Sunday, February 12, 2012

Does Grief Have An Owner?

* I’ve been noticeably absent from the blogosphere.  The last few weeks have been pretty bad.  I’ll outline one reason in this post and another in my next post. *

When I first got sick, I was trying to be fiercely independent.  Illness impacts those around us, just as it does ourselves.  I never really asked my parents, but I’m sure they grieved the loss of the life they thought I would have, or the fact that my life was forever changed and there was really nothing they could do to change it.

And so it goes that when a person dies, there are many people that grieve that loss, not just a mother, father, or wife.  In some cases, maybe the person had only met the other once, but had been deeply impacted by the interaction.

Maybe it’s an author whose books you’ve read and loved. Or a celebrity.  Or maybe it’s an uncle, as it is for me.

My uncle passed away this week.  He had been dealing with cancer for a long time, but I don’t think I ever expected that he would be gone.  And now I can’t believe that I’ll never get another chance to see or talk to him.

I wish somebody would have told me that my plan to visit my aunt and uncle this summer probably wouldn’t work.  I wish somebody would have suggested I go out there sooner.  And I wish that I could have been there for the funeral.  But going out to Oregon would have been a complicated task.

My grandparents and my aunt went out there.  But I was basically told not to go.  And it makes me wonder: Am I not grieving, too?  Isn’t it a loss for me, just as it is a loss for them? 

Is one person more entitled to grieve than another?

Is a mother entitled to grieve more than a friend? 

We are the only one’s who truly know what our relationship was like with another person. 

When my cousin died several years ago, I was a bit flummoxed by the way his mother was acting compared to his wife. 

But we all have the right to grieve in our own way (and for that matter, in our own time).

In some ways, I regret not going to my uncle’s funeral, not asserting my right to be there. 

For now, I hold on to the good memories I have of him.  I think that the way my uncle lived was laughter with a side of life.  Whenever he was around, we were constantly laughing.  And the love that he and my aunt had for each other was second to none, and is something I hope I find for myself someday.

And even though he was a doctor, he was one of the most compassionate people I have ever known.  And our bond was made stronger by our illnesses.  I filtered a lot of my medical stuff through him.  And we both understood how good the good days could be, and how bad the bad days could be. 

I remember the last time I saw him, a few summers ago.  We drove to the Oregon coast, had lunch, and bought a gift for my aunt.  I was taken with the beauty of the surroundings.  And it makes me laugh to think back to the fact that at 23 years old, with my uncle, was the first time I had ever had that awkward conversation with a guy about needing to go buy tampons.  He dropped me off at a drug store, ran in to the grocery store next store, and told me he’d meet me back at the car in five minutes.  He let me do my thing.  And I will forever cherish that I got to spend such a nice day, just him and I.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m not a little girl anymore.  I understand death (objectively) and the emotions that come with it.  I’ve come to believe that when someone lets you into their world, even if only for a brief moment, you’ve become a part of that.  And losing that connection is hard.

And we all have a right to grieve, whether we knew the person personally or not.  So even though I didn’t get to say goodbye, I am grieving.  I wish my aunt and cousin peace.  And I hope that what will linger now that my uncle is gone is the way he lived life, his bright spirit, and his unending compassion.    


  1. My deepest sympathies to you and your family during this sad time. Reading your blogs gives us a type of connection with you, albeit "electronic," and we feel for you as you go through difficult times. I'm glad the happy memories you experienced with your uncle are bringing you comfort.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about the death of your uncle. Death is hard...grief sucks, but there are brighter days. And when you feel like crying, let it all out! Let me know if you need anything!

  3. You are definitely one of my favorite insightful bloggers. I feel like I learn something every time I read your blog. And it has definitely helped my view on my own illnesses.

    Anyway, I pondered this same ownership question a few years ago when a childhood friend of mine died suddenly. His current friends and family seemed completely baffled as to why I showed up at the wake (I had not seen him in 10 years prior as he had moved out of my area). I think it feeds back to each of us having multiple sphere of being, many roles, many people, many hours, many interactions. It's hard to know any persons importance in totality to all people they love in their lifetime. And for those left behind, a loss can make them close their borders/want to be alone only with those immediately near them already. Conservation of finite emotional resources maybe.

    May the pain of your loss last only as long as it needs to. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the internet at large.

  4. Oh Leslie! I'm so sorry for your loss, and that you weren't able to get the solace that a funeral and/or sitting shiva can provide. :-(

    You ask a good question about the ownership of grief. I feel a little weird sometimes that I still deeply miss my best friend from college who died in 2005, about a month after the last time we saw each other. Just writing about her here makes me tear up. And it's weird -- while she was the friend I felt closest to emotionally, we lived 2000 miles apart and only chatted on the phone every month or so. So it's not like she had been part of my daily life for years before she died.