the spring I decided to use a gift card some friends had bought me shortly after my parents passed. It was for the indoor water park, Great Wolf Lodge. It was a generous offering for us to go have fun as a family and put our sadness aside. We booked a night at the lodge and loaded up the car for our getaway. The last time I had been to Great Wolf Lodge was with my mom and dad, so I was already feeling the heaviness of grief in the back of my mind.
When we arrived, we changed clothes and immediately went down to the water park area. My daughter wanted to go to the biggest water slide first. It was a large orange tube slide that we could ride together. As we waited in line and climbed the stairs, I was a little distant, but was focused on having a good time with my kids.
It was our turn. My daughter and I climbed into the inner-tube and sat down ready to go.
The lifeguard gave us the go-ahead and I pushed with my feet for take off. We quickly whipped around the first turn of the slide as water splashed up on our faces and the tube tilted up on its edge. My daughter laughed. Then I laughed. Then I smiled. A smile that came all the way up from deep within. A smile that spread to my entire face and brought about a loud laugh followed by a scream as we rounded another corner. As the water flew around us and we gained speed, I raised my arms in the air, threw my head back and laughed. I yelled, “Whoo-hoo” in between my laughter. Tears began streaming down my face. They were tears of joy, tears of grief, tears for all of the wonderful times I had with my parents that I knew I’d never have again. Tears for all of the fun times yet to come with my own children. Tears of love. A love for others that was so great, that I was more than blessed to have. I cried because I hadn’t been myself, and I cried because I knew, from this moment on, we would all be OK.
Our ride concluded with a large splash and jolt of our tube as we stopped in the water. I wiped the tears from my eyes and smiled a true, from the heart, smile. I grabbed my daughter’s hand as we exited the ride. She was already talking about where she wanted to go next.
I stepped onto the pavement, looked straight ahead, and finally … I exhaled.
Personal blogs are difficult to write, but even more difficult to post in a public forum. But, if even just one person reads my blog and feels comfort or feels like they are not alone, it makes it all worthwhile. If you are struggling with grief please know that there is always help and always a light at the end of the tunnel. We have many other blogs on bereavement archived here that can help. We also have a list of local counselors here and support groups here.