In loving memory of my dear uncle, Christopher Warren Gilbert.
I haven't written an article since January, the week before my uncle passed away. It took me this long to write again for many reasons. First, weathering this loss in tandem with academics, social responsibilities, travel for his memorial gathering and my fitness instruction job left me with little time or brain space to be creative. Second, I couldn't quite grasp how to write the first article I knew my uncle would not read. As an avid reader of my writing, Uncle Chris was always encouraging me and I think I drew a lot of inspiration from his widely adored style of humor.
The leadup to his passing after an arduous and long battle with cancer was the hardest thing I've had to go through.
I have gone through some other difficult things throughout my life but nothing held a candle to this devastation: the sadness I had for my uncle for not getting to continue a life that was so well lived, losing a man who inspired me and meant so much to me, seeing my grandparents lose a son, my uncle leaving behind his sweet and dear wife, my mother grieving the loss of a brother-in-law of over two decades, and my father losing his only brother.
I was sad, but most of my sadness stemmed from my heartbreak for my other family members in a way I didn't know I was capable of feeling.
I was incredibly lucky to have a stellar support system and love poured towards me at school and from my friends and family from home and across the country. Some people go through horrible things and do not have half of the support I was able to experience and for that, I am forever grateful.
When I started to think about writing again or started to classify myself as what I would finally call "coming up for air" in early March, a global pandemic began. That was one step forward, two steps back if I've ever seen it! So of course, I don't want to be callous in this writing while so much of the world is experiencing illness, threat of job security, financial hardship, and being locked in their homes with all of their screaming children indefinitely.
So to lighten the mood of quarantine, I decided to write an article about death.
My succession of thoughts is NOT meant to deem the support I received as inadequate. It was wonderful. Being that this was the first death of someone I was close to that I experienced (I am blessed to have four living grandparents), I have done a lot of reflecting. I just want to take a moment to explain what this was like for me, because my perspective grew going through this and showed me that grief is lasting. I am not OK just because the post I made about my uncle's passing is no longer in your news feed. I got back to "normal" instantly because of a demanding schedule and prioritizing my need to not fall behind but that did not mean it was easy. Listening to friends discuss crushes or complete an important assignment seemed trivial to say the least. How could I listen to someone lecture about advertising techniques when I couldn't get the sound of my uncle's voice out of my head? People would talk to me and I'd nod, but I was really thinking about my grandmother and grandfather.
I felt this heavy pressure to be OK.
I felt that since I knew he would pass I didn't need to be this upset. I felt guilty when I was happy. I still feel guilty when I am happy. I felt like I wanted to do everything and I felt like doing nothing.
I started to think about the support I had given to others when a friend or a family member lost a loved one. Kind words are always wonderful, but I am sharing this in hopes of inspiring you to do more because I now realize that I have never done enough. I know this because I don't consider myself as needing support right now, but when flipping through photo albums a few days ago, I was taken by surprise by a photo of my uncle and me when I was three years old, his hand on my shoulder. I Imploded on impact at the sight of this sweet moment. I was angry that I didn't have the privilege that we often take for granted, of looking at a photo and having it be pure and free of sadness and simply what it was. And I don't know that my reaction to that photo would be different a week, month, year or five years from now.
There is no expiration date for grief. For the first time, I pictured people I knew having similar moments: these quiet and isolating moments that stop you in your tracks and have the power to shoot you right back into that grueling moment of vulnerability, the moment you received news of your loved one's passing, that original heartbreak.
Let's try to stop the people we love from feeling that there is some sort of a grieving timeline or deadline that they should be normal by. Top secret: my family and I will be forever changed from this. If there is a holiday, a birthday, a milestone of any kind, or simply a great sunset or funny joke we wish we could share together, we will be thinking of him. This does not mean that I think we should wallow. Rather, I am saying this because as a friend to others I now know that saying "sorry for your loss" is very kind, but the love should not stop there.
Think of people on the holidays. Remember that people who are grieving might not want to bring it up to you. In my uncle's last days, my friends were amazing and encouraged me to share pictures and stories of him with them. I strive to now be that person for other people if, God forbid, they go through something similar.
They say that grief is love with no place to go. If you know someone going through a loss understand that that love is always without a home. Know that their feelings are likely riddled with complexities. Give them a call when you see it's their late loved one's birthday. Share a positive story if you have a fond memory with this person. Healing takes a long time, I challenge you to walk alongside your friends and family members for that entire journey.