Grief Novice

2017 has been a crazy year, one that had previously promised to be one of the best of my life. The fresh snow of January and February was the horizon on which I had built my dreams for the year. I was going to be married, I had promising leads on a job in a top school district, and mine and Justin’s new kitten was providing endless joy and laughter. February melted into March and March drained into April. I was 2 months away from finishing a coveted teaching residency and well into planning my perfect wedding. I had envisioned arriving at the holiday season with a long sought after teaching position, a new husband with whom I was moving into a new apartment, and a profound sense of accomplishment for reaching the end of a stressful year. What I did NOT envision however, was just how stressful and difficult that road would turn out to be.

Now I get to the part of my story that I feel guilty for telling. Alas, the life altering accident did not happen TO me; I was merely a witness to an event that changed the course of my brother’s life forever, and therefore, I sometimes believe that this is not my story to tell. However, writing has always been a cathartic outlet for me and if by the end of this I somehow feel less guilty for telling this story, than it will have been for the best.

The details of my brother’s accident have been documented in detail here, and here, oh and here. A local friend even made a video to help promote a fundraising event that helped close the gap between what health insurance covered and what was still needed to get Nick back on his leg. If you don’t have time to peruse multiple recounts of the event the basics are this:

  1. Nick dislocated his left knee at Red Rocks.
  2. That dislocation severed the popliteal artery and cut off blood supply to his lower leg.
  3. After 7 surgeries, the surgeons were unable to save his leg and he had it amputated above the knee.

That’s it. It was a freak accident that lead to 9 surgeries, a 17 day hospital stay, and a complete change in how our family operates.

After this accident, my perfect vision for 2017 quickly fell apart. In the eye of the hurricane, we almost called off my wedding, and my career prospects seemed to fall apart in front of me as I took time off from both my residency and my job search to spend with my family. In the blink of an eye, I was forced to confront the reality that the rest of 2017 would not be lined with gold foil like I had previously envisioned.

Now here is the part that I feel guilty for telling. How could I feel as bad as I did when my brother, who was the person to whom this all happened, was ready to move forward with a smile on his face? How could I selfishly be grieving the loss of my vision for a perfect year when my brother had lost so much more?

I started thinking about how I will never have the wedding pictures I envisioned with my family. No matter how hard I wish, my wedding pictures will always show my baby brother in a wheelchair. No matter how hard I wish, I will always look back on my wedding as a day that was filled with both tremendous love and tremendous sadness. No matter how hard I wish, I can’t go back to May and explain to the principals with whom I interviewed that I was on the precipice of a major depressive episode. I can’t do those things, and as someone who likes to have all of her eggs in a basket and ducks in a row, that drives me crazy. What I can do, and did, was seek out professional help in order to get this crazy, selfish grief under control. And here is what I am learning…

It is okay to grieve for things that never were.

It is okay to grieve for the loss of a leg, even though it wasn’t my leg. It’s okay to grieve for the loss of a dream, or the loss of the future you had imagined. It’s okay to grieve in a way that makes sense to me, regardless of how the rest of the people to whom this event affected are grieving. It’s okay because I am human, and grief is one of the deepest and realest human emotions on the spectrum.

Back in May, having little experience with extreme grief, I believed that my family and I would be on the same trajectory towards accepting the new life that this accident left in its wake. I believed that because we were so close that we would go through a linear process together, in sync with one another. I thought we would hit all of those arbitrary phases of grief together, and that simply wasn’t the case.

I won’t tell you how the other members of my family are grieving; those aren’t my stories to tell. But, I can tell you how I am learning to grieve in a healthy, non-self destructive way.

First and most obviously, I’m writing again. It’s probably not good, in fact journaling has never been my strongest genre. I much prefer a research paper to a personal narrative.

I’m teaching. At the 11th hour before the start of the school year I found an amazing job as a Pre-K teacher in the community where I’ve spent the better part of 10 years. It’s nothing like the school in which I had imagined I’d be starting my career, but it’s allowing me to explore and develop parts of my educational philosophy I had not previously examined. I am 100% positive that I am teaching where I am meant to be.

And that’s it, for now. I’m starting small and hopefully adding to what I’m calling my “grief toolbox” for dealing with this nonlinear, oftentimes unmanageable process.

My husband and I may not be living in a swanky, downtown Denver apartment. Our wedding presents are still strewn across my parent’s basement and we’re still in the tiny apartment we’ve been in for 4 years. I don’t have a job in the school district I originally thought I would. And, my brother will never have two legs again. But, alas, I did arrive at the holiday season with a profound sense of accomplishment…simply for surviving this year and beginning the process of putting myself back together.

Oh, and our kitten is still providing endless joy and laughter…when she’s not busy destroying our security deposit. :)

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