In the past I had repeated the above saying freely and frequently. I’ve said it to myself and to others in hopes to make us feel better, and truly I now know that when I referred to bad things, I actually meant unfortunate things. Like a missed opportunity or a business decision that turned out less successful than one thought.
I hadn’t have to overcome the death of a loved one ever since my beloved great grandmother passed away in late 1997 and my grandfather, her son, followed her in mid 1998. Though my great grandmother had reached an old age, my grandfather passed away a few months before his 60th birthday. He was very ill and because I was young at that time my family tried to keep the pain away from me. I dealt with their deaths the way thirteen year olds deal with death, I cried. But back then, death to me never meant they were gone, it only meant they were not physically here. I believed in that and that gave me comfort, realizing that for my parents or my grandmother, or even friends of my grandfather that was not easily the case. Because they were adults, and as such, your heart knows more and comfort is not as easily found.
I know that we never get over great losses, we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder creatures.
When I recently lost my father unexpectedly, I missed that comfort that I was able to provide myself as a child. Even though I believe in spirits and angels, with all it’s bells and whistles, I didn’t want my father to be away. I want him to be right here answering the phone in the mornings when I call, I want him to send me hunting pictures over WhatsApp and I want to think about the possible day I get married and how he’d walk me down the aisle.
When I moved away from home at age 18, I always cringed of the possible nightmare situation. A family emergancy. Accidents. Illness and death. I remember asking myself what I’d do in that very situation when living in Austria, Switzerland or Italy being 12 hours by car away. What if there was a close call, a life threatening situation that I had to be home immediately or as soon as possible. I found comfort in printing out the regular plane schedules. There were hourly flights from Innsbruck, Milan, Zurich or Lausanne to my hometown or close by. I kept those schedules in my bag with me, every day. The World Wide Web was contained to the computer and not as available as today. Those schedules were like gold to me.
Moving to California in 2008, I flew from Berlin over Zurich to San Francisco. I had a complete panic attack in the Zurich airport because I suddenly realized that, over all the excitement to move to the U.S., I had not thought about my safety net yet. How would I get home in case of emergancy? I was going to be 9000 miles away. I stalled on the jetway immediately before boarding the plane and I was about to head back to the gate when I felt a gentle push on my back. It was my dad who was flying with me to California. He knew me, he knew my fear and he softly said that good things happen to good people and that everything will be ok.
9 years later I found myself on a plane headed to Germany as my dad passed away the day before and the entire flight I thought about how not only good things happen to good people- but that bad things happen to good people too. All of the time and all over the world.
I went home to stay with my mom as we started to arrange things, we cried. A lot. We laughed too and we looked at pictures and we celebrated my dad’s life and who he was, what he had accomplished.
One morning while still back home; I woke up and took my medical-term savvy self to the hospital with the utter need to understand what had happened. The doctor who treated him, saw me and explained how with sudden cardiac death, reanimation is impossible 95% of the time, as it is not just a heart attack where a stent or bypass would help. It is an unfortunate medical incident where your chances of leaving the hospital alive are almost zero. Towards the end of the conversation she said that sometimes bad things happen to good people, as she patted dry a tear on her cheek.
It was that very moment when I started to realize what grief is, what it feels like and how to process it. I am a somewhat analytical person. I needed to know what exactly happened to start processing.
“Grief is a game of feeling the weakest you have ever felt, morphing into the strongest person you ever became” – Wingate Lane
Why do bad things happen to good people? How do you make sense of suffering in such situation, in any situation really, where grief is all that is left.
“Pain is the price we pay for being alive.”
“Dead cells can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from,’Why do we have to feel pain?’ to ‘What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?'” – Harold S. Kushner
Processing grief combined with time and selfcare gives us the opportunity to make breathing easier so we can take a step forward. A little step forward, but a step nonetheless.
It’s ok to feel heartbreak. And I never truly understood what it meant to go one day at a time. You only know when you have to go one day at a time. Sometimes I only go a half day at a time. And that is ok as well.
Though it is painful to know that those people we love so dearly are not physically here, they are always with us. A friend told me that they may even be closer to our heart as they uplift us.
They were part in who we were, they live on in who we are and who we yet will be and it’s ok to find comfort in that.
We can think of them, we can talk to them and we can cherish them. Everyday. In public or in private. Verbally or written. By thoughts or by actions.
“Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.” -Charlie Brown to Snoopy