Things have been quiet here on Fighting the Good Fight lately.
For my devoted followers and supporters, I apologize for my absence over this last month, but myself and my family have been dealing with the sudden loss of my uncle. A mere three weeks after learning of his cancer diagnosis, he passed away and my family and I have been reeling ever since. It has been a hard few weeks filled with dread and undescribable sadness until I had to drop everything and run. There was no time to think, just react.
And for my blog followers, I hope you can understand this sudden absence.
This past month for me has been a difficult time, both from listening to the pain and urgency from family members over the phone, to my eventual trip home to attend the wake. I didn’t really begin to process all my own feelings and grief until I on the highway headed back to my own city.
None of us had time to process he was sick, let alone accept the fact that he was gone. Grief affects everyone differently, which was how I found myself staring at a computer for the last three weeks unable to write, words completely failing me. It’s not that I get writer’s block during profound sad periods in my life (because my best work is written during my low moments), but for me, working on my writing projects again meant having to finally accept he was gone, and I just wasn’t ready.
Even though death can wreck us beyond measure, knock us to our knees, and harshly remind us of our own damned morality, death also gives us perspective. And while death does make us more “grateful” for being alive and thankful for our loved ones, this is not the only perspective death gives.
In its own way, death can teach us wise words of wisdom, but it’s something I’ve learned you don’t accept until quite some time has passed.
Back in 2009, my high school friend and her brother were killed in a car accident, and it shattered my world. It took me a long time to get over her death, but eventually she became an inspiration, the “example” to keep moving forward. She will forever be frozen in time as that eighteen year-old girl who had her whole life ahead of her, but when I glance at the picture on my mantel – a selfie from our pre-grad parties – I don’t feel overwhelming sadness anymore. It finally doesn’t hurt to remember or talk about her. Her life was cut too short, but she was a life that had lived, a life that touched and changed so many people. While at the time my grief was overwhelming, no one could deny the worth of her presence. She was a beautiful life that had lived.
It’s hard to ignore the beauty in that.
Because much like life, death is the greatest teacher. While it is a somber and sobering lesson, losing a loved one gives us perspective. And while my uncle’s life was also cut too short, his passing is continuing to teach me these important lessons:
“I Love You” Means More Than Just Words
Sure, saying “I love you” is an important part of life. Sometimes just hearing those three little words can bring so much reassurance and comfort, but when you truly care for someone, sometimes actions speak louder than words.
If it is one thing the men in my family have taught me, it’s that actions are worth more. You don’t need to say “I love you” to mean it. The men in my life have always stepped in and offered their love in other ways: playing Xbox with me, fixing my flat tires, picking me buckets of blueberries, yelling at me to not go over the speed limit. Those things are priceless to me. And from watching my uncle and listening to stories from my cousins, he was a man of action, and I believe that’s beautiful. It’s not about being a “tough man” or being too stubborn to show emotion, it’s just some people don’t need to be overly affectionate to prove their devotion.
And yes, maybe in his last moments he honestly told us his true feelings, but we didn’t need to hear those words to know his love. Sure, stubborn men can be crooked, but that doesn’t mean they love any less. I didn’t need to hear “I love you” to know that he loved and accepted me in our family.
Because “I love you” means more than just words and those actions are irreplaceable.
Acknowledge the Sad Moments
I know I’m going to have this weight in the pit of my stomach for quite some time. I know my sadness will follow me around, especially when my mood turns dark and my heart starts to break for my aunt and my family back home, for the people I love who I can’t simply just go and see in on a whim.
As the days slowly start to pass and life gets hectic again, grief has a way of sneaking in and cutting you deep when you least expect it (and when you really don’t want to deal with it). But deep down I know that these moments of profound sadness are ok. If it’s one thing years of therapy has taught me, it is to acknowledge the pain then release it. To acknowledge the sad moments, but not let them consume me.
It meant breaking down in the shower, listening to Linkin Park’s “Valentine’s Day” and Ed Sheeran’s “Afire Love” before heading out to run errands. It was sobbing when my fiancé sent me the video of Ed Sheeran’s live performance of “Supermarket Flowers” from the BRITs before going back to sweeping and mopping the kitchen. It was the hitch in my voice when I mentioned his name in conversation for the first time since the funeral. And it was being teary-eyed watching Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir dance to “Long Time Running” at the Olympics Gala when I finally started to accept his passing.
Death may be a defining moment in life, but grief doesn’t have to define you. I know it will take some time before I can mention my uncle’s name without tearing up or having my chest feel heavy, but I do know that eventually his name will be spoken with a laugh, followed by accounts of old memories. And maybe in a moment of vulnerability the hurt will resurface, but it too shall pass.
Sooner or later time will heal these wounds, but for now the best any of us can do is accept the pain before quietly trying to move on.
It’s Ok to Laugh
I find the old notion that wakes and funerals are only meant for lamenting over our loved ones a little outdated. Yes, grief tends to pour out of our eyes in bucketfuls, but I don’t necessarily believe that wakes should be completely somber. Should we feel heartbroken over our loss? Yes, but it’s also about celebrating a life that has lived.
While at the funeral home, my cousin and I were sharing memories when he started to recite stories about how my uncle had a high pain tolerence, like when busted up his finger, his bones and innards hanging out, and his idea was merely to shove it all back in and hope for the best (Gross, I know.). Of course we were laughing hard, and I noticed the few glares people shot at us. And yes, maybe wakes are meant to be quiet and respectful places, but reminiscing on good memories, happy memories from a life well-lived is important.
My uncle was a quiet man, a simple man, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted us fussing over him. And while his passing was too sudden, I believe he was laughing with us when we started telling old tales.
Even in the days that follow, it’s hard to accept going back to “normal”. It’s hard to openly laugh at someone’s jokes or at a funny memory because grief makes us feel guilty. Sometimes it feels like a betrayal to the dead – that we’re having a good time and they’re no longer here. When is it “appropriate” to feel ok, to finally let all the pain go and move forward? Even I don’t have the answer to that one.
But for now when the sadness resurfaces, I can always visualize him trying to stuff the guts of his fingers back inside his skin and laugh. And maybe he’ll be up there, laughing along with me.
Family Needs Family
Countless times through my life, whether someone recited them to me or it was from watching some sappy movie, someone will eventually say the phrase, “People need people.”
Despite all the hardships in my life and having loved ones turn on me, I still truly believe that family needs family. Family isn’t just defined by blood. It’s about the people who have taken you in and loved you through thick and thin that makes family. It is the ones who chosen to love you and care for you, regardless of bloodlines and DNA. It is the people who always have your back, even if you bicker and debate over differences of opinions.
Most of my family are people who have taken me in and accepted me regardless of my past, regardless of the blood that runs through my veins. Most of my family members chose to love me, and that is something I refuse to take for granted. I have lost too much when I was younger to let pettiness and differences prevent me from loving the people in my life. I would go to war and fight like hell to defend them, lineage be damned, because that’s what family is suppose to do.
Family needs family, which was why I had no issue texting my Mom and telling her I was heading home and she didn’t get to tell me “No”. I knew there was nothing I could do to help anyone, not emotionally or mentally – we were all torn – but family needs family. If it meant cooking supper so they didn’t need to worry about it, I would cook supper. If it meant running errands and doing chores, I was grabbing the broom.
In times of grief we have to learn to lean on each other. I’m not saying I needed to constantly express my sadness or hurt, but being a presence in the room helped me, too. Gathering in the living room with my family brought me comfort. No one needed to be “the strong one”. No one was required to put on a “brave face”. Our pain was one in the same, but at least we carried it together. And even though I regret not hopping in my car earlier than I did, I was thankful to be in the arms of my family.
Family needs family, and I am so grateful for mine.
I’ve never been good with expressing my feelings verbally, which was why I gravitated to writing so much. Pen and paper can bleed my hurt and turn it into the words I really want to say out loud, but can’t quite grasp. But as my uncle has taught me, you don’t need to say “I love you” or big fancy displays of affection to prove how you feel. And as he was famous for saying, “If anything changes, I’ll let ya know.” ❤
But the best I can do moving forward is to honour his memory, whether it is through my writing, or recounting old memories, and making the silent promise that I'm sure most of my family is thinking: Remember to truly live.
As Ed Sheeran's "Supermarket Flowers" so elegantly puts it, "I hope that I see the world as you did 'cause I know/ A life with love is a life that's been lived." And Uncle Dave, I know that you have lived.
And while his time wasn't enough – it will never be enough – I know I am slowly starting to make my peace. My heart still hurts for my family and I know my grief will come in stages, but this too shall pass.
So, while life may be the greatest teacher, death gives us a better perspective.
I just hope he has found peace wherever he is. ❤
And as always,
Fight the good fight.
Feature photo courtesy of Our Sunday Visitor