December 7, 2005 I was awoke to my sister screaming at my bedroom window and her boyfriend pounding on the front door. I fell to the floor, four months pregnant in utter disbelief. My mother was dead. I meant to call her the night before, but I put it off because I was so tired from morning sickness. I still regret not making that phone call.
After making funeral arrangements I came home only to see the presents I had bought her, already wrapped and under the tree. I unwrapped them and hid them in the basement because it was too much just then.
My dad died about two years later. I was at an attorney's office before he was even in the ground, because his wife of a few months was already trying to monetize the situation and asking for an allowance. She even refused to sign the papers at the funeral home, as that would make her financially responsible to, in her words "the love of my life". One background check, a good attorney and a few months later, as I suspected, that was not true.
After that, my sister lost it and accused me of being greedy, among other things. She almost had my brothers convinced that I was trying to take money from all of them. I couldn't, because I had a will to follow, but I digress. We still don't speak. The death of my parents has not only left us parentless, it has caused an enormous strain on my relationship with my siblings.
Somewhere in the haze of all of that, my grandmother died too. Her funeral was like revisiting my parent's funeral. I just wanted the priest to stop saying their names. Shortly after that I got divorced as well. That was my initiation into "The Dead Parents Club".
None of this makes me special. While it's certainly sad to reflect upon, I know that death has been an unwanted visitor to a lot of people.
Why am I telling you this? Well, actually I'm not telling you all of the nitty gritty details, but giving a tiny snapshot of two years in my life.
I'm also telling you because a few months ago I wrote an blog post about my personal feelings in the years since my parents have passed away. Little did I know that it would have struck such a huge nerve with so many people. I was in awe of the response and the flood of email I received.
Over 200 of my fellow humans reached out to say "thank you for letting me know I am not alone." Some of them wrote from a parent's death bed or funeral; some of them wrote from a place of all consuming darkness. The deeply personal stories people have shared kept me in tears for several days. Moved and humbled is an understatement.
I also received a handful of emails and comments that called me things like offensive, stupid, un-empathetic and callous. The common theme was "How dare I compare or rank my grief against another's"? Well, I didn't. The article was the 10 things that changed me -- just me and no one else.
Death is not a contest and I did not try to make it one. How can it be? Is my grief more important than yours or his or hers? Certainly not -- I claim no "status" of supreme suffering.
Here is what people took issue with: "I don't think there is anything that can prepare you to lose a parent. It is a larger blow in adulthood I believe, because you are at the point where you are actually friends with your mother or father." And, "I would not trade my time with them for anything, but sometimes I think it would have been easier had you died when I was very young. The memories would be less."
"I sometimes think" is a statement of wondering and is not the same as "I can say with absolute certainty that..."
The beauty and irony of being human is that we experience life and death in a uniquely individual way. We each have a truth and a narrative that is our own -- our story. Parts of our story are those chapters and moments that we have no control over; and without a time machine they cannot be altered. Death cannot be changed, nor can our reaction in those moments and sometimes even years later.
Some people have suggested that I change my narrative and even rewrite the post to reflect a less personal point-of-view. I was encouraged to be more inclusive of other groups, such as children who lost parents at a young age and those who lost spouses. Basically I was asked to censor my thoughts, feelings and words (my story) to make people feel more comfortable with how I expressed my grief. I, for one, would never tell someone that their grief didn't fall in line with what is expected.
There is no expectation to my knowledge. Is there some rule book on grief that I missed the delivery on?
What I have found most ironic about these "requests" is that they have asked me to display more empathy and restraint; while very few have shown any empathy for my losses and have actually went out of their way to explain how their grief is more than mine. It makes their argument invalid, in my opinion.
Yet, I have answered all of those emails and comments, with condolences. That is just my first thought anyway -- they are a human being who has suffered a loss. They deserve that. Death does not make us so different. As widows, children, spouses and extended family we share a one thing in common -- a loss.
Do I actually wish my parents would have died when I was young? No. I don't want them dead at all.
Did I claim to know how that feels or attempt to diminish that experience for someone else? No, that's absurd.
Does it make me a callous egomaniac to say that I felt it was lager blow in adulthood (to me)?No, it makes me human.
Did I simply share a moment of "what if"? Yes.
I've written long enough to know that not everyone will agree with me and some readers will infuse my words with their own emotion, and perhaps interpret things that are simply not there. I also know that many people have been made to feel heard and no longer alone in their grief because of that post.
That is what being a part of the human race is about and the rent we pay for our existence -- helping people, even if I didn't do it on purpose.