Grief within a Dystopia

When COVID-19 began to impact our jobs and our social lives, my initial reaction was that people were going to have a hard time adjusting to a new way of life. Change seems to make people uncomfortable, it can be irritating.

The US was hit by change within a blink of an eye. One day, some of us had jobs. The next day, people lost their jobs as well as their best friend, their mother, or their husband. People from varying demographics, were unfortunately, joining many others and me, in the grief process. In one way, or another.

I wanted to make sure that people felt that their grief was validated. It can often become overlooked for several other issues. I want people to feel that their grief is acknowledged and seen.

But is this possible during a global pandemic? What happens when everything that used to distract us from our grief is taken away? What happens when some of us are forced to continue to work during our grief, due to essential business demands?

I decided to ask a couple of my friends, Debbie (D) and Lisa (L), how they’re doing with their grief, in the current state of the world.

Here are the questions I asked them, along with their responses:

Q: Do you feel that your grief has been overshadowed by COVID? To both yourself and others?

D:Yes, I feel like I’m being forced to keep myself together because before, like at work, I could call and tell them I needed a few days off with no explanation and they were okay with it because they [knew], but now I’m forced to go to work no matter what. Even if I’m having a bad day they don’t care right now. If I don’t show up to work, for whatever reason, I don’t have a job. Which I HAVE to have a job to provide for myself. It’s been a roller coaster now, I feel like I’m just stuck if that makes sense.”

L:I have two different answers. Corona related: In my opinion yes. But I’m thinking corona grief, not other types of grief. There have been so many deaths that happened so quickly, I feel like people were desensitized to it (to a point it is being joked about regularly). I’ve definitely caught myself making and laughing about jokes about it, too.

Outside grief: Yes. I think [regular] grief is overshadowed because at this point in time everything is being brought back to corona. It’s like, ‘Oh yes something awful happened, it’s sad you lost someone, this is so sad.. BUT look at this news about the corona’ (if that makes sense).

Q: Are you thinking about your grief more or less now, during COVID?

D: “I’m definitely thinking about it more often now. I know for a fact I’m falling into depression even more now.”

L:Less. My mind is wrapped around worrying about family getting sick and following rules to make sure they avoid getting sick. I have definitely stayed up all night from anxieties linked to corona and my family getting sick when before my thoughts were all about the person I have lost.

Q:  Do you still feel like you’re able to grieve? Or has COVID kinda prevented you?

 D: I feel like I’ve been able to grieve in peace. By that I mean, usually I had family over and they wouldn’t let me break down. Now that I’m alone I think about what and why I’m feeling and I just go with it.”

L: Personally I have had my time to grieve, but someone I am close to lost someone in a tragic way during this pandemic and I don’t feel they have been able to properly grieve. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know they haven’t been expressing their feelings the same way they would if all of this weren’t going on.”

Q: Has COVID allowed you to find healthier coping mechanisms or have you found yourself using unhealthy coping mechanisms?

D:No and yes. I feel like it made it worse in, a way, at first. Because I felt mentally trapped with myself being at home, not being able to go anywhere. It also forced me to actually feel everything for once and not try to avoid my feelings. I usually wouldn’t allow myself to do that since I always have 1000 things I have to do. It’s both because now I feel like I went back to feeling comfort again just by being in bed sleeping all day.”

L:Both. I had started to workout and felt good about it but I found myself taking the easy way out and just eating to find comfort (when really it doesn’t make me feel good at all).

Looking forward:

Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 is changing the way we see, feel, and experience grief. It’s natural to hate funerals, I hated Omar’s. The way so many families are going to be deprived from an important part of the grieving process, a funeral or the viewing, is just horrendous.

COVID-19 is not only changing the way we live and function throughout our lives, but it is also changing the way we view and experience death.

Self care? What's that?

I originally started working on this post awhile back. I wasn’t sure where it was going or if it served a purpose. A lot has changed since then. With the current climate that we’re in, I think it is important to reflect on self care.

By this I mean, what does self care look like to an individual, and what does depressive and destructive behavior look like. A lot of us are going to begin the grieving process. Whether it be over family members lost to COVID-19, the loss of employment, or the loss of our social lives.

When I began my grieving process, I was not only grieving the loss of the love of my life, but I also was beginning to grieve my old life. Nothing would ever be the same, and adjusting to that reality is still challenging.

During the first week, following Omar’s death, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I took the week off of work, it was too easy for me to explode into tears. I don’t mean streaks of tears running down my face, but instead tears flooding my eyes accompanied by nonstop wailing. When I would begin to cry, it was almost like the grief and sadness possessed me. I can honestly say that I had never felt like this or cried like this before. I was overwhelmed by my feelings and my pain. Everything was so unbearable that I sometimes felt like my mind went blank or my conscious went numb.

I didn’t know how to handle these feelings. I didn’t even think it was possible.

As I write this, I am having a hard time trying to remember what I even did the week that lead to the funeral. When I try and recall those devastating days, I can only see black and grey.

I would go to sleep, hoping something would have changed when I woke up. Instead, I would have nightmares about the incident, and I would wake up to a panic or heartache. I had to wake up to another day of pain. I had to spend another day crying and wondering why this happened. It was a nonstop cycle of torture.

I was overwhelmed by my pain and my sadness. I either had no appetite at all or I would engulf myself with food. Showering was hard, getting out of bed was hard, and even existing was hard. The weight of the pain and sadness were taking a toll on my body and my mind.

My social life had become nonexistent, and it sometimes felt like I had forgot how to interact with people. All I knew was my couch, my bathtub, Pink Moscato, and my playlist full of sad songs.

It’s fair to say that I had no regard for my well being. It was what it was.

I was a zombie. I would wake up. Change my clothes, brush my teeth and go to work. All done mindlessly.

It becomes a challenge to take care of yourself, when you have no regard for your body or your health. When your soul is consumed with sadness, it’s hard to see that life can one day be good again.

You know what? It’s okay to be sad, and it’s O.K to mope around! Our perspective of life is no longer the same after grief, after sudden life changes, and it never will be. It’s almost as if our bodies are going into shock to help us adapt, but we don’t know how the fuck to do that. There are no rules or advice columns that can tell us how to individually handle our problems. It’s a bunch of trial and error. Going back and forth from drowning ourselves in alcohol, to hiding away from reality into slumber. Many of us, if possible, may even consume ourselves in work so that there is no time to reflect on our problems or our feelings. I’ve been there, and I know it looks different for everyone.

Just know that it’s okay.

It’s okay for the moment, but you can’t stay stuck or hiding from your feelings forever. There will come a time for you to start doing something. I can’t tell you what. For me, it was traveling, going out with friends, and doing things I had always wanted to do. I even began to use exercise as a source of motivation to just care about my body. Maybe it’s skin care that will encourage you to wake up a little earlier to wash your face, or maybe it’ll be going vegan to get you to go into a grocery and actually pay attention to what you’re putting into your body.

There’s always going to be some sadness with you. It’s okay. Learn from it, remember it, grow from it.

Everything that has happened to you, is already in the past. There’s nothing you can do to change anything. You can look back and remember, maybe even reminisce a little bit. Just know, it’ll never be like that again. You have everything to look forward to.

Even if it’s just another day.

Breath

Earlier today, I started a post with the intent of explaining how and why dating has been difficult for me. As I continued to write it out, so to speak, I kept finding myself beating around the bush. I don’t believe that I owe anyone an explanation or anything, but I’m not the way I am for no reason.

Before he passed, we had just both graduated college. I left my life behind in my college town. I was having a hard time adjusting to my new life after graduation. I found myself to be depressed and unmotivated. I went from doing something all day, every day, to then just going to work and going home. My social life revolved around his. On his side of things, his job kept him super busy and he actually came back home to his social life, that he had prior to college.

Naturally, our life style differences took a toll on our relationship. One night, several months post graduation, we broke up in his car. I’m unfortunately, very reactive and I make choices that I can’t always take back. The first thing I decided to do, was delete all our pictures and change my facebook status. I was HURTING. Looking back on it, I wish I would’ve taken more time to process the situation, my feelings, and then have made more thoughtful decisions. That didn’t happen.

The days that followed included intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, and heartache. Our communication never ceased. Instead, we decided that we just needed a break. We agreed that we wouldn’t date anyone else. We had rules. Even within our break, we still did everything a couple would do. We went to the fair, we took an out of town trip together to see The Weeknd, and I used MY whole savings to buy us BOTH tickets to Europe. We were that kind of couple, who had that trust. Or so I thought.

I trusted him with my life, with my family. We would help each other with bills, I knew all his passwords, and I was comfortable spending the night at his mom’s house, even when he wasn’t there. I was wifey. In my mind, I had already settled down.

Then he died. While out with another woman. Who claimed to be his girlfriend (she definitely was not).

Not only did I wake up one morning to find out that my life had been forever changed, but to also find out that I had been lied to. I was betrayed and I was crushed.

Time felt as if it had been frozen. I was mindless. I could only eat, breathe, and cry. Eat, breathe and cry.

I was in a frustrating position. He still had pictures of me on his page. His status still said he was in a relationship (just didn’t say with who). Our families were still intertwined. How could someone claim such falsehood? How could someone put their reputation before someone else’s heartache?

Within those first couple of days and weeks, I found myself on the defense. There were some choices that I made within the days that followed his death that I wish I could take back. I found myself fighting to protect what was left of my relationship. I wanted to hold onto everything that I could. I was just an adolescent, trying to make sense of the situation around me. Trying to preserve what I had left.

I couldn’t find it in me to believe what happened. I couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t be angry. I was only heartbroken. When it came to his death, I couldn’t be mad at him. When it came to his betrayal, his deceit, I couldn’t muster up any anger. Regardless of what had happened, or whatever he did, I just wanted him back.

I wasn’t in denial of his death. Instead, I rejected the situation. I’m not sure if I refused to believe what he did, or the circumstances I was left with.

I was never left angry with him. I was angry at myself for not being more intrusive. I had a feeling that something was going on, but I was trying to be a better girlfriend. I wanted to respect his space. I wanted to let my guard down. I was angry at myself for not creating a more open space for him. It bothered me that I had been so anxious and dependent on him. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could’ve done better. Perhaps my reliance on him for my happiness became a burden. Maybe it was me, along with all my emotional trauma and baggage, that led to this.

Even if I wasn’t the direct cause, it wasn’t his fault. He had been focused on school his whole life. He never got to have the “crazy” college experience. He was a good boy. He always worked and even occasionally worked two jobs. He always put others before himself. He was an amazing human bean. He deserved a pat on the back, he deserved to make a mistake here and there.

But, he didn’t deserve to die.

A part of me wants to be mad. I wish I had it in me to tear a room apart. I can’t. I know there’s anger, deep inside me, being harbored away. I refute it.

I haven’t had the chance to “heal”. I’ve gotten better. My anxiety has become more manageable. I’m starting to take care of my body again. I’m regaining my confidence. Even then, I’ve been left insecure.

I’ve been left with the constant feeling of wanting to do better, wanting to do more for my future partners, wanting to be perfect. I find myself giving and giving in one sided relationships.

I’m apprehensive, I’m guarded, I’m cold, I’m anxious, and I need reassurance and security.

Can you blame me?

Dead and Alive

Before late 2017, I was someone with drive and ambition. I was dynamite. I had just gotten my first full time job, I had found my person, and I had the desire to go to grad school. For a moment, things felt perfect. Until they didn’t.

He died.

When he died, I died too.

I was no longer the girl I had come to know. The life and the dreams I had imagined for myself were torched. I was left, empty. It almost felt like I was a zombie. I had no choice but to keep “living”, and even then, I was barely able to function. Unfortunately for me, my physical body was very much alive. I still had to eat, I still had to sleep, and I was still breathing. Even if I didn’t want to.

My body existed. I continued to take up space. That didn’t mean I was alive. My heart and soul had died.

I spent 21 years, getting to know the world around me, making a canvas out of my blank slate. Just for it to be destroyed. It was almost like, I had just received a lobotomy. Numb and lost. I was being forced to start again.

It felt like learning how to walk. You see people continuing with their lives. You know it’s possible. You can feel the pressure of achieving normalcy, from everyone around you. And yet, I couldn’t do it.

I lost myself in isolation. I lost myself in my sorrow. I was drowning in alcohol. I didn’t know how to live anymore without any sense of hope or identity. The only way I knew how to live was through impulsivity and risky behavior. Anything to remind me that I was more than just my body. I needed something to waken my heart and soul.

There will always be a side of me, that is gone and lost forever. She is dead. She is no more.

As for the side of me that continues to exist, and continues to breathe, she has since started learning how to stand on her two feet again.

Now, I’m somewhat here. Almost three years later, and I’m beginning to learn how to live again. My lifestyle isn’t perfect, and neither are my behaviors. My mind and heart are a little better. I am still neither here or there, but I am somewhere. I am finding my place.

I can’t say I necessarily see the future for myself at the moment. I can’t say I’ve found love, or a new purpose in life. What I can say, is that I am learning how to move again. I am learning how to live, day by day, slowly but surely. Every small step towards progress, is like a second chance at life for me. I am in the process of re-learning myself. The good, the bad, and especially the ugly.

In the next few months, or the next couple of years, I hope that my progress remains at an incline. I want to get better, I want to be happy. I want to find my purpose in life again.

My heart stopped, but I’m learning how to get it beating again.

It’s been awhile

Grief is such a torturous thing, even more so during the winter time. November through February are full of painful reminders of what and who’s missing. It’s cold, the sun isn’t out as often, and your daily activities become sort of limited. Life unintentionally becomes dark, and your thoughts follow.

It became so easy for me to be consumed by thoughts and dread. It was another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s without Omar (who I previously referenced as M). I was still in disbelief, and I was still numb. I thought by starting this blog, I would be able to pull myself out of my head. It just became harder, almost impossible to do, with the days leading up to my birthday.

I was starting a new year, with new life changes. Without him. With every step forward in life, I couldn’t help but think, “I wish Omar was here.” Ever since his death in 2017, I can’t help but wonder what he would think or how he would feel about my life accomplishments. Before his passing, he was teaching me about cars and how to drive. Three years later, I have my own car, I’m driving, and I’m still chasing a ghost.

I am living, re-living, processing, and working through my grief, everyday. It gets lonely, and it gets tiresome. My days are full of anxiety and self-doubt. I am constantly exhausting myself. Even with my daily dosage of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), my heart is still broken with my feelings at a standstill.

Omar died when he was only 22. I was 21.

This year, I turned 24. An age that he will never see, or experience. Two years of life with his family and mine, that he never got to have.

I am so grateful to be able to spend holidays with his parents, and mine. I am grateful that we have made the effort to stay in each others lives. I just wish that I could experience and share happiness with them, without being consumed by a black cloud. I wish I could live each day without falling down the rabbit hole.

I have been stuck in a daze for the past few months.

I can see light coming out, and I can feel the sun emerging. It’s time for me to come back, it is time to get back to healing.

Some days

Some days felt like eternity, and some days felt like hell. Other days felt like eternity in hell.

I was, and still am, tormented by the constant thoughts of “what if”.

“What if I had texted them sooner? What if I had gotten off of work a little bit earlier? What if I had said something when I felt something was wrong?”

The continuous feelings of self doubt and self punishment ate at me for awhile. Some days, the self inquisitions were more daunting than others. 

I remember in the beginning, the process of going to work and taking the train felt different. I would stand on the platform waiting, as the thoughts began to pile in.

“What if I just jumped? What if I just fell? What I just got in front of the train?”

These thoughts scared me, but what did I have to lose?

I had lost the love of my life, my dignity, my sanity, my future and my non existent future children.

Some days it felt like I had nothing left.

Some days the future felt non existent. Technically, at that time, it was just that. Nothing to look forward to. 

My life could end today, tomorrow. It could all end so easily.

Some days were worth staying, and some days weren’t worth the pain.

Some mornings I couldn’t gather the energy to get out of bed. Sometimes I didn’t even need an alarm. My anxiety never let my body rest enough to hit REM cycle. 

These days were the hardest days I would ever experience.

These “some days” would turn into “better days”, or so I had been told. 

I would go, day by day, watching other’s worlds continue while mine was at a stand still. If I could describe my days, I would say they were black and grey. 

It is not fair to say that I didn’t have some days where something made me smile or someone made me laugh. I was grieving, consumed by my thoughts, but I still had a sense of humor. 

Two years later, and my days are a little different. 

Some days are better than others. 

Some days I over sleep, but that’s because I turned off all my alarms. 

Some days I find myself crying at little triggers. Some days I find myself cackling over twitter memes. 

Some days I want to drink myself away and others I find myself abstaining for the week. 

My days have become functional. They have gone from black and grey to some shades of pastel. 

My thoughts still become sad and they sometimes trap me, but I am blessed to have my parents as my support system, my family doctor, and my fluoxetine to keep me from going under. 

Death, a stranger and a friend.

Death was something I was always aware of. He was no stranger to me or my family.

My mother lost her father at a young age. Even though this happened well before my time, that’s the first recollection I have of death.

When I was a small child (maybe five or six) I had a family friend who lost her mother to cancer. I could grasp that something wasn’t right while we were at the funeral. She, in turn, was just running around the funeral home, playing. I remember looking at her and thinking,

“Why does she seem ok?”

This woman, lying in a coffin, wasn’t my mother. I had no attachment to her. Even then, I understood that something wasn’t right.

Years later, as a sophomore in high school, I was having a late night working on homework. As any adolescent, I got distracted and I got bored. Since I was already using the internet to work on the laptop, I decided to google search my own name.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

My grandpa’s obituary was a top result.

To add context, this was my favorite grandpa, on my biological father’s side. My grandpa that I hadn’t seen in years, due to me cutting ties with my biological “father”.

I understand I didn’t stay in contact with the paternal side of my family, but they at least could have notified me of my grandpa’s passing.

When I came across this information, it was maybe 12 or one at night. I was the only one awake. I didn’t want to wake up my parents. I didn’t want a scene to be made.

I cried to myself. I cried by myself. I cried and I cried.

Then I got back to work. I had to. I was supposed to be working on homework before I got my heart broken.

For some reason, I didn’t really feel like I could go and tell my mom about this. I felt like I needed to hide my feelings (suppressing my feelings wasn’t something new).

Death, then came again, to take away my great grandma.

I couldn’t even grieve her properly because she had left to Mexico to die in her home.

I had been asleep when my mom came to let me know my grandma passed, and that she was leaving to Mexico for the funeral.

I had school, so I suppose it was natural that I stayed.

I got up and I went to take a shower.

In the shower, I cried and I sobbed. I got out, got dressed, put on my game face, and continued with my day.

Now I had two grandparents I would never properly be able to grieve.

I would always carry this heartache with me.

Years later, when things felt fine and dandy, death would come strolling through once more.

I was under the impression that everything in my life was falling in line. I had just graduated college, got my first adult job, and I had found my person.

Suddenly, like a rug, everything was pulled from under my feet.

He was gone. Taken from this life.

M’s death was not only sudden, it was unexpected and tragic. It wasn’t supposed to happen. He was young, he was smart, and he had his whole life ahead of him. Then it was cut off and stolen.

Death had made it’s acquaintance with me once again. Except this time, he had stabbed in my heart.

I had never really known what it meant to grieve or how to grieve. People crying in front of me always made me uncomfortable. Now I was under the microscope with the expectations of weeping and sobbing in front of everyone. My mind had gone blank and my heart had stopped. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to reason or cope.

It wasn’t until the burial that it slapped me in the face that I would never see M again. As the dirt was being poured, I found myself sobbing and yelling. My emotions had taken over and rationality had walked out of the building. In the days that followed, I found myself drinking myself to sleep, finishing maybe one or two bottles of wine. Sometimes I would just come home and sleep, cutting myself off from the world.

I honestly didn’t know how to process my feelings or my grief.

To this day, it’s fair to say that I am still learning.

And death? He’s stayed near, even if through second degree connections.

The Day My World Stood Still

For some reason, I was awake early, at around seven or eight in the morning. This was unusual for a Sunday, as it is a day of rest. Like any other millennial, the first thing I did was check my phone.

To my surprise, I had received a call from both my partner’s (whom we will refer to as M) father and sister. The obvious thing to do was to call them back. I wish the older me could have advised the younger me to just turn off my phone.

Nothing in this world could have prepared me for news I was about to receive.

“He’s dead.”

They said, in an exhausted and drained voice.

It was as if my mind stopped. I was numb. I had to dig into my previous experiences and learning history to make up for the lack of words coming out of my mouth. I could only reply with,

“I’ll be seeing you soon then.”

I think back on this, and think to myself how I could’ve responded so stupidly. To be fair, I didn’t what to say. I had never experienced this. I never planned to experience this. What is going on?

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I walked into the living room, dropped to the floor and cried out

“He’s dead! He’s dead!”

My parents were in disbelief and they were left confused. They didn’t know who I was talking about or what I was talking about. I had to gather every bit of strength I had left in me to say it aloud.

“M’s dead.”

As I did, I could see that their hearts stopped as well.

 

As an Aquarius, and an introvert, I refuse to wear my heart on my sleeve. Every feeling, every heartache, and every ounce of strength I had needed to be channeled into something else.

I saw myself as “wifey”. I knew all his passwords, I knew every streaming service or bill he had. The only logical thing I could see myself doing was to take action and cancel what I could before it was too late. I knew his plans for the day, I knew his boss’ name, I knew his schedule. I had to make sure his affairs were taken care of. Hell, I was the only one who knew his laptop and iPhone password. I felt responsible for making sure everything was okay. For him, for his parents.

After this, I honestly didn’t know what to do.

Unfortunately, I’m a very logical and rational person (for the most part). I accepted (not processed) his death immediately. How could I fight that fact? How could I pretend everything was alright when my world was falling apart around me?

I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I tried to distract myself by creating photo albums and gathering every picture of M that I could find on my phone or laptop. I needed to find anyway to preserve my memory of him immediately. 

They day went on, as time does. We were still left in the dark. I didn’t understand anything. Nothing made sense. The day came to the end and the night followed. There was nothing more that I wanted than to just sleep. I wanted to hide from the pain. My anxiety, was at an all time high. Something I had never quite felt before. As I tried to sleep, my heart rate kept me wide awake.

As I laid on the couch, pretending to be asleep (even though I was very much awake), I could hear my parents talking. They thought I was asleep and that I wouldn’t hear a thing. They posed a question that we would be asking for the rest of our lives,

“How could this happen?”

Welcome to my life

At the age of 21, my life changed. I lost the love of my life, along with my sanity. The way I perceive life, love and death has since been changed forever.

Insight and Perspective

  • Grief and death are inevitable. At the same time, not everyone knows what to expect or how to handle such an overwhelming experience. Grief isn’t black and white, and neither are the challenges that follow it.
  • It is easy to feel alone during disenfranchised grief, or any type of grief that is left for the public eye to judge.

For the past two years, I have been trying to figure out how to grieve and what grief meant to me. I consider myself to be a closed off person, so I tried to avoid over exposing my feelings via social media. In return, that just made me feel like others were judging me for not publicly grieving. When I would openly grieve, it felt almost as if it wasn’t genuine. I’m not sure if it was just social anxiety, or the feeling that I was not allowed to grieve due to the complications that came with my love’s death, but I always felt judged. Now I am ready to take my life back.

If you decide to explore and follow my journey, be prepared to come across the following:

  • Friendships and family during grief (who’s really there for you)
  • Healthy and Unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • The Rise and Fall of mental health during grief
  • Love and death, love after loss

I spent the longest time, trying to find anything to make me feel less alone. While grief and trauma are so common, everyone’s stories and experiences are so unique to the individual. Not once was I able to find a safe place to open up and relate without feeling judged. This is for everyone who is having a complicated time going through their own grief process, and for everyone who is looking for a place to feel a bit normal, even for a second. I hope to bring you some sanity.