Today is the 2-year mark since I received the devastating call from my mom. That they had found Gavin. He had been missing for several days and it was my first day back at work since the holidays. I had flown back to San Francisco the night before. I remember coming into work and sending out an email to my floor asking that they share his story; that even though he was across the country, I wanted to get the word out as much as possible. To find my hard-working, goofy, strong, resilient, authentic 17-year old cousin. I texted my Nana saying I was worried, that I just had a bad feeling. She told me not to worry and that everything would be fine; that we would find him.
No less than an hour later my phone rang. It was my mom. I walked into a room, answered to hear “They found him… they found Gavin” as my mom sobbed on the other line. I instantly fell to the ground. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. It couldn’t be. This can’t be real. But I knew it was. Something about coming into work that day, I just knew. I felt all my energy leave my body and like I had sunk into a deep, dark hole. Not only because I lost my dear cousin, but because I lost him to a disease that I battle with daily: depression. I’ve written many posts about this and many know my candid views on mental health in general.
Today as I experience the second horrible anniversary of this day, I can’t say it has gotten any easier. In some ways, I feel like it’s almost become harder. I have yet to cry. I have felt like a shell of myself the last few days. Like everything is moving so fast and I’m just watching in slow motion; exhausted and clouded. Not only because of the grief, but also the connection. The fact that I’ve been where he was and know very well I can be there again at any time. Outside of the grief and connection, a feeling seems to take over more than any other. That feeling is shame. Brene Brown is a shame researcher and has many things to say about this dirty feeling. That it thrives on silence, secrecy, and judgment. That shame is the swampland of the soul.
“Many of us spend our entire lives slogging through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to be imperfect & believe that we are enough.”
I’ve spent years working on myself. On being vulnerable, authentic, and believing I am enough. To let go of shame and believe my feelings are all valid, even if they may not be true.
Now you may be all wondering why I would feel shame right now? Well, let me give you a scenario that I am sure many of you have been in before. You know someone – close or an acquaintance – that has left our world and brought tears and sorrow to many people. There is usually mass amounts of support and love, but judgment still seems to seep in during this devastating time. You hear about someone that is distraught by the loss followed by someone saying “I don’t get why they’re even so upset. They barely knew them.” or it’s been years since the death and that sorrow emerges again for many followed by someone else saying “It’s been years, I get it was sad but they need to get over it.” I have even been guilty of this.
Somewhere down the line society has created this unspoken rulebook that seems to outline who is allowed to grieve, at what capacity, and for how long.
Thoughts keep emerging saying things like “you two weren’t even that close”, “it’s been two years, come on”, “you need to move on”, and many others. I can’t sleep, I feel nauseous. I want to share my feelings but always second guess myself in fear of the judgment and the above being thought or said about me.
I told my close friend this just yesterday and she replied with:
“You know what Brene Brown would say about the shame feeling. There is absolutely nothing to feel ashamed about. You lost a loved one. It doesn’t matter if it was 2 years, 2 days, that is so hard and takes so much strength. Every day you remember him and some days it hurts worse than others. I don’t think healing means never feeling that hurt again. You are still healing. Don’t let shame or your inner critic add to the weight of what is already so hard and sad. Let a little compassion for yourself or know that I feel so much for you. I am here to hug you if you can’t give it to yourself right now.”
I also shared this with my aunt – Gavin’s mom today – and she said:
“…you should never feel guilt. Grief is such a funky thing and affects us all so differently, I remember it took ***** months to cry. It made me mad because I thought they didn’t care, but of course they, it just works differently for them as it does you, me, and everybody else. You are a very sensitive person, just like I am so we tend to cry more and feel more?! I really do think we’re a lot of like. 🙂 I don’t know, just don’t EVER feel guilty. You’re going through too much to add that too. Give it another week or so and hopefully, we will all be a little better.”
Then I take a deep breath of relief and remember they are right. There is no timeline for grief and it is different for everyone. I have always been a very deeply feeling person and something like this that resonates on such a personal level is going to likely always affect me. It won’t get easier, but I will get stronger. I will keep sharing my story and accept my feelings as they are with open arms. Anxiety and depression mixed with grief is a scary place, but a little less so when you have an amazing support system. By no means can I attest that this shame has been eliminated after talking to a few people. It’s absolutely still there, but it’s a little less prominent. I know today and the next several days will still be hard and full of ups and downs for both myself and many others that were blessed enough to know Gavin. To experience his fun sense of humor, big smirk, and amazing hugs.
It really puts things into perspective; as most traumatic events do. You soften in areas and harden in others. You gain more empathy and understanding for many others that have gone and will go through the same thing. I even find some other areas of shame. Shame that I once did judge someone because “they weren’t that close” or because it’s “been so long”. But that’s why we’re all here – to learn and grow and love. To connect with others through experiences. I continue to learn and am humbled by the human brain; how fragile it can be and how completely unique it is to each person. We all feel and experience things differently, but no way is better or the “correct” way to do so.
Today, I take off that shame mask, give myself some compassion, and say honestly that I am not ok and that’s ok. That I may not be today, tomorrow, next month, or next year. I will not let others judgments or my past opinions determine what I feel, to what depth I feel it, and how long that feeling lasts. Not only with grief, but each and every challenge that will continue to come my way. I am so blessed to have people in my life that listen, love, understand, and support me – all of me. And I hope you – whoever you are reading this right now – know that you are too worthy of the same love and support. Know that I will continue to speak out about my challenges so that you and anyone else know they’re not alone and remind myself that I am human.
I am perfectly made by the Hand of God and he gave me these experiences and feelings so that I can share my story. I will continue to connect and help others while learning and healing myself along the way.
Last off, I want to say to Gavin as he reads this up above – likely with a Budweiser in hand – that I miss you; a lot. That I feel deeply grieve your loss but also have empathy for where you were for so long. That dark and scary place that has no light or hope. Where you were convinced you weren’t enough and things weren’t going to be okay. That the world would be a better place once you were gone and that thing could finally be okay by ending it all. I wish more than anything that someone could have helped you see that light or hold your hand a little tighter until you were able to yourself.
But if I have learned anything from you, it is to not live in the past. To instead live and learn authentically, with no shame or regrets. I hope you see that light now, brighter than ever. That your smile never fades, your sense of humor is as sharp as your rap game, and that you have been able to give your perfect hug to so many others. Until we meet again, I will continue to spread your story, savor the great moments, and trust the bad ones will pass. I will take deep breaths and remember that a “Simple Man” like you wasn’t so simple, but rather a deeply feeling person in a hard and harsh world.
I love you and I miss you.