It happens every June
Highlands TodayEvery year, as June approaches, I become melancholy. Just when summer finally arrives and the weather is fine, I begin to mope. I can't help it.
Published: May 31, 2009
Published: May 31, 2009
My mind always goes back to that June, many years ago, when I graduated from high school - all alone. There were 287 students in my class, and so many parents and friends attended that the school had to rent an arena for commencement, but I was alone.
Not one member of my immediate family was there. My 22-year-old brother was in the Navy stationed far away. And my parents were at the hospital by the bedside of my 19-year-old sister who was near death from bone cancer.
No one cheered as I crossed the stage and accepted my diploma. No one took my picture as I walked back to my seat. And when it was all over, no one was there waiting to take me to a family celebration. I just got in my car alone and drove back to the hospital. It was as if my graduation never even happened.
What should have been one of the happiest times of my life was, instead, one of the saddest. When I should have been the center of attention, guest of honor at a party, instead, I was virtually ignored.
I remember feeling angry that my graduation was ruined, and at the same time feeling guilty that I even cared about something as trivial as graduation when my sister, my best friend in the whole world, was dying.
I had spent half the night, every night for the last three months, sitting up with Leita so my exhausted parents could get a few hours sleep. Each night, when 1 a.m. rolled around, I would wake my Dad and he would take over so I could get a few hours sleep before I had to be at school at 7 a.m. Mama had the all-day caregiver shift.
When the last day of school finally came, I couldn't even celebrate. I was numb, exhausted and angry at God. I felt like I was sleepwalking in the middle of some horrific nightmare. Conflicting emotions tangled into one huge knot of pain and stress - too much for a girl of 17 to sort out. No one noticed the firestorm building inside of me - not even me. We were all focused on Leita, as we should have been.
Twelve days later, Leita died.
Somehow I made it through the next two days, but what was going on inside of me I couldn't understand, and everyone around me was in too much pain themselves to notice my meltdown.
I remember the funeral like it was yesterday. The weather was beautiful and sunny. I remember thinking, "How can the sun be shining? How can the world be going on the same as always, when my whole world is shattered?"
The next day my parents borrowed a friend's camper and we all got out of town in search of relief, distraction, something. But the pain followed, like a growing storm. I think I cried the whole month of June. If at any time I caught myself smiling or even close to laughing, I was suddenly engulfed in tremendous guilt that only added to the pain and extended the grieving.
In those days, there were no such things as hospice centers or caregiver support groups or grief counselors. Each person in the family just bottled up their pain and suffered alone, somehow thinking we were helping each other by not displaying our grief. Now, we know that was the wrong thing to do. Yet, today, many people still do it.
I seldom share these memories. After all, it's been many years and the wounds are healed, for the most part. But when June rolls around, it all comes flooding back, and I have to sort through it again. Each time I do, I feel compelled to encourage those who've lost loved ones, especially young people.
Seek help. Share what you're feeling; don't bottle it up. Admit the anger, work through it, and don't let guilt add to your grief. There is life after a death in the family.