From February 27, 2017:
It's the anniversary of me and my brother's mom Teresa Contreras' passing. Over the last year I've had a few friends experience a deep loss. I wanted to share with them and anyone who wants to read this (long) passage of what I learned about loss, love, grief and humor.
Grief is like an ocean.
While loss is universal, everyone's grief and how they cope with it is different. Grief is not a straight line but a wave that crashes over you in the most unexpected moments. Grief allows you to tread it for a moment, then pulls you under, and sometimes it's still. As someone once told me when I was young and in a grief group (after he had lost his wife)- "you learn to surf the wave."
Love is powerful.
I've lived more days without my mother's physical presence than with her but she is with me every single day. Not a day and sometimes hour has passed in my life where I don't think of her even if it's just for a moment. I will brush my teeth and think of something funny she said, start to laugh and then cry, because I still miss her with all of my heart. Why? Because love is powerful, and it stays with you. It sustains you.
Loss can make you feel like you're going crazy.
And that is normal. I had moments where it was hard for me to imagine that I would survive the day without my mother and grandfather. My brothers and I had lost them within a month of each other and then had to move across the country leaving everything and everyone we had ever known behind. While not everyone has to make that type of journey after a loss, a loss is starting a new path... and it's a painful one.
If you know someone who has lost someone just ask how they're doing. You won't be able to take away their pain or fix it, but you can listen to them if they choose to talk. You can sit beside them and watch a movie if they don't want to talk but want company. Just follow their lead. The first month of a loss is usually quick bursts is searing pain then bouts of numbness and crying. Then after that its sorting through the reality of what's happened. Life isn't the same after a loss. It's a different life, it just is. Please don't tell your friend "See? You're smiling you must be feeling better." Or "soon things will go back to normal" or "divorce is worst than death". No it's not, and please don't say that. (Yes someone said each of those things to me).
It can teach you compassion if you let it. The searing amount of pain I was in opened my eyes... to other people's pain. I started to see at a young age, that everyone is in some degree of pain. That pain is shown in many different ways: anger, aggression, depression, drug or alcohol abuse etc. the strangest thing to come out of all of this was my humor. When I saw others were in pain I just wanted to make them laugh, not to hide or deny pain, but to say "wow life is incredible... and such a f**king mess isn't?!" I found humor in the universal- and what is universal, is loss.
Learn what centers you.
It took me a long while to hone in on what I found fulfilling. When I was a child it was theatre, writing and acting. It's the only thing I wanted to do with my life. After my mother and grandfather died I was lost for a very very long time, for well over a decade. I waitstaffed, was loud, angry and obnoxious, bartended, I play drums in a half a dozen bands, I read a lot of philosophy and theology, became a barista, started a magazine and made out with a lot of men (and women) and what I discovered I really loved was... acting, writing and theatre. I don't regret the years of being lost and I know most people don't have the luxury of that when you lose someone as an adult. I was a teenager, as an adult you have to cope in a different way, so you can be there for your family. I only hope that you find something that helps you cope, writing in a diary, listing to comedy in a car, just being nice to yourself when it's so hard to get through that day. I wish you all strength, courage, and humor. Most of all I wish you love -- like the kind my mother bestowed on Mondrian, Matisse and I. The kind that sustains.