Roberts: Two down, forever to go
Two years ago, on election night, I went to bed with a physical, stabbing pain in my heart. I had spent much the day crying, though that verb seems a bit underwhelming to describe what really took place. My sobs were the uncontrollable, alarming, whole-body shaking type that make you involuntarily clutch your throat, desperate for air you can’t seem to find. Sleep eluded me that night, and for many nights following.
Nov. 8, 2016 was the worst night of my life. It had nothing to do with the results of the election, though the phrase “kicking someone while they’re down” certainly comes to mind. That Tuesday was the night my sister, Heather, passed away.
For more than eight years she beat the odds and valiantly battled her disease with a humor and grace that were both inspiring and extraordinary. The cancer in her brain robbed her of many things — a future, a family of her own, her ability to live independently — but it never took her wit.
Heather could find a way to make us laugh regardless of the seriousness of any situation. There was an unapologetic inappropriateness to her humor you couldn’t help but find amusing; it was equal parts shocking and endearing. Even as the hours of her life wound down and my tears spilled onto her face, she summoned the strength to crack a joke. “I guess if Trump is going to be the president, it’s probably a good time to check out,” she told me.
Many years before, in a “someday” type of musing, Heather had flippantly told us that at her funeral she wanted there to be a gift card placed under a chair for someone to win. In her mind, there was no reason one lucky mourner couldn’t leave with a door prize. So that’s what we did. Before hundreds of Heather’s family and friends showed up to pay their respects, I ran around a church looking for tape while my older sister selected which chair to adhere a gift card to. After the service, when the pastor asked everyone to look under their seats, there was a stunned laughter. It was appropriately inappropriate to honor Heather that way.
In the days and weeks after my sister passed, there was no shortage of comfort extended to me and my family. There were so many flower arrangements sent to us, I’m pretty confident a few florists were able to pay off their mortgage. People donated to my family’s foundation, Leap For A Cure, which exists to advance brain cancer treatment and research. Enough money raised to build a therapy pool at the hospital that cared for Heather. Her former employer started a scholarship in her name. People swooped in and assumed responsibility for our lives, handling life’s little details that would have otherwise been neglected. Our mail was collected, our dogs were walked, our homes were cleaned by friends of ours and friends of Heather’s.
It’s a pretty well-accepted theory that the first year after you lose someone is the most difficult. Because, eventually, all of these compassionate gestures fade away as life moves on. There’s also a painful series of firsts you must navigate without your loved one. It all makes for a horrendous year. But to assume at the one-year mark the worst is behind you is naïve. Human emotions don’t arrive and depart on schedule.
For me, much of the first year without my sister was spent in a blur of shock. The burning hole in my heart was partly numbed by disbelief. In the second year, that anesthesia wore off, but the pain was no less intense.
One year ago, as I entered my second year without my sister, I assumed I had endured some type of milestone. It was time for the mourner’s cloak to come off, her death could no longer be the dominant feature of my life. But the suffocating heartbreak was still there, and sometimes even more acute.
Now, as I begin year three, I am cautious not to subscribe to any arbitrary notions of acceptable emotional deadlines. Grief is like a broken leg that never healed quite right. You can expect the pain to become more manageable in time, but you’ll always walk with a bit of a limp.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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