Grief

Disclaimer: I haven’t been able to share this post until now. I wasn’t ready to let it all out there. I wrote this over the last seven or eight months. I couldn’t sit down and do it all at once because it was too much. I hope this helps other people who are grieving feel a little less alone. I wrote a song at the time it was all happening and had my brother put music to the lyrics. If you want to hear that, I’ve posted a video of him singing it at the bottom of this post. This is a pretty long post, but grief is also a long process. Thanks for reading!

This is going to be pretty stream of consciousness, and there won’t be much editing so that you can see how I process everything through this post. From all of my previous posts, you have gotten glimpses into who I am and how I think. However, grief feels a lot more personal. I’ve also come to learn that grief isn’t just something that goes away after a funeral. It lingers and shows up at random times, knocking you off balance. I have become all too familiar with grief, but I bet some of you have as well, so hopefully, this post can help you or just make you feel less alone.

My family lost both my cousin Kimberly and my grandaddy within a three month period. Their deaths were the first time people extremely close to me passed away. Both experiences were incredibly difficult. I’m already tearing up a little just writing this paragraph when I haven’t even gotten into the middle of it all yet. This bodes well for me. But, I will continue anyway.

I’ll start with the experience of losing Kimberly since she passed away first. My cousin was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a little over two years before she passed. It was a shock to everyone. She was 38 when she was diagnosed, which is earlier than most people are diagnosed. She was having trouble with her hand and thought it had something to do with a tennis injury. No one was expecting the news. The most I had heard about ALS before the diagnosis was the Ice Bucket Challenge that went around. I wasn’t completely sure what it was. My parents called me one night in my freshman year to let me know she had officially been diagnosed. They asked if I had any questions and I said no, but I think I just had so many I couldn’t process any of them. When they hung up, I did the one thing that never helps a situation: I went to Google. It quickly became clear that this wasn’t something that got better. It actually got worse. There is no cure for ALS and the average survival time from diagnosis is three years. That is not a long time. Especially for someone diagnosed so young. When I read those facts, it was hard to wrap my head around. That night I just stood in the shower and cried.

Kimberly’s diagnosis and life expectancy made the grieving process longer than it is for someone who just dies in an instant. My therapist and I talked about how in a lot of ways we were already starting to grieve before she even passed. There was never a moment where we just gave up, but it became clear that she was getting steadily worse. For a while, you couldn’t really tell that she was getting weaker. The day she started having trouble walking was an eye-opener. Then she became unable to walk. Eventually, her ability to speak began to fade. What made this deterioration so much harder to watch was the knowledge that her personality and her quick-wittedness never went away, but her ability to express those things did. Every time I saw her, no matter how far her illness had progressed, she was still Kimberly. We still laughed about dumb jokes and ridiculous stories. I found myself telling more stories when I was around her, making it feel normal. But, the reality was it didn’t feel normal. It was really hard to watch. There were a couple of nights where I cried after visiting with her for the day because I just couldn’t understand why it was happening and I couldn’t face the reality that she was probably going to pass away.

My family is a family of believers. And as Christians, we are told stories all the time of miracles that have happened. God made the blind see, the lame walk, and even brought someone back to life. We all wanted a miracle for Kimberly. We all prayed for a miracle for Kimberly. We didn’t get that miracle, and that was one of the hardest things to deal with. Why not? Why did God let this happen when He had the ability to make it go away? I really started struggling with my faith. I stopped going to church, mostly because life got busy, but a small part of me didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to sing songs about God’s ability to heal and then go back to life where Kimberly was getting worse and not better. It was a weird relationship to have. I prayed for Kimberly all the time and still fully believed God was capable, but I was also really angry that a miracle wasn’t happening. That has been something that remains a struggle while I deal with grief. I still don’t have answers and I’m still a little angry. I’m working on it. Part of growing stronger in a relationship with Christ is admitting when you have doubts. The really hard part is not letting those doubts turn you away. I work every day to remind myself that God is there for me. But in times where grief sneaks up on me, I find myself asking those questions all over again.

I really loved Kimberly and we had gotten closer the older I got. I was a really shy kid even around some of my extended family and I was quiet a lot of the time. I remember one time when I was around ten or eleven, I stayed up late to play some card game with my dad’s side of the family. I took a shower and came back to the table, and just started talking. I remember Kimberly telling my mom that it was the first time I really showed my personality. After that, it’s like a dam had been broken and I was talking all the time. Kimberly, my brother, me, and my other cousins on that side joked around all the time. We had the same sense of humor. Almost every time I was around her Kimberly would tell some story that made me laugh until I cried. I miss her storytelling. We shared a love of playing board/card games, pink vanilla cupcakes from Smallcakes Cupcakery, and bathroom jokes. When Snapchat became a thing my brother, Kimberly, and I got very serious about keeping streaks alive. Every day she would get a glimpse into my day, and I would get a glimpse into hers. Our streak lasted 593 days. I took a picture of it on the morning she died before it went away. It seems like a silly thing, but I really did love that we had that connection. Watching that streak disappear is one of the first times it felt real. Reliving that moment just now started my tears again. Losing somebody doesn’t happen all at once. Each time something happens without them there it becomes a little more real.

As I said earlier, grief is a longer process than just the emotion you feel right when you find out someone has passed away. However, that moment is really hard. I found out that Kimberly died after my parents called me. I woke up to two missed calls from my parents and a text to call them before I got up for class. They know that I’m not really a morning person, so I knew something had to be wrong. My chest got tight (one thing that happens when I feel particularly anxious about something) and I braced myself before I dialed their number. I pretty much immediately started crying. I knew she was getting worse, but I didn’t expect her to pass away so quickly. I was already planning to go home a few days later and I was excited that I was going to get to see my aunts and Kimberly. That was one thing that was hard: finding out that I had seen her for the last time and I hadn’t even known it. I didn’t ever really say goodbye. A small part of me always pictured her getting better, even as the likelihood of that happening grew slimmer. But even when that thought makes me feel sad, I try to remember all the years I did get to spend with her. Nothing can take away the inside jokes we shared, the late-night Dairy Queen runs, or the looks we gave each other when we both were too hot and wanted to turn on a fan. Those little things suddenly seem like big things when you don’t get to experience them anymore. I miss Kimberly and I’m pretty sure I always will, but I’m grateful that I got to grow up with her being a part of my life.

While all of this was happening with Kimberly, my granddaddy was also battling a deteriorating illness. He was originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s like symptoms and was later told that he was battling multiple system atrophy (MSA). It is a degenerative neurological disorder and like ALS it doesn’t get better. It affects different systems in your body and most people die because of respiratory issues. It gets harder to do just about everything. I watched as over a few years he got worse. There would often be dips in his health, and then he would plateau for a while. Luckily during this time, the army stationed my dad at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA so my mom could travel to Columbia, SC pretty often to go stay with my grandparents and help out. It was really hard to watch his health decline and watch my mom deal with her sadness and stress. You just kind of feel helpless. My cousin died in October of 2018 and I got the call about Granddaddy passing away in January of 2019. That was a rough call as well. A week before they called to tell me that they thought this was it. He was taking another dip and didn’t look like he was going to get better. That was really hard. It was hard to focus on life stuff when your granddaddy passing away at any moment is in the back of your mind. He was in his eighties and had been sick for a while, so I was very aware that any time I saw him could be the last, but it is still a gut punch when it actually happens.

There were various moments throughout the time before he passed and after that were particularly challenging for me. The biggest moment that stands out for me was a day where I went with my mom to see my grandparents and my mom and grandmama had gone out for a walk. It was just granddaddy and me and we were talking about school and life. My granddaddy was always the one who drove because he loved it and grandmama didn’t. That was one thing granddaddy and I had in common. We loved to drive. So I knew it must have been difficult when he had to stop. But as we were sitting and talking he got choked up and said that it was really upsetting that he couldn’t drive anymore. I composed myself in the moment, but I cried later that night. It’s never easy to watch someone you love and look up to, struggle. There were other small moments like that throughout his illness progressing that were difficult because you could tell he was really upset about it. Most of the time he was his normal goofy and joking self, so those moments hit particularly hard. His funeral was also a tough day. My dad spoke and did an amazing job talking about how good of a man my granddaddy was. Watching my little cousin cry was also a difficult moment for me. I knew what she was feeling and it sucked that she had to deal with it at a younger age. But all in all, his funeral was a celebration of who he was. He had an enormous tie collection with all sorts of fun ties (Disney, M & M’s, Looney Tunes, holiday-themed, and more) and everyone in the family picked one of their favorites to wear to the funeral as a tribute him. It was really special and I’m sure granddaddy loved it. 

He was a really special person to me and to so many others. He was the best grandaddy a girl could ask for. My dad’s parents passed away before I was born so grandmama and granddaddy were my only grandparents growing up. Granddaddy was incredibly funny. He was always ready with a joke no matter what situation we were in. He let me play barbershop with him when I was younger, which consisted of me messing up his hair in all kinds of crazy ways and then him paying me a dime or a quarter for my troubles. Every night before bed we would give grandmama and granddaddy a hug and he would always tell us to look out for the imaginary internal organ he made up called the “goosenglogger,” so of course, we tried to squeeze it extra tight. He used to make us milkshakes at night that he called “Super Dupers.” I was always excited to drink mine and was always curious what the secret ingredient was (it was vanilla, but love was another ingredient that made them taste extra good.) When I was younger, I loved going on my grandparent’s lunch routine with them. We would get a salad from Wendy’s first and then head to McDonalds and get burgers to put the patties in the salad. Sounds weird, but it was delicious and I loved that the people at Wendy’s called him “The Salad Man” when he walked in. My grandparents always made things fun. The love they had for each other was also unmatched and was inspiring, especially as I get older and start looking for the person I want to spend my life with. I don’t ever want to settle for less than the love my granddaddy had for my grandmama. It was truly a beautiful thing to grow up seeing. He loved his family, his church, and his community. He was an all-around amazing human being who I miss very much. 

Grieving is a crazy difficult process to go through. It ebbs and flows and you never fully get over the loss of a loved one. I have had some pretty low moments, especially when it comes to my faith. Ever since Kimberly was diagnosed and the health of both her and my granddaddy started to decline, I have been struggling with my faith. It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that God would allow a forty-year-old to die from ALS and then that he would take my grandaddy away at the same time. My relationship with God was on some rocky terrain there for a little while. It’s still on a little bit of rocky terrain now. I know that God is good and He knows more than me. I know that He is there to comfort me in times of sorrow. I know that he is real and present. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts. Doubts are never stronger than when grief hits me all over again. On anniversaries of their deaths or when a song comes on that reminds me of them. I still have a lot of questions. But the most important thing is that I’m still asking them. I haven’t turned away or given up on God. I also know God’s not going to give up on me.

This song is really special to me because I wrote it in the midst of everything that I was feeling. I wrote the first verse and chorus the day after I got the call about Kimberly passing away. I wrote the rest a day after my granddaddy passed away. It encompasses everything I was feeling as I was feeling it. It still hits home now. Maybe some of you have lost someone recently and are feeling the same way as I did. Maybe you also have a lot of questions and no real answers. You are not alone. I wrote the lyrics and sent it to my very talented brother so he could put music to it. The instrumental sections of this song actually come from a hymn that we sang at my grandaddy’s funeral, which makes it even more special. I hope you can relate in some way. It didn’t have a name for a long time, but I finally came up with one that encapsulates what I struggled with most. Here is “No Answers” performed by my brother, Nate Hutchings.

Thanks again for reading this post. It was difficult to write, but something I needed to do. I hope this makes some of you feel less alone if you are grieving as well. A special thanks to my brother Nate Hutchings for providing the music and the video of the song. I hope you all have a great day!

Rachel (:

Winter Blues

It’s winter. This is both wonderful and terrible. On the positive side, this means Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday. All times where I spend time with family and relax. However, before this and even during (looking at you finals week) these times of celebration, comes big projects, big papers, big tests, less daylight, and more freezing temperatures. Winter is difficult. This time of year is a pressure cooker. I see it in the faces of students that I pass on the way to class. I see it in the faces of co-workers. I see it in my own face when I look in the mirror lately. The most wonderful time of the year isn’t actually always all that wonderful.

I’ve talked about before that as a senior, I was struggling with the motivation to do my work. That feeling has only increased in these last couple of weeks. Having the sun go down at 4:45 has really affected my mood and my overall energy levels. It is a constant cycle of feeling like I don’t care about anything and then worrying about the fact that I’m not caring. I find myself wanting to throw in the towel on my many projects and papers and instead curl up in my bed and sleep for a week straight. That’s not a great feeling, nor is it feasible. I find myself wanting to shut myself in my room and not talk to another human. It’s a feeling that I’ve been calling peopleitis. Also, not ideal considering I have to talk to people on a daily basis. I find myself feeling even more tired than usual. This year, I find that I’m lacking the joy I usually have when planning things like Friendsgiving and Christmas activities. I’m just struggling.

I was talking to my therapist about this when I saw her earlier this week. She was telling me how normal this feeling is. Some people get these kinds of feelings every year and are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is the first year I have felt like this and therefore I am not diagnosed nor am I an expert but there are more than 3 million cases in the US every year. It isn’t abnormal. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal. It usually presents itself in the fall and carries through the winter months. Those between the ages of 20 and 30 are also more likely to develop┬áSAD┬áthan adults in older generations. Below are a couple of links that describe seasonal affective disorder in full detail.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/seasonal-affective-disorder#1

It is also important to note that you do not need to be diagnosed with SAD to be struggling during the winter season. A lot of things can cause stress and sadness during the holiday season in particular. For college students, the amount of work we have to do at the end of the semester is overwhelming. Other people may be grieving the loss of a loved one or spending their first holidays without them. Military families have family members that are deployed. People could be going through breakups. Others may be unable to take time off of work and therefore have to be away from family. It may be hard for people to go into work in the dark and then leave in the dark. All of these things are difficult and can be especially difficult when the holidays roll around. So is there anything that can help?

The answer is yes. For those who think they may be struggling with SAD, I encourage you to go see a therapist. Being able to talk to someone who understands this problem can be extremely beneficial and they can give you the help you need. For those who are having a particularly hard time this winter/holiday season, here are a few things that I’m trying to do. The first thing is to not disengage from the world. Instead of crawling in my bed and shutting the door, I try and do things with my friends. I also try to actively participate in holiday events. Being around others who are excited, can sometimes help you get more excited. My roommates and I have decorated the apartment for Christmas because one of them was really excited to do so. I was less excited, but instead of sitting at home, I went with them to shop for decorations. In terms of working on not feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, I write out a list at the beginning of the week breaking all of my assignments down into manageable chunks. I also build “catch-up days” into my schedule so that if I have a less than stellar day, I am not immediately behind. It isn’t easy, but just doing little things can help you to feel better.

I feel like this week’s post was a little bit of a downer, but it is the reality of what people can go through this time of year. If you are struggling please reach out to those in your support system, or to a professional. I hope that this post has helped in some way and made you feel a little less alone.

Rachel (: