Helplessness will not survive

A year and a day ago, I got the call as I was walking down the streets of bustling Manhattan to pick up lunch: my father passed away yesterday. I kept that surreal and uncomfortable conversation to a minimum — both in terms of time and emotion — and pretended to keep going with my day.

The pretending didn’t last more than 30 minutes, at which point I stopped and effusively cried on Union Square, trying to find my breathe and ways to rectify a story I felt was impossible to handle in both the short and long terms. While I have always had to be very independent from my family, the feeling of loss hit me with full force. After losing my father, my mother, and my grandfather all within 8 months, it suddenly struck me: I am now my own entity — there is no one before me, no one after. And no one that will ever care for me the way these did, however clumsy they were.

Death is emotionally painful and exhausting, logistically quite puzzling (especially when it strikes in the backcountry of a tiny Eastern Europe enclave), and a stressor on my life now that I have to care for a 34 year-old autistic brother who lives a continent and an ocean away. I have felt so much resentment and bitterness towards my parents when they were alive. And so much of it after they died towards the friends I thought would be present and weren’t, and generally towards anyone who dared going on with their lives as I was slowly & surely sinking alone. But little by little, there were also the heart-warming surprises: the friends I rarely hear from but showed up with genuine concern, the past boyfriends I thought never really cared and showed up too, the distant family that becomes a sustainable new pillar. And they all continue to.

On July 3, landing back in San Francisco from a second trip home to tackle legalities and the sale of our childhood home, I instantly felt lighter and balanced again — as if my brains had had enough and decided it was time to move on, because they simply couldn’t keep going this way: I didn’t actually decide to leave pain, loneliness, resentment, and bitterness behind and start over. The shift just occurred and it was liberating: I am now back to socializing, running half-marathons, accepting daring bets and making sarcastic jokes, or exhausting my friends because I have more energy to spend than hours in the day can allow for. I am back to being me.

In the middle of all of that and since then, there have been other friends and family sick with cancer and more deaths. But I have never felt like the ground was collapsing under me again. I even like to think I am better able to support those who do and will endure the helplessness I once felt.