August 13, 2013

Grief, Relief, Guilt, Grief

As I sit in front of my computer, listening to the storm raging outside my window, I can't help myself.

I worry.

I worry because another woman's husband died from cancer, another child's father. As always, another person's cancer-related death sends me spiraling into waves of grief and relief and guilt.

They are three distinct emotions, rolling one after another, with predictable momentum.

Grief, because I understand. I know the waiting, the fear. I know how hard you cling to good news. I know how desperately you struggle to turn bad news around, to spin it into some bit of positivity.

I know this grief. I've listened to it gnawing at my ear at night, sitting in hospital waiting rooms, hoping that when a doctor comes in, sweaty from surgery, his face will melt it back to the darkness.

The grief buckles my knees, brings tears to my eyes. Empties my stomach into a hollowness of cold, wet longing.

Relief because it is you and not me. Because my family is whole, and it might not have been. Because my husband has little worries, like a meniscus tear and lack of sleep. Relief that I don't spend my days in latex gloves, meting out poisonous pills in the hope they'll make everything better.

The relief makes me dizzy, makes me reach out to touch the cool surface of my desk, steady myself against the hardness of reality. It fills my stomach again in nauseous lumps of solid fact. Photographs on the wall. Children sleeping in their beds.

Guilt, because life is not binary. It's not you or me, your family or my family, your husband or mine. It's not black and white. Your loss is not my gain.

It flattens me, humbles me, because it feels so wicked to have considered for a moment that my happiness depends even in the most abstract way on someone else's suffering. That another family's loss could cause me even a moment's relief sickens me, but I can't stop it. And that sickens me more.

Then the grief comes again.

I am angry at myself. Angry at all the useless words that cannot convey the simple concept that I understand. That I wish with all my might I could make it not true. That my grief is real, and powered by the self loathing of standing on the far end of the finish line, unable to help you through.

I shower and sit before the air conditioner, shivering despite the hot, summer rain that pounds against the windows. I listen to my children wake up from their naps, tousle haired and smiling, and tell them daddy won't come home for dinner tonight. Daddy's working late. But daddy will come once they're in bed, to kiss them goodnight.

I have this luxury, to wallow in the endless conflicting emotions that surround death.

I have the option to taste them, swirl them around and spit them out again. I am not living them. I am not consumed by them. I don't have to feel them at all if I don't want to, but some part of me must want to.

Some part of me feels I owe it to you, who are grieving. I owe you my solidarity. I owe you my understanding. I owe you more than sympathy.

My husband got better. He was supposed to die, but he didn't. He got better.

Not everyone is so lucky. Not you.

Part of me needs to know. Part of me needs to look death in the face, every death, and see my own reflection. Part of me needs to stare into it and find peace with it now, before it can catch me unprepared.

And part of me wants to turn my back. Remind myself that all is well, that everything is fine. That the world is cruel to some, but kind to me. That tomorrow is another day I can spend with my arms wrapped around my family, secure in our joy. Safe in our completeness.

I have this luxury. Some do not.

And as the rain beats against the torn screen, the thunder shakes the floorboards. It's real, this thunder.

It's something I can't see, but it's real.

Just as death and grief and relief and guilt are real.

They shake me just as much. Rock me in my seat.

I can't see the cold coming from the vent, but it chills me. Sends shivers down my spine. As true and physical as the emotions I might choose to ignore.

Just as invisible.

From Our Small Moments
My children are awake, playing and laughing, pretending they're astronauts in space suits. The baby is sitting in her crib, flipping through books and pointing out noses and eyes.

I can't go in there until the battle against my emotions is over. Until I know if I'm going to dissolve into tears at the sight of them, or plop down on the floor and read and sing and go back to the business of being mommy.

The tears win. The tears always win.

I look at the rain outside, knowing my husband will walk home through it.

With tremulous hands I pack the grief down and go back to the business of being mommy anyway. Because I have no choice. Because no matter what tears at my heart, they need me.

And with you in my thoughts, the woman who's husband is gone today, the woman who's children's father will not be coming home, the cycle begins again.

Please keep Courtney of Our Small Moments in your hearts today. And every day.
And please remember how fragile and beautiful your lives are.

You can donate to the fund for Scott's final medical bills here.

For more about M's story, read here.


  1. While I can't imagine what you and she have gone/are going through, I can say that you should not feel guilty for being thankful that this was not the fate of your family. It is a completely and totally HUMAN thing to feel. It doesn't mean you are any less empathetic to what this woman is going through right now. ::hugs::

    1. Emotions are what they are, it can be difficult to control. I try not to feel guilty, but I do anyway. :(
      Thank you for your support. And thank you for reading. <3

  2. Very poignant. You are a beautiful writer.

  3. This was very powerful. You have beautiful words.

    -The Insomniacs Dream

  4. Beautiful and raw. To go through the fire and emerge with the scars is truly an achievement, but the ability to share your story while still living in the tentative existence of both sides is an art and a gift.

    Thank you. ((Hugs))

    1. Writing is how I've always dealt with experiencing emotions. I don't know how to do it any other way! I'm so glad it touched you.

  5. Beautiful emotions expressed. I can't begin to understand what you have been through, but I do think that the emotional roller coaster is "normal" and actually what helps you heal. Grief often visits, but if you invite her in, you can see how she is helping you.

    1. I agree. It's important to experience your emotions, and let them run their course. But that doesn't always make it easier, or more pleasant. :(

  6. I can so understand this crazy mix of emotions - I always have that same relief that it's "not us" and then immediately the guilt for feeling that relief. And I grieve for them. I think about how I would feel if I had to help my children through their grief. It is unimaginable.

    What a beautiful post, thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you. Every time I think about Courtney and Scott, I feel sick from the grief. I spend so much of my time not imagining it, at times like this it's like the whole world is flattening me. Nothing compared to what Courtney is experiencing, I know. But if I could take some of he burden, I would.

  7. I have no words. This is so beautiful and honest.

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