Dear Fellow Grief Professional, and Grieving Heart:
Since I was a young girl, I wanted to be a mortician.
My paternal grandmother died when I was seven. She had been sick for as long as I could remember and even as a child, I was not surprised she passed away. The grief that my dad experienced at losing his mom when he was only thirty years old, is one of my most vivid childhood memories. I knew, with certainty, that I was meant to help people in the worst times of their lives. It has been a calling I have had since her funeral in 1989.
I have been in funeral service for many years. I have helped thousands of families honor their loved ones. I have planned many, many funerals and memorials and tributes to the deceased. On top of the logistics of planning a funeral, I have been a mediator, a counselor, a listener, a guide, a manager, and teammate and most importantly, the strong one when everyone else is falling apart.
Last December, I experienced an unexpected death in my own family. My Uncle Robert died. He wasn’t sick. He was only 58. He fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It rocked our world. We are a very close family and suddenly he was gone.
Immediately though, because it’s what I know best, I transformed into funeral director mode. I got the paperwork signed, I got him to the coroner, I started planning his funeral, I worked out the logistics and did what I do every day. By Monday morning, everything was scheduled and ready and I went to work as usual; not even forty-eight hours since we found him.
Monday evening, we held our annual holiday candlelight vigil at the funeral home. Halfway through I started crying and left without telling anyone. The funeral director in me had switched over to grieving niece in an instant. I needed to go home.
I stayed home the next day and walked around in my fleece robe and pajamas like a zombie. The emotions came launching in at random times that I couldn’t seem to control (crying while eating a cheeseburger for dinner because it suddenly hit me that Robert wouldn’t be with us for Christmas). I am used to being the one soothing grieving families and this was new to me and uncomfortable and powerful and raw.
Several months have passed. I assumed it would get “easier” and that the hurt would fade. It hasn’t. Not even a little bit.
We scattered Robert’s cremated remains this past weekend in his favorite spot in Vail, along the river walk that he loved. A family friend of ours, who is also a minister, said to us as we gathered together, “It’s not for Robert that we grieve but for ourselves. We grieve so deeply because we loved so deeply”. I thought a lot about my own experience with losing Robert. This is what I now know, almost six months since he died:
Grief is permission.
It’s allowing yourself to feel all the feelings and even if you think you’ve worked through one emotion, that doesn’t mean it won’t come back to you again (and again and again). It’s letting yourself cry and scream and take time alone to yourself. No matter how tough you think you might be, there will come a time when you lose someone you love. And damn it, that’s HARD.
Even in an industry such as mine, where I am surrounded daily by grieving families and death…grief is unique and it’s your own. And you must allow yourself to do it, even if it means crying into your cheeseburger.
Written by: Amy May