Amy Roberts: On grief
Today marks one year. Some days, it doesn’t seem possible my sister has been gone that long. At any given moment, an unexpected mountain of grief will ram into me and it feels so raw and so fresh, I’ll swear it was just yesterday I sat in that hospital room staring at monitors, tears streaming down my face. Other days, it seems like a lifetime ago. I struggle to remember Heather’s voice, her laugh, her smile — it’s just been so long. And then there are days I have to reread her obituary. It’s the only way to convince me she’s really gone. Because I’ve just spent my morning talking to her, joking with her, telling her about my weekend, or someone I just met. And I swear it was a two-way conversation.
When Heather died on November 8th, 2016, I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it out the other side of my grief. I was told, over and over again, by friends, strangers, coworkers and every grief expert on the Internet, that it comes in waves. They used some analogy about hurricanes turning into gentle ripples, and told me the trick was just to keep swimming, keep breathing.
This, I can assure you, is a lie. Grief is not like a wave. It is like an asteroid. A volatile mass constantly orbiting my soul. Collisions are as unpredictable as they are inevitable. One happened just last week, as I walked by the shelf of Oreos at the grocery store, of all places.
Standing there in aisle seven, surrounded by nothing but processed junk food, I could feel the familiar asteroid of grief hurling violently towards me. It slammed into me, taking my composure, my oxygen, my well-practiced stoicism with it. These moments happen with less frequency now, a full year later. But they’ll never entirely go away, and I’m always fearful of when the next asteroid will hit.
In the past year, I have come to realize that grief is a living, breathing organism. It is constantly evolving, sometimes by the minute. And like any other living thing — a rosebush, a child, a head of hair — it must be tended to, or it can grow wildly out of control.
I have listened, with a mix of curiosity and gratitude, as people have commented to me, my parents, and my older sister, how strong we are. At first, I thanked them for recognizing my family’s resilience. Now I question the compliment.
“What’s the alternative?” I ask.
I suppose we could have succumbed to our grief. But instead my family started a foundation, raised $1,000,000, and built, among other things, a therapy pool for the neurological wing at the hospital that cared for Heather. Some might call it strength. We just considered it a better way to honor her.
As I held Heather’s hand in a hospital room one year ago, I began to understand her greatest fear was not dying, but of the sadness that would come from it. She was worried mostly about my parents. I listened as she asked those closest to her to look out for our mom and dad. Knowing the pain her death was going to cause devastated her. She never wanted us to be sad. But that’s a wish we simply cannot honor.
I will never know anyone as relentlessly hopeful as my sister. Even after she’d been told the cancer was all over her brain, that she wasn’t leaving the hospital, that these were her last few days, her optimism never abated. Two days before she passed, she suggested the last MRI might have been done too soon. That perhaps we just hadn’t given the trials enough time to do their thing, and the scans were all wrong. Her glass was never half empty. She was the strong one.
Heather was a warrior, a trouper, an inspiration, and the bravest person I’ll ever know. She never believed brain cancer would win. Even when she was told the drugs weren’t working anymore and the tumors were spreading, she refused to stop fighting. She charged ahead, believing she was going to be the miracle.
They say time heals. But that too is a lie. True healing is making a full recovery. And that will never happen. You never get over a loss like this, you just get through it. Yes, my grief is different now than it was one year ago. It’s not as acute. The pressure from the knife’s blade on my heart isn’t as heavy, but it will never be gone. Not entirely. Time doesn’t heal you from something like this. It just makes it a little less awful.
There are still days I feel like the asteroid might destroy me. And that is when I hear Heather’s voice the loudest. Reminding me that I haven’t come this far to only come this far.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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“It was a good lesson to be reminded of … that things don’t always go as planned, that people you’ve known forever can still surprise you…”