The intersection of grief and anxiety

Hi friends.

I’m sorry I haven’t been writing much lately. I was working on a few posts and trying to decide which one I wanted to put up next, and then all hell broke loose.

There are a bunch of really not great things happening, but what really turned things upside down is the loss of the dude’s father. His health has been a struggle since a brain injury in 2001, but it was unexpected, and it is so, so hard.

I think I’ve started/come back to this post more than five or six times, and each time I just get to this place where I’ve got nothing. Sometimes that’s because there are some moments that I want to keep to myself, but mostly it’s because I love the dad like crazy. And adjusting to life without him is one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. I find myself mentally making lists of books to buy him for Christmas and then – oh. Right. The other morning on the train to work I realized he won’t be at our wedding and I just lost it. I can’t imagine going through that day without a big hug from him. I can’t imagine not seeing his face as I walk down the aisle.

He was and is one of my favorite people. Getting a hug from him was like being completely enveloped in a cloud of safety and comfort. He always had a smile on his face when I walked in the room and I never felt like he didn’t want me there or like he was judging me. He made me really and truly feel like it was ok to be whoever I was. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere except with my mom and sister until I met the dude, and I often tried(and still try) too hard to fit in. When his mom and dad immediately made me feel like I belonged to them – not just with them but to them, which is unutterably different – I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. There are a million little ways that they made me part of the family and often it was as simple as just listening. The dad was mostly quiet, but every once in a while would whip out a one-liner that just slayed me. I loved that – like with his son – it was ok to not talk, and he listened when I did. I didn’t have to fight to simply be part of the conversation. I could just be me: I didn’t have to prove I was smart, because he knew I was. I didn’t have to prove that I love his son, because he knew it. Our relationship was simple; we didn’t expect each other to be a certain way and so we were able to just be together. He never let me down. He never had anything but a kind word and a hug for me. I never doubted that he loved me completely, and I felt – and still feel – the same way. The loss of something so simple and genuine is completely devastating.

On my first trip down to Florida with the dude I woke up early one morning because, unbeknownst to me, I was having my first panic attack. After I had calmed down enough that I felt like I could be around people, I went out into the living room. The dad was sitting on the couch reading. I asked if I could sit with him and he said “well, I don’t talk much.” I said that was ok and I was happy to just read. And that’s what we did. It was awesome. It was being able to sit and be quiet with him that allowed me to get out of my own head enough to start breathing normally. It allowed me to calm down enough to eat some actual food and not heave it back up again. He served as a touch-point for me throughout the trip because he was a safe space. And as I write this, I’m figuring out why: how the dad and the rest of the family dealt with his health issues helped me finally confront and deal with my own. Their acceptance of the things that were hard for him helped me to accept what was going on with me. It helped me to understand that I could ask for help, and that those who loved me would still love me even if some things changed. He, and the rest of the family, gave me a huge gift. I was terrified of what was happening to me, terrified that the dude would leave me, terrified that I would never be able to realize the life I so desperately wanted – because my brain would keep me from it. Watching how much love, support, and compassion exists in their family helped me to realize that I had that, too, both in them and in my own family. And I want to be clear here: anxiety, or at least my experience of it, in no way compares to what the dude and his family went through when the dad got sick and in the years after. I’m just trying to say that I think part of why I love the dad so dearly, and why losing him is so heartbreaking, is that he showed me that it’s possible to learn to deal with something that is out of your control in a way I had never experienced before and that felt incredibly poignant. That just because something isn’t working right doesn’t take away the love that others have for you. It might make it harder, or even impossible, to be who you used to be. It might strain your relationships, break some relationships, and make you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. But it is possible to work through it and manage it. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

One of the things that the dad was dealing with were some memory issues. Often you would find yourself having a conversation with him that you’d already had before – I knew his plan to solve global warming pretty well by the time he passed – but there were also these wonderful moments where he just said the perfect thing at the perfect time. He just had this way of making you felt seen.

When Bird and the brother got married, I was standing with the dad after the ceremony while the wedding party took photos. We were chatting about the wedding and how the dude’s parents had met, and he turned to me and said “Are you next?” I said “I think so, but you should probably double-check with your son.” He looked me in the eye and just said quietly, “I hope so.” That moment is the one that I keep coming back to and thinking about; I’ve said and heard “I love you” many times in my life, but to be told so simply that he wanted me in his son’s life, in his life… When I think about that moment, it feels like so many of the things that I was longing for or hoping for were communicated to me in those three words. I felt like I had gained another home. Another dad.

I know that I am incredibly lucky to have had this experience. I know so many people who have lost one or both parents or grown up without one or both; to have multiples of each that I truly and deeply love is an incredibly humbling experience.

I miss him. I miss hearing whether he won while playing cards with the mom the night before. I miss knowing that when I get up at 6:15 to get ready for school, he was already on the way to McDonald’s to get coffee. I miss hearing his stories about college and his insistence that he would live to 150. I miss having another reading buddy. But mostly I miss having a dad in Florida who wanted to take me to Jupiter(the town, not the planet, though I know he would have taken me to space if he could have).

Grief – like anxiety – is a constant state. It’s always there, and its effects are palpable. One of the hardest things about grief and anxiety are that they’re so internal; they are so real to the people experiencing them but outsiders tend to forget when it’s not shoved in their faces. That’s natural, and I totally get it. I count myself incredibly lucky that not a single person in my life has ever told me to get over my grief or to move on, and only a few people have done with with regards to anxiety. But I’m never not grieving the dad. And I’m never not a person who deals with anxiety. I may not be thinking about it every single moment, but it’s always there. I may not be feeling like someone punched me in the heart until I think about the dad or something reminds me of him, but it is always there. I’ve come to really appreciate the people who are still asking how I am and how the dude is even though it’s been a few weeks. I’m not disparaging those who haven’t done that – both because I’m guilty of that myself and because I get not wanting to hover and having a life and this being something outside of their immediate world. I’m just saying that I’m grateful for the folks who have checked in, whenever and however they did so.

I don’t know how to end this post because I’m still in this place where my thoughts and feelings are all mixed up and then I think about the dad or the dude makes a joke that sounds just like him and I remember again and it’s not any easier. I’m getting more accustomed to the feelings of sadness and loss showing up when I talk or think about him now, but all that really does is manage expectations. It doesn’t make it better or make it go away or do anything other than remind me that this is life now. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re in this place and dealing with grief that doesn’t get easier or anxiety that doesn’t get easier or whatever it is that feels hard and never-ending and overwhelming to you right now, I’m right there with you.

One thought on “The intersection of grief and anxiety

  1. Pingback: Sometimes it just is what it is; or, Lenny’s back! | it's only fear

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