Featured image: Luke Price, Flickr
David Le (Leon) ’16
I predicted the death of a family member months ago, that it would happen on an important date. That date was my birthday, February 9, 2016, and that family member was my father.
Everyone says the mourning process starts off hard and gets easier. Sometimes it’s the opposite.
I’m a full-time student in college working multiple jobs just to make enough to pay rent, loans, and just enough for food to survive month to month. I’m running back and forth, up and down stairs, hills and streets to run errands, write papers, study for tests and quizzes. I barely get a single solitary moment out of the day for myself to catch my breath. My life is chaos.
I am secretly breaking down inside. One does not simply forget that their father died on their birthday. Two days after his death, I had to drop everything in my life that I was doing and return home to Portland, Oregon to attend the funeral.
In Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, she recounts her experience dealing with the sudden death of her husband while trying to care for her severely ill daughter and trying to maintain her social and professional lives but steadily descending into insanity through the process of her grief.
What I learned from Joan Didion’s book is that there is no right way, time, and place to mourn nor should there be. Everyone deals with trauma differently.
I attended a funeral in 2013 for a friend of mine. The invitation sent out a week prior simply stated, “Come as you are and help us celebrate the life of this person we all cherished. Share joy, happiness, and fond memories.”
I remember arriving at the funeral wearing an all crème colored outfit because I wanted to appear light and effervescent with happiness in hopes of celebrating my friend in my own way.
That funeral had a lively atmosphere full of love and support, complete opposite of my father’s funeral, no jokes, no smiles, and no happiness. I had just experienced my first sad funeral and I didn’t know how to process it or how to deal with it.
All alone I was, standing in my bedroom, thinking of all that had happened. I felt numb all over. After my father’s funeral, I returned to my home in Washington and I found myself profoundly struggling to carry on with everything professionally, academically, and personally.
Two months later I catch myself having moments where I feel a jolt up my spine and when I close my eyes I’m standing on the shore of a beach, staring out at the ocean. I see a storm gathering, feel the speed of the winds pick up, and the ocean waves begin to build into swells crashing down on each other.
I want to run, I try to move, and my feet begin sinking into the sand. I find myself frozen, staring at the storm as it continues to build and the waves grow in size as it all approaches me.
Finally it arrives, I hear the crack of lightning, see a flash of white, and the waves cascade down on me. I am surrounded by darkness. Being violently thrashed around and all sense of direction are lost.
I don’t know if I’m right side up, upside down, sideways. All I can think about is the cold icy sting of the ocean waters surrounding me. Overwhelming and consuming me, dragging me out and down into the depths.
It hurts so much, I can’t breathe, I’m drowning.
As I think I am about to die, suddenly I find myself standing on the shore of the beach again, watching the storm gather once more, the speed of the winds hasten, and the ocean waves build in size. It’s all happening again.
I open my eyes and I’m back to my life and responsibilities.