A lot of people think the worst day of your life is the day when you have to see a loved one or someone close to you die. But it’s not. It’s the next day. It’s when you realize that the sun has risen with the nightmare still playing out and you have to live in a world that’s been broken. Think back for a minute to the dream we’ve all had of forgetting to study for a test, or the dream where your teeth fall out. Remember the relief you felt when you woke up from those dreams. Now imagine never getting that relief. Imagine never waking up. Not completely. Not ever. That is what it felt like for me on March 30th, 1993.
Like a lot of boys, I was closer to my mother than anyone in the world. And so the scene of her demise in a shitty two-bedroom apartment in Sacramento was as gruesome and gut-wrenching as anything I had or have ever faced. It was confusing and terrifying and surreal. But what came after was far, far worse.
Most of the time in the days and weeks after she died, I felt like I was walking on a razor’s edge between not wanting to think about my mother and having to deal with it out in the open. One of the worst moments for me was coming back to school, knowing that others already had heard the bad news. I didn’t want to look at the curious, quiet faces of the other students. I didn’t want to hear the tone of condolence and care from teachers and staff. Every well-meaning attempt was another lump in my throat. Every kindness another reminder of what I had lost. And I did lose it, almost every other hour; behind trees on school grounds, in the bathroom alone, or quietly straining in front of classmates to keep my glassy eyes from welling up any more.
Being forced to confront death in front of your peers as a child was humbling to say the least. But I got through it with the help of people that tried to help me feel normal. My best friend called me up to come over and play, never asking, but always knowing what I was going through. My science and home room teacher minimized the spotlight on me during class by simply welcoming me back and then going about the regularly scheduled program. My dad and brother and I were all lost, and rallied to each other at different times, the three of us trying together to map out this world with less light. All this is to say I wouldn’t have gotten very far without any of the people around me.
Over the years I’ve seen some terrible shit drop down unto the lives of those around me. Occasionally I’ll get hit with something myself. And almost every time whether or not the calamity in question impacts me or someone else, the last thing I really want to do is talk about it, like everyone says you should. Words can be as cutting and painful spoken as they are heard, and having to bear your wounds can feel like a disrobing of your soul. It’s embarrassing, awkward and a little scary. But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s a necessary leap. Stepping off the edge of the knife is the only way you can let go of real pain.
My hope in writing this is that whenever you, the reader, are forced to live through a loss, you remember a little of what I’ve written. More importantly: the most useful book about how you should grieve is the one your friends and family will help you write. I hope by sharing my story maybe a few people will feel a little less alone and can possibly relate to my experience. If you ever need someone to talk to, please reach out.