Losing a loved one unexpectedly is horrible. It’s heartbreaking and devastating. When I then layer in the fact that Ryan found his dad the way he did, another layer of trauma finds its way into our grief and I feel such intense heaviness in my chest. I truthfully don’t know how to navigate everything right now.
Ryan experienced something horrific. I will never for as long as I live forget the way Ryan looked at me when I arrived at his dad’s apartment after he found his father. It truly makes me weak and overwhelmed with sadness when I relive that moment in my mind; something I cannot seem to help but do repeatedly these days.
In the past when I’ve shared some challenging experiences on this blog, a lot of the time I’ve found myself waiting until I had a good handle on them to share certain struggles with all of you. I waited until I felt like I was in a decent enough headspace to share everything publicly but my headspace right now isn’t decent and I very much feel in the thick of everything. I feel in the thick of my own grief but I also feel a rush of so much emotion when I think about Ryan. Some days I find myself craving distraction and normalcy and close friends and conversation. Other days I crave solitude, a heaving cry and holing up with my family.
I’ve also noticed something about grief. At times it almost feels like an out-of-body experience. Ryan and I both felt the desire for distraction and attended the boys’ soccer practice last week. We spoke with friends and watched our kids kick a soccer ball around on the field. I looked over at Ryan and saw him smile as he talked to another dad who did not know about Greg’s passing. All I could think about was how that father had no idea what Ryan was walking through privately behind his smile. How often are the people we come in contact with going through something heavy we know nothing about behind the scenes? A lot, I bet.
When asked “how are you doing” in passing by strangers or people I didn’t know very well last week, I found myself replying “good” on autopilot which wasn’t true but felt easier than the truth. I even tried out “okay” as a response but that got me an awkward head tilt and I quickly realized I didn’t want any follow-up questions about how I was “really” doing and so “good” became my answer again even though every time I said it, I felt the weight of what would typically be a mundane and simple question. Grief is strange.
Some things have buoyed us through our grief. I’ve always loved the men Ryan has formed close bonds with but watching his friends step up through this painful time in his life has touched both of us deeply. They’ve not only reached out to Ryan regularly but also continually contacted me to make sure he is doing okay. They’ve gone out of their way to help him not only through emotional support but also through tangible action; connecting him with the necessary professionals to help us through the logistics that need to be considered after the passing of a loved one has been invaluable. They’ve planned a trip for him — his friend Ben called me to explicitly ask if I thought it was something he’d want right now — and they’ve been there for him in every sense. I remember Ryan’s mom saying “Ryan surrounds himself with the best people” years ago and it’s something that has always stuck with me. She could not be more right. His friends are gifts.
Whenever Ryan and I have walked through hard times, our boys have provided us joy, distraction and laughter in moments we didn’t think we would be able to laugh. Ryder and Rhett don’t fully seem to comprehend Greg’s passing (Ryder seems more focused on understanding what death “is” while Rhett is too young to understand) but Chase gets it more. I honestly think Chase remembering our dog Sadie’s death has helped him through losing Granddad. We explained that, just like Sadie’s body was no longer healthy, Granddad’s body was no longer healthy enough to keep working but he is not in pain and he is not hurting. Chase said he had a “funny feeling in his stomach” when we told him and we’ve reiterated numerous times that it’s okay if he feels a lot of different things. Mom and Dad are sad and our stomachs feel funny, too.
Through all of this, I feel so incredibly grateful Ryan is my husband. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve utilized help with the boys to simply go for long walks as a couple and just talk. Ryan is a fantastic communicator and it’s something he brought to our relationship that changed me. Before dating Ryan, I tended to want everything to be happy and peaceful and okay in relationships and would not want to bring up the way I felt if it wasn’t positive. Ryan quickly taught me that was not healthy nor was it the way to find a deep, meaningful connection with a partner. He made telling him when I was mad or upset or annoyed with him easy because he received my feedback. He listened and absorbed and did not get defensive.
I say all this to say that when something hard happens directly to Ryan, this is the only time I see him struggle with communication. He doesn’t like a lot of sympathy or attention poured onto him. He processes these things alone and with me within our relationship but mostly keeps the door closed to anyone outside of us. It’s thankfully something our close friends and family understand but watching him navigate his dad’s death and open up more about the swirling mix of emotions he’s going through with a few trusted people is something I think can only be a good thing. Accepting the love and support of loved ones who want to show him love and support can only be a good thing. And we’re also open to opening up to professionals if that may help or be needed in the future.
One other thing I’ve felt in past times of struggle that has only crystallized over the past few days is how blessed we are in our “normal.” I felt this deeply after our first two miscarriages when I became pregnant with Ryder and had my first “normal” ultrasound that felt anything but normal; all of the sudden it felt miraculous. After Greg’s passing, I’ve found myself praying for our “normal” again. I’ve found myself longing for simple, everyday days that don’t feel heavy and hard and cloudy. Those days will come. They always do.
I share this because it just reaffirms how blessed we are when things are “normal” and we aren’t in a season where we’re facing loss, health concerns, intense worry and grief. Something about death has a way of magnifying what is truly important. It doesn’t wash away everyday challenges but it does have a way of smacking you in the face with a heavy dose of perspective. Walking through life without feeling the weight of worrying about the health and wellbeing of the people we love and without the weight of grief on our hearts and shoulders is a gift. Gratitude has always, always been at the very core of the joy I feel in my day-to-day life and a lot of it comes from the realizations I’ve had in moments like this; in the poignantly difficult moments of life that have me crying, questioning, feeling, loving and learning.
I’ve learned in the past that joy and grief can co-exist. That’s already proven true. One minute I’m sobbing because a picture of Greg popped up on my phone; the picture of him with Ryder where I swear they look like twins.
Then, not even 5 minutes later, Rhett grabs my hand to tell me he has a “wild poopy” and a laugh bursts out of my mouth because what in the world is a wild poopy?
I’ve also noticed pictures are a weird thing right now. They simultaneously help and hurt and yet I find myself pouring over them because they make me smile and cry tears I need to cry. I’d like to share some more of my favorite pictures with you. These are photos that bring back truly joyful memories of Greg and they’re the moments we’re choosing to remember and focus our hearts on right now.
Thank you for remembering Greg with our family. We feel your love and it helps.