I'm Learning How to Cope with Grief, Change, and More
It's 5 AM, and I can't sleep.
Well, actually, it's 3 AM where I normally am, and I can't sleep.
I'm in New York for my grandma's funeral services, and it's affecting me more than I thought I would.
I'm at my childhood home, and, after tossing and turning for 5 hours straight, I decided to just get up and write this.
Because this is real life.
And as far as I come, I still deal with racing thoughts that stem from anxiety.
I still struggle with grief and change just like anyone else does.
This is my effort to process that--and reveal something about life in the process.
Home - Coping with Change
Something strange started to happen as I was on the plane to Rochester, NY last night.
I overheard a conversation between a woman my age and a mom and her daughter visiting the area.
The woman my age was excitedly telling them about the Rochester area and everything they should see or do.
I think it was the word "Wegmans" that first caught my attention.
"Of course," I thought. "It's always Wegmans."
The famous east-coast grocery store started in Rochester.
It was always one of the things I used to talk about when I went to college in Delaware or when someone was planning to visit the area.
It's something I loved to hate.
Because growing up, everyone loved Wegmans.
It was an upstate New York staple, the kind of place you would stroll through with your friends late at night just for something to do.
Still, I hated the obsession with what was, after all, just a grocery store, albeit an incredibly good one.
The woman on the plane continued. "You just have to try the bread there."
And then she continued to talk about the top donut place in the Rochester area and where to get garbage plates, another bizarre food item that the city is known for.
All of this rang true for me.
I remember saying a lot of the same things when I was in high school and college.
But then it hit me.
It was true, but it no longer felt like my own.
This place no longer felt like my home, and I guess it hasn't for years now.
The thought made me sad, and I continued to listen to the women's excited advice as a stranger returning to a familiar place.
Place - Learning How to Cope
Because I no longer recognize the house I grew up in.
Sure, it's the same house.
The rooms are all still there.
But there have been so many renovations and changes in between my visits over the past decade that I no longer know what I'm looking at.
And it's been four years since I was last in this house.
At that point, I came with my wife of just one year at the time, and it was fun to show her the house I grew up in.
But now I'm back here by myself for a funeral that I'm lucky enough I even get to attend due to the recent removal of COVID restrictions.
The only things that are the same as they always were are the location of furniture in certain rooms and the pictures of my family placed around the living room and family room.
I see myself in some of those photos, but they no longer feel like me.
So much has happened in the ten-plus years I've been gone.
I'm a different person now.
But here I am again, and I'm sitting in my old bedroom, a place I slept in during grades five through twelve before heading off to college.
That's eight years.
Now I've lived in Montana almost the same amount of time, which means I've lived in the state I chose to make my home more than a fifth of my entire life.
Behind New York, it's the place I've lived longer than anywhere else.
And I've known my wife almost a third of my life, longer than only a very small number of friends I still keep in touch with from my grade-school years.
"This is so strange."
It's a phrase I repeated to my parents during the years I came back to my childhood home after college in Delaware, after serving in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and after living in Montana for about a year.
I said those words again yesterday, but this time it felt different.
It was more than strange.
It was a completely different place.
At least, it felt that way in my mind.
Family - Coping with Grief
First, let's start with the good thoughts.
It was so good to see my parents at the airport.
Because of the pandemic, I hadn't seen them in almost two years.
They looked a bit older, but then again, I look a bit older.
That doesn't phase me anymore.
I've thought a lot about death since having heart surgery in 2012, and the idea of it doesn't hold the weight it did when I was a kid.
If anything, it's made every moment with a family a priceless one.
I don't care if people look older--I just love the feeling of being in the familiar presence of the people I love.
Because that's what it is: a presence.
A sense of belonging.
A comfortable feeling that will never go away.
That kind of presence can be created anywhere.
I now feel it with my wife, and I feel it with the friends I've stayed in touch with the longest.
My wife once told me when we were first dating that it was so nice to find someone that she just could just sit next to on long car rides and not feel like she had to talk.
She said that it was nice to sit in silence without feeling awkward at all.
I agree with that.
I think that's another way to define "love."
So it's strange that I'm now preparing to speak at a funeral service for someone who my relatives are saying they can't think of anything positive to say.
Is that love as well?
Or is it a forced attachment to something bigger than yourself?
And is that the same thing the more you zoom out and see the big picture?
My grandma was absolutely miserable in the later years of her life, but I know she did good things as well.
I've seen pictures of her smiling as a little girl while also remembering her obsession with telling stories about how mean her mother was to her.
These complaints from my grandma were common.
In fact, she complained and protested and demanded and generally made others feel small during the last decade of her life.
But she also sent me birthday cards with beautiful handwriting every single year of my life until the dementia and mental illness started to take over.
She was my family, and she always will be.
But she will no longer visit the house I grew up in, and soon I won't either.
My parents are thinking about selling the home soon to downsize, and what was once such an indomitable presence in my life will be no more.
And isn't that true about life in general?
People are there until they aren't.
Places are immensely important, until they're not.
The only constant is the presence you carry through it all, and even the nature of that very presence can change.
I think this is all part of living and dying, which, in the end, I believe are the same thing.
I had a completely different idea for this newsletter today.
But then I decided to stop tossing and turning in my childhood room and just get up and write this.
I'm glad I did.