Today I was sitting in a professional training and the presenter asked us to think about the death of a loved one. Three immediately came to mind, as there are three people who are very dear to me that I have lost. I could not choose to pick just one. When I think of death they all three come up for me. The trainer continued the exercise and asked for the group to think about how we felt when we learned about the death. Then how long we felt that way.
I have lost a lot of people during that time in my life, but even those who were close friends had not played the role in my life that my best friend, my father, and then again my best friend played. I sat there trying to think about how I felt at the moment I learned of the deaths. I have a hard time processing emotions. I started a journey last year to begin working on it, but I admit I still see much of my life through the experiences and not through the feelings. As I tried to muster the feelings that I felt at those three moments, the only thing I saw was a phone. The old kind, the ones attached to walls with cords.
When I was almost ten years old years old and I learned of my best friend’s death, I was standing in the hallway of my childhood home. My mother was on the phone when she told me. With her, I immediately cried. I broke down, and I stayed broken. I remember no comfort from my mother. I don’t remember either of my parents in the days that followed, although I know they were there. My oldest sister comforted me the next day as I sat in “big church” and the preacher started talking about death. She took me to a restaurant and got me a sundae. On the day of the funeral, my aunt came and picked me up from school and took me to the service. Everything that surrounded the event following that phone call let holes in my ten-years old mind, that I filled with my own stories that shaped how I viewed other things.
Fast forward eleven years. I was at my own home, and again the telephone rang. I can’t tell you who was on the other end – my cousin, my mom, my sister or brother-in-law. Only that my father was dead. I didn’t cry this time. I wouldn’t cry until the night before his funeral. Instead I got in my car drove to my parent’s house and went into performance mode. I called the hospice people and the Red Cross to get my brother home. I planned, I prepared, I made jokes. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel. I don’t remember anyone expecting me too. When I finally broke, I didn’t resurface for a few months. I might have went through the motions, but I don’t remember anything for the month or two following other than events.
Three and a half years later, I again received a phone call standing in the kitchen, that my best friend of fourteen years was dead. During our exercise at the training, I could only remember the phone call. Not how I felt. Now I remember I felt numb following her death, I felt numb for a very long time. Although it took more planning, I again got in my car and drove to my parents house so they could watch my children while I went and spent time with her family.
Maybe that is how all people learn about death other than witnessing it. Since all of my experiences except of my great grandparents of being told about a death included a phone call first, maybe there isn’t a better way. I could have unrealistic expectations that my parents should have sat me down and told me. That news of death should be a face to face conversation and not something done over the phone. I guess it is not always possible.
I realized today that before my father’s death I loved to talk on the phone. I would literally talk for hours. Since that time, and maybe it is just coincidence since technology has changed communication, but I would prefer to text, email or even hand write rather than talk on a phone. Today when I got home, I allowed myself to feel the sadness of the deaths of these three people who meant so much to me. I allowed myself to feel the sadness of unmet need from my parents. I allowed myself to feel in the moment.