Learning to Swim :: Managing Grief During the Holidays

“Grief is like the ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes, it’s overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

It’s 12/21/2015. Christmas spirit surrounds me. Something is different, though. My heart has built a wall, a fortress, if you will, blocking the spirit from infiltrating my soul. I’m not a Scrooge. I will tell you, though … I don’t feel much like celebrating. Most blogs or books I read Learning to Swim PRINTon grief are written and shared after the person has died. I thought I’d offer a take on what it’s like to go through this human emotion of grief – especially at the holidays – while the loved one is fighting to hang on.

At 3:00am last Monday morning, my comfortable life filled with my “Cadillac problems of the day” got rocked. My problems prior to 3:00am last Monday were, “should I pay the extra shipping on Amazon prime to get the gift there in time? Should I buy the fruit whole or already cut up?” (I’m lazy at times). These are Cadillac problems.

Last week my uncle suffered a seizure of some sort, and he actually died but they brought him back to life. He was rushed to East Jefferson hospital and has been fighting to stay alive in the CCU unit. My uncle is not my father, but a part of him is. You see, my uncle donated his kidney to my dying father years ago. I didn’t understand the gravity of this gift until the birth of my own child.

The feeling of being in a CCU unit waiting room during Christmas is equivalent to being plucked from your life and put into some episode of The Twilight Zone.

There is uncomfortable silence. Fear of the unknown. Hope. Despair. More hope. With each specialty of medicine coming to visit, it dictates which wave you’re gonna ride … the one of hope or the one of grief.

The only thing that has gotten me through this experience is a family divided coming together. I’m not divulging any well-kept secret; every family has their dysfunction, and I’m not the exception. The difference today is that my family put all that petty stuff aside and came together like the light side of the force.

My life right now doesn’t seem real. I’m living it, but I’m in an emotional limbo. I’m completely powerless over what happens to my uncle. Some moments it hits me like a ton of bricks. Seeing the tears in my father’s eyes as Last Rites were given to my Uncle as a precautionary measure and watching my father sweep his older brother’s hair to lean over and kiss his forehead in hopes of providing him the comfort of human touch is a moment that got the best of me.

To understand the gravity of that moment is to know that in my 36 years of life I’ve only seen my father cry once. This was the second.

So here I sit, 8 days into this battle for life with Christmas looming. I’m comforted by the fact that I have an outlet in this blog. That it’s okay to not want to get out of bed. It’s okay to not feel like eating or working out. It’s okay to want Christmas to hurry up and be over with. It’s okay to feel moments of joy and laughter during this crisis. It’s normal to feel paralyzed with grief. This is life. This is my life right now, this part of my journey that has taught me so much.

My faith, family and friends have taught me how to swim and navigate these waters. My family is my anchor and God, the lighthouse. Christmas morning will be here soon. I know one thing for sure. My uncle will be with me in my soul.

Count your Cadillac problems as blessings. Kiss the ones you love. Hold on tight to life because one thing I know for sure is that it can change in the blink of an eye. It can change with one phone call.

I was trying to think of a clever way to close this entry but life isn’t that way sometimes. A tight close sometimes doesn’t fit. It’s messy, half open, unresolved. And so it is with this story.


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