For the first time since I’ve lost Luke, I found myself inside the walls of the funeral home where we had his funeral. I was attending a visitation for a friend who lost her Dad, please keep her in your thoughts and prayers, tomorrow will be a long day for her and her family. I didn’t want my presence there to be about me or about Luke, but my eyes just couldn’t stop welling up with tears. I waited in line to hug her so I had maybe too much time to look around and just remember. I stared at the pew where I sat with my parents at Luke’s funeral and it felt like the ground was shaking beneath me.
I stared at a pew where I once sat with Luke after his Grandfather passed away, where we held hands, where I wiped tears from his face and promised him he had more time. I was wrong, the next time I was there, Luke wasn’t sitting next to me. I was just overwhelmed with memories. I looked around and everything looked different but it was somehow so familiar, too. Even as I pulled into the parking lot, I could only think of Luke’s funeral, the day of, I remember driving there and how much I didn’t want to go in. I remembered how “out-of-body” it all was for me. I parked, took a couple of deep breaths and made my way in.
I saw my friend and I was happy to be there even though I was dealing with some of my own stuff. Once I finally got to her and was able to hug her, I cried. I cried for her, for her Mom, for the memories this space evoked. I just cried but tried to maintain. Ironically, she complimented me for how well I’ve been doing and she’s right, I’ve been “better” but today is the proof in the pudding that I’m not done. She knows that and could tell being in this space was a struggle for me. Still, I’m so thankful I went. You are worth showing up for, C. You’re so special.
I did okay, I teared up here and there but managed to not break down…until I got outside and started to walk back to my car. All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe, it was happening, I was having a panic attack. I got to my car and drove across the street to the cemetery, I just wanted to be close to Luke and I needed a “safe place” to try to pull myself together before I drove home. Panic attacks and the interstate just aren’t a great idea. For the first time in a long time, I sat next to Luke and I sobbed. I nervously adjusted his floral arrangement and dusted grass off his headstone and I just kept saying “we’re okay”, “you’re okay” “it’s okay”…”I’m okay”. I am okay. I just wished he was there to tell me so.
Why am I telling you this? Do I want a pity party? No, I want everyone to see the reality of grief. Luke has been gone for over 2 years and I totally lost my shit today. Is this a setback? No! It was just a tough day, a tough afternoon, the rest of the day was okay. It gets better somehow but will it ever go away? I don’t know. My friend, Kim, tells me sometimes we just have to cry it out, our tears are us getting toxins out and I think she’s right. I just needed to let so much negativity out today and no one looks at you like you’re crazy when you cry at a cemetery.
Today was another first and I’m so glad I got this one out-of-the-way. Just like my first time walking into the hospital where Luke passed, or the feeling I still get when I see a lemon flavored dessert. I miss Luke, of course, but a piece of grief that a lot of people miss, I think, is the trauma of losing someone. The trauma of the experiences that come after. It’s a tough reality.
I called my Dad and asked him if he remembered me calling him the day Luke was diagnosed. Of course he does but I just needed him to remember with me, I guess. It was awful, I’m not crazy for not being “over it”, right? I know all of these things happened but it is still hard to believe they happened to “us”. I was the girl in the parking lot of the hospital calling her Dad, afraid her boyfriend was going to die, because the cancer was everywhere. That parking lot is still hard for me to be in, the surgery waiting room, these places are all triggers, not just reminders that Luke is gone, but how painful that journey has been. So much of it was out-of-body, it’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like I experience things again or for the first time with a more level head.
I am glad I went today, it’s another first that I can mark off the list. Will I ever make Luke’s lemon bars again? I don’t know. Will I ever go to the Italian restaurant where he took me every year for my birthday? Again, I don’t know and that’s okay. I will know when I’m ready just like I knew today. Was it hard? Yes, but now it’s over, I was present for someone I wanted to be present for and I overcame another one of my dreaded “firsts”. Every time I face a first, I face a first and I’m that much stronger.
A bad day isn’t a setback. The stages of grief don’t happen in order. Sometimes, even when you really want something to be about someone else, your own crap will creep up and I’m thankful to have friends and parents who understand and support me through that reality, through days like today. There are no rules, no right or wrong ways, just the way that works for you.
It’s okay. We’re okay. I am okay, this is just who I am now.