I received word from my brother that an old friend committed suicide recently. I have to be honest. I couldn’t even remember who he was. My sister suggested I check Facebook and reminded me of a summer during college when I knew him and he began to know my family. Tom and I were in each other’s lives for a short, short time. We became friends, hung out a bit; he would come over to my house and do things with my family. Later that summer he began to date my sister. He was in my life for yet a blink.
When I checked my sister’s Facebook page to remind me of who he was, I couldn’t believe how much Tom looked the same as he did 20 years ago. I looked at his wife and his two children and suddenly felt pain. Everyone looked so happy, so together. I felt sadness for the trauma his children must be feeling and for the dark loneliness his wife must be experiencing. I have a family of four. Seeing his family felt too similar to filter. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth happened during his last 20 years to make him end it all. On and off last night, I drempt about Tom and his family and my sister. I woke up confused that I was grieving someone I didn’t even know and couldn’t even remember.
Grief can be complicated. My grief wasn’t about missing Tom, but was more about experiencing a snapshot of my life all over again. Remembering that summer and his heart felt impact on my family opened up a part of my life I hadn’t thought about in years. I was experiencing my own vulnerabilities and mortality too. Quickly and without hesitation, my mind connected the dots to all the other losses I experienced this year; and made me wonder what else I would be experiencing. When emotions don’t make sense, sometimes it is better not to ignore them but rather to curiously investigate. For an hour last night and some this morning, I went back in time to a place 20 years ago and reflected on my recent life as well. Surprisingly, that small journey cost me a little.
The Many Face of Grief
Grief indeed has many many faces. My mother died unexpectedly seven years ago. Having five siblings it became apparent quite quickly that everyone grieves differently, at different times and for different things. Some of us grieve quietly, others agonize demonstratively. Some grieve more for the actual person others more for a time of their lives that will never return or something that will never be. It’s funny how a loss can point to things that you didn’t realize were there. I don’t miss Tom. I don’t even know him. But grief doesn’t really know the rules. It didn’t know that as soon as I saw his picture I would be reminded of that summer in an instant. I wasn't even fully aware of how much of my present life and anxieties were becoming entangled in the memories until I became curious and began to investigate it further.
I’m sorry you were in so much pain, Tom. I’m sorry wife and kids that he left so early. I’m sorry to my sister for the complicated grief she must be experiencing too. On the grand 1-10 spectrum of grief, I am at a 1 or 2. Understanding that there is indeed a spectrum, is a priceless tool to navigate it mindfully.
Gabrielle Anderson is the Director and a Therapist at the Family Therapy Center of Northern Virginia, llc
She and the other team members can be contacted directly from the Center's Meet the Team page.
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