June 03, 2009

Nerves of Aerospace Grade Titanium?

I have been dealing with the loss of my sister. I don't grieve the same way that other people grieve. I don't break down and curl up in a ball and cry in the corner. I am focused. I shove my grief aside, and I deal with the things that need to be dealt with. I take care of the needs of my family and my friends first and then, if there is time, I deal with my needs - otherwise, I internalize.

On the day my sister died, I was far from home. My dad was alone in one place, my mom was alone in another, my nephew was not with them and my sister was dead. Rather than cry out, wail or weep, I made the executive decision to get my dad somewhere safe until my husband could collect him. I made the call to my nephew's dad to begin the process of preparing for telling my nephew the tragic news, and I placed calls to find my mom and tell her, and to tell other members of our family. Then I set to work to secure a plane ticket home and make the arrangements for a funeral dinner following the service. I cried on the shoulder of one of my dearest friends for a few moments, and then got back to what I needed to get done.

Some think that this behavior is unnatural - I think it is practical. I did not have the luxury of breaking down because my family needed me to take charge. I could not stop and grieve with family members because they would suck the very life from me when I needed to be busy making plans and taking care of things.

After I arrived home, my husband felt as if I was not emotional enough, and he was angry with me for it. I suspect he expected me to fall out of the car into his waiting arms a jellied, sobbing mess. I am not that person. I got home at nearly 1 am on Saturday morning and immediately set to work getting photographs cropped and prepared for the slideshow requested of the funeral home. I was distant, cold and unfeeling - IF you ask my husband. I think I was getting done what was necessary, and there was no time to grieve.

Members of my family, (my own parents), friends and strangers who came through the funeral home questioned how I could remain so put together or why I wasn't crying. I did cry a couple times when certain people entered the funeral home but it was short-lived and few and far between. I did not have time to break down. My mother was standing next to me and was unable to remember the names and faces of people she had known for 30 years. My father was standing next to me and had not stopped sobbing for days. I did not have the luxury of falling apart because there was no one to look after my folks. My cousin - who truly is more like my brother - has never had to deal with a loss. He was young when our grandfather died. This death has hit him like a steam roller. He found it hard to stand unaided. I did not have the luxury of falling apart because the boy who has needed me since he was 16 - needed me again. My 84 year old grandma who just got out of the hospital was frail and tired, my uncle was inconsolable, my aunts too. I did not have the luxury of falling apart because who would prop them up? Who would look after my gram? So there is that.

But to understand why I have the resolve of steel, one would need to understand my childhood, though I decline to get really specific here . . . I was the oldest. As a result, it was my responsibility to look after my sister. Should she get into trouble, do something we'd been warned against, or need anything, I was to set the example, and in failing, I was to accept the punishment.
I was not allowed to cry. Have you ever seen a 3 year old child who was not permitted to cry? That was me. Crying when being punished simply brought more punishment. So I did not cry. The tears could come later, when I was alone. God forbid that I cry when there was nothing to cry about - for I was quickly given a reason to cry. I was stubborn as well, and when old enough to know, I refused to cry. I'd be punished and laugh and exclaim that it did not hurt, which, alas, brought more punishment. What? I was stupid and stubborn . . .

When I was 4 we were on a family trip to the beach. We stopped at a convenience store for snacks and all piled back into the car. I was in the back seat of a four-door boat of a car. I don't recall what car it was. I'd not made it all the way in when my mom slammed the big door closed and crawled into the front seat. I sat in my seat with tears streaming down my face. When my mother noticed, I was admonished for crying "for no reason." It was only when we stopped at the campground to register that anyone noticed that my foot had been caught in the door - and indeed, remained there for a good 10 miles or so. I had not cried out because to do so would have caused anger . . . I stopped crying because that too was not allowed. This was simply one instance of many.

It is against this backdrop that I tell you that I do not fall apart. I take charge of crises, I get things done quickly and efficiently, and I am there to prop up those that need me most . . . but I do not fall apart. To illustrate, my son fell in a parking lot of shale when he was 3 or so. a jagged piece of shale pierced his forehead. There was literally blood everywhere. It looked as if he'd mangled his face and was bleeding from multiple places. I scooped him up, though not before removing my white sweater, and walked him into the fire hall where I knew first aid could be had. As several men stood around panicked at the sight of my tiny boy bleeding all over me (not even noticing I was in only a bra) and backed away, it was up to me to bark orders and take charge. I got the bleeding stopped (despite being there with an EMT) I cleaned up my sobbing boy and I bandaged him myself. I could not rely upon those men, trained in first aid, as they had fallen apart. I did not have the luxury of falling apart because it was my baby who was bleeding and crying. I made the decision to forego stitches - so as not to add to the trauma, and the scar is still visible today.

I broke this cardinal rule of mine when my husband was in his accident last year. I cried, I sobbed, I stayed in bed. . . it did me no good, and accomplished nothing. I can say with conviction that I cried all my tears then.

I am flawed. I am broken. I am without a sister who understands those flaws and imperfections . . . I am stoic. But, I get the job done when it needs to be done. I am a planner. I am not unfeeling, I am simply better at brushing it aside. I am dealing. AND . . . if I am in your corner - and you know if I am . . . I will prop you up when you want to fall. I will love you, support you and make you sammiches . . .I will be there for you no matter what and I will get it done when you can't. So there is also that.

Posted by Oddybobo at June 3, 2009 02:17 PM | TrackBack

Oddy, I'm so sorry. Some people have to be strong, and there to do things, saving the grief and shock for later, when it is more convenient. God bless you for being one of those people.

Our condolences on your loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with you, and, again, bless you for being one of the Strong.


Posted by: Walrilla at June 3, 2009 03:27 PM

As someone who you know deals in exactly the same way and for many of the same reasons, you were exactly where you needed to be when the tragic events unfolded.

You have a safe haven and I'm pretty damn good at propping others up, too.

We are all flawed, cracked, and broken.

I, for one, think it's quite fetching.

When I see you, I know it's okay to take care of business, as well as be human, too.

Much love, my dear.

; )

Posted by: Christina at June 3, 2009 03:28 PM

I laughed at my father's funeral.

So I know what they're saying about you is not true, but not everyone grieves in the same ways or at the same times. Bless your heart for giving them the luxury of grief *now*.

My prayers are with you. {{Hugs}}

Posted by: Pam at June 3, 2009 04:11 PM

I totally understand what a luxury it is to cry. When I was 12, I had to have knee surgery. When I woke up after, I was scared and crying. The nurse told me that she would not let me see my parents again if I kept crying.

Much later in life, I was in an abusive relationship. He would scream at me if I cried. "Don't you cry!!!!" "Don't give me those tears!!!!"

I have learned to hold it in. Oddly, sometimes I just really want to cry, but I can't.

So I totally empathize with all of this. I'll be sending all good thoughts, vibes, prayers, and good juju your way. Take care. Take some time for yourself.

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Posted by: yxsosqujicy at June 3, 2009 04:45 PM

To quote yxsosqujicy's comment just above mine, you got your shit in one sock, ma'am. Business first, emotional shit storm when you have time, if you even decide that you want to do that.

Trust me when I say that I have the empathic understanding of everything described in your post. But, I just never have found the purpose of crying.

By the way, I do not buy the premise that everyone is broken and imperfect. Flaws and weaknesses are for babies.

Posted by: Two Dogs at June 3, 2009 05:10 PM

I don't think one makes it through life without being damaged in some way. I have steamer trunks of baggage. I could load a train with my baggage.

I am like you. There is no time. Practicality must step in. I don't cry in public... if I cry, I cry alone. I don't even cry in front of my husband. There is no purpose...

Posted by: Bou at June 3, 2009 08:49 PM

I echo what Bou said.

"I did not have time to break down".

There are things that have to be taken care of in times like this, and you are the someone who has to do it. Other people will think you are unfeeling, but that's because they've never had to step up to the plate and do it themselves.

I've had to be the 'adult' in my mom's and my relationship since I was about 6. It just has to be done, and that's all there is to it.

We know you love your sister...otherwise, you wouldn't be doing what you are doing now. It's definitely NOT a flaw to be able to do what others can't.

Posted by: Mrs. Who at June 4, 2009 08:37 AM

Everybody has their own way of dealing with tragedy. In your case, you were the only one capable of keeping things together for the family, so you did what needed to be done and looked after them. I remember during my dad's funeral three years ago there was no emotional breakdowns (just didn't happen in our family) but we all leaned on each other for support and that was all that was needed. It actually was more of a celebration of his life, which we all thought was more appropriate and what he would've wanted. The breakdown came a couple weeks later, when I watched some home movies of him when he was a baby. I had to lock the door to the bedroom so my wife and kids wouldn't see me in that state.

But enough of me for now. You did what you had to for family, just be sure you don't neglect to do for yourself whatever's necessary. Sometimes even the tough ones need a break and be looked after.

Posted by: diamond dave at June 4, 2009 10:21 AM

It takes time to sink in, at times. I know.

Sorry looong time,

Posted by: JihadGene at June 4, 2009 03:45 PM

You have some wise readers here, Oddy. (Except the spambots, of course.) Everyone responds differently, and there are definitely those that pull it together enabling the rest to grieve and fall apart.

My mother died unexpectedly during a college break. I just shut down my emotions - no tears, and when it was time to return to college, only a very few of my friends knew. More than 25 years later, not sure I ever did the grieving the way people expect, but I am finally understanding that it was OK - there is no script for everyone. I miss my mom always. (So please, after all the chaos is over, grieve in whatever way works for you, and know that those who care are holding you in their warmth and support. And that is what matters.)

You are a strong woman, and you certainly have my admiration, support and prayers.

Posted by: jck at June 5, 2009 04:47 PM

Oddy, I did not cry over my dad's death except when they did the 21 gun salute. At that point I cried. Otherwise, I didn't cry and don't. If it makes you a bad person, then I'm the worse. I didn't need to prop anyone up.

Posted by: vw bug at June 6, 2009 05:50 AM