These past two years, many Americans and citizens worldwide experienced loss, a new sense of purpose, a feeling of being stuck in a repeating time loop, and much more I cannot express into this blog. This pandemic may still seem like it will never end, with no end in sight; however, we can truly overcome this by recognizing the grief we experienced.
We all know someone or ourselves experienced losing a loved one due to COVID-19 complications, natural causes, life-limiting illness, or suicide. Our world sometimes feels like we have nothing in common. If anything, I've learned from these past two years is that we all have something in common: grief.
Like many before August, my grief was grieving missed birthdays, hugs from my parents, going abroad, and meeting up with friends who live far away. August was one of the most challenging times of my life, making sure I was doing okay and that the people I work with and for were doing okay. When the news came of my uncle passing, it felt like my world became dark. The curtains closed on all my happy memories with him, locked behind the window; I could see it but could not recognize it. Nevertheless, I had work to do and could not open that curtain to see happiness. In my job, every day, I hear stories of Veterans having a peaceful ending on this earth, comforted by loved ones, being honored for their service and hospice staff beside them, guiding them to the end. Part of me was angry that my uncle will never experience this ending.
Since I started working with an organization that represents so many wonderful hospice and palliative care organizations, it had me think about my family’s future. What do I want my loved ones to experience if they choose hospice care? Based on my duties at work, I knew if my uncle did pass away on hospice, I knew I wanted him to have a sendoff; remembering his time of service in the military, he took great pride. My uncle was a Veteran of the United States Air Force, and he was the main reason I wanted to dedicate my life to helping Veterans and being a better person and friend. It wasn't an easy relationship with him living across the country. However, these past eight years of us talking about life and him supporting me meant everything. A month after his passing, I was still grieving. Some days I could not get out of bed or focus on work. I was sad, angry, full of these weird emotions that I'd never experienced when other loved ones of mine passed. Grieving is a strange, bizarre feeling. However, it brought a certain comfort that I was not alone.
When my mom told me my uncle passed away from suicide, I was utterly heartbroken that this could've happened. My uncle felt helpless, his illness was consuming him, and it was too much to handle. I spiraled into these thoughts of how could I not see it? I've attended these Veteran suicide prevention video pieces of training and shared the Veterans crisis line number, but it was too late. I blame myself for not doing something. When I grieve his loss, I'm also mourning the actions I should've taken, asking myself all the maybes and what if's. However, after talking with some great people who experienced the same loss I've had, I'm slowly accepting it was not my fault, and I could not go back in time and fix it.
I did not get the chance to attend my uncle's service due to COVID, which was the most challenging part for me; it still feels like I could not close this chapter of us. Finding ways to honor and hold a service for him in my heart is what I want to share. I'm sure someone is grieving. No matter if it's a human or a pet, it still hurts.
Here are some ways I will be honoring my loved one who passed away in the pandemic.
- Honor my uncle by continuing the work I'm doing to make sure our hospices have the right tools to care for Veterans at the end of life.
- Eat a bunch of NY take-out staples that he could not get since he lived in Washington State and talk with my sister over the food of our memories of him.
- Be a good friend and think about others. Even if it's getting them their favorite milkshake – like my uncle did for one of his friends in need. It could make them feel over the moon during tough times.
- Always take a risk, even if it feels wrong. You might regret it if you don't.
- Just be present.
In loving memory of the many things we grieve,
Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one? Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reaching caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Free, confidential support is available 24/7. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1 or chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.