The past few weeks has given me a window into my true growth throughout the past years. Sometimes there are moments in our lives that truly give us the opportunity to see the “Then and Now.” Most of the time, we are too close to the situation to really see it clearly, but every once in awhile the clarity is there.
I will tell you that the world of firsts sucks. There’s the typical grieving firsts that I went through on year one; the first birthdays, holidays, anniversary, 1st day of school, music concert, etc. Those were there, and it was just known that they were coming and the suck factor was going to be all over those days. Then there are other firsts that sneak up on you. The first time Abby scored a soccer goal and Jo had a softball hit, those firsts were so exciting and I was screaming my head off, as any sports mom would do. Then, it hits you in the gut...shit, he was supposed to be here for that. Or the first dates I’ve had, should have nothing but anticipation and excitement but instead filled me with insecurities and nausea. My first time sitting at my kitchen dinner table with just me and my girls (took me literally years to do that, by the way. One of the hardest counseling tasks I was ever given). Firsts are zero fun.
Last week had another first for me, my first death. My grandfather passed away rather suddenly last week. He was a wonderful man who always had hard candy in church, taught me how to drive a combine, fished with me in the creek, sat at every single one of our shows in the summer no matter how far or hot it was, and taught me the love of the bacon/syrup combo at Hwy 65 Cafe. He’s a man that will be missed by so many. His passing was so challenging all on it’s own, because he was my grandfather. Then, there was the challenge that came with his passing being my first death since Rhea in 2013.
My sister called me to tell me about my grandfather. First, I will tell you that she doesn’t have a disguise for her “everything’s going to be okay” voice. The moment she said my name on the phone, I knew something was way off. Or maybe, it’s just because we’re sisters and we can read each other that well. I couldn’t go straight to where they were right away, I had to wait for instructions, on where I needed to go, either to St. Lukes if they were life flighting him, or if not, I was going to my hometown where everyone was at. It was about 30 minutes of wait time. And where do you think I waited? My closet, the safe zone. Waves of emotion went over me immediately. I wasn’t ready to lose someone. I knew I was lucky to have gotten 4 years without having anything major happen, but I still was not ready. Is anyone ready? Probably not, and definitely not me. While I should have been using that 30 minutes to figure out what I needed to do, my processing skills were out the window. So when I finally found out where I needed to go, it was massive panic in my world. Along with the loss of my grandfather, I knew his death meant I was going to be asked to do things and be put in situations I was not at all ready for.
It took me almost 3 years to go to a full family event that included extended family. I have missed weddings, baby and bridal showers, graduations, birthdays, etc. Family events to me, for a long time, just magnified what was missing in my little family. Large groups of people put me back into all of the events and services for Rhea. I wasn’t trying to be standoffish, I just literally couldn’t do it. The anxiety that would take over my body when an event would come up, would almost make me full fledged ill. I went to my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary party last October, that took me 4 months of counseling preparation to even go to. And that’s all I did. I didn’t sing, even though countless people asked. Literally, barely even got there, so singing was out of the picture. I was there, in a corner, with my best friend by my side, and that was huge. There was so much that I still couldn’t do, but look at what I did do. I was not at home in my closet of safety, I was at my parent’s 40th.
I had 4 months prep for that. My grandfather’s services, I had 2 days. Only 2 days to figure out how I could do this and not take 45 steps backwards in my journey. I needed to listen to my needs and also be there for my mom, grandmother, and for myself, as well. I knew where the services would be at, and that was the first thing to tackle. You see, Grandpa’s services were at the exact same church that Rhea’s were. Rhea’s services were at the church we attended in Sedalia. It’s a big beautiful church, filled with so much love and people that we both cherished. That church was where we married and where he first heard me sing. It was special to us. And since his death, I cannot go inside that sanctuary. In my mind all I see is his casket, covered in yellow roses at the front of the sanctuary. I can’t do it. I can’t go in there. I can go in the church, I’m a little shaky at first, but I can’t do the sanctuary at all. What did that mean for the visitation? The funeral? Viewing my grandfather? It was a disaster for me.
I was so fortunate that both my grandmothers, mom, dad, and sister were so extremely supportive and were fully aware of the challenges that were ahead for me. My mom and dad arranged for me to view my grandfather in advance at the funeral home, instead of the church. I was 45 minutes late, and pushed down a panic attack while driving in Independence stop light traffic, cried ¾ of the way there, but I made it and was able to view him. To say I was scared to see a casket for the first time since Rhea, is an understatement. I didn’t know how my mind was going to handle all of it. Those panic attacks sneak up on you and your brain plays tricks. But my family let me have my moment with him in that little room, and I did it. It was hard, and I was still okay. I was actually kind of proud of myself for how well I did.
Now it was time to figure out the services. Being in the sanctuary was not an option at all. Please know, that I terribly want to be able to do these things. It sounds ridiculous to some people, I know, I’ve heard that before, trust me. However, as badly as I want to be doing these things, and as disappointed as I get in myself for the things I still cannot do, I just can’t do them. One day I might be able to, but not now. So, during the visitation I was able to stay close by, in the foyer of the church. It was a long 2 ½ hours being right there in the midst of people waiting in line who haven’t seen me for years. My sister jokingly called me The Greeter. Though in all honesty, I was trying to blend into the wall as much as possible. During the funeral, I was blessed again to have my best friend take off of work to come sit with me, because I wasn’t going to be able to be with everybody else. I listened to the service up in the sound/videographers booth with my back turned, so I could hear but couldn't see. The service was challenging. I cried and she held my hand, and I made it through. Then I was able to join my family at the cemetery.
So, this first was pretty rough, but included some growth for me. I wasn’t able to do a lot, and yet at the same time there was so much that I did do. I said no when I couldn’t do something, and I tried hard to do the challenging things. The aftermath of the services has shown itself in my appetite and sleep patterns. I’m up to two meals a day right now which is excellent rebound for me. I’m still struggling with getting my sleep back, but it will come. Overall, I’m okay with how this first went. It could have been better, but it also could have been way worse.