On Loss

I feel obligated to preface this post with the fact that it’s most definitely not about books. It’s just me, sharing something personal because sometimes as humans we just need to do that. Plus, this is hard and it’s important to do hard things. I also wrote in at 12 am one night when I couldn't sleep and didn't want to waste my efforts by not posting. (Clearly this post is making me a little... uncomfortable. But I am not perfect and I don't have everything under control all the time and I think it's important people understand this).

May has been one of the hardest months I’ve experienced in a really, really long time. There were some tough, but manageable things: some crappy stuff at home, Sawyer had a high fever and then strep throat, work was busy and I had a deadline for grading, etc... But then there was Loss, something I simply do not handle well.

Some background on Christine and Loss: While I've known plenty of people who have passed away, I’ve really only lost one person before whom I was close to, and that was my dad. He was bipolar and took his own life when I was a freshman in high school. I handled this blow by going to school the next day so I didn’t miss my physics test, confirming with my mom we’d manage financially, arranging to borrow a black dress from a friend to wear to the service, and refusing to let my guidance counselor tell my teachers. I cried a few times... but not in front of others. It was all about survival and I didn't have time to get weighed down by much else. Since then I’ve treated this part of my life almost clinically or like business- “Our partner didn’t want to continue with the corporation and decided to cut ties. We wish him the best of luck in all future endeavors.” I am also aware of the biological/neurological issues and the fact that the pharmaceuticals used for treatment of mental health in the late 90s were practically primitive. I am a pro at compartmentalizing, what can I say? Nonetheless, it’s been over twenty years and I haven’t had any nervous breakdowns over the matter, which is good. Is this a healthy way to process the death of a parent? Probably not.

Fast forward back to the present.

The first Loss is the month was Cordie, our thirteen-year-old Golden Retriever, whom I wrote about here. I cried over her, of course, especially when we took her in for the final time and stayed until she passed. My throat closes up a twinge and I feel teary during routine moments that she’s now gone for- when I feed Chomsky, when I let him outside, or when I vacuum and her hair isn’t clogging up the canister. I had had three months to prepare, but it’s still been achingly sad. It’s also been rough trying to explain to Sawyer what happened and he still brings it up every single day.

Two weeks later, the day after Memorial Day, I received a text while I was listening to outside reading presentations that said a student whom I had been incredibly close to in the class that had graduated two years ago had died that morning. I had had this student for her junior and senior years and taught her sister as well, so I knew the family to the point where I was on a first name basis with the parents. I don’t want to go too much in detail to respect the student and her family, but the kid went through a lot while I had her and I found myself becoming very attached as I did my best to support her. To say this child wormed her way into my heart would be an understatement. We have kept in contact since and even had plans to meet up for coffee in a week or two. She was one of the brightest students I have ever taught, was an amazing artist, and was so very generous (once she showed up for no reason with a coloring book and crayons for Sawyer, another time she bought a bouquet of flowers and just handed them out to people- she was just constantly kind). She taught me about her religion, we played word games, she tried to make me like Lana Del Rey, and we talked about Big Life Issues a lot. I felt compelled to let a few other teachers she had know, which was really hard for me to do, since I am emotionally stunted when it comes to Loss. It’s been a week and I cry, in private, every day still. Her memorial is soon and I am utterly terrified and severely anxious.

The third type of Loss I’ve had to deal with this month is a little different, but still leaves me with a heavy heart. Thursday my seniors all checked out and left. I am of course incredibly proud of them and also excited for their futures, but after having them all for two years, some three, and a dozen or so even as fourth graders, I genuinely feel a sense of Loss here too. I saw them every day- they were entertaining, interesting, kind, and distracting. I was quite close to a group of them and I realistically know I may never speak to them again after graduation (which is totally fine- they are closing a chapter of their lives and no one is entitled to keep in touch with their high school teachers! I only did with one). It feels like a bandaid was ripped off and now I’m left with that annoying stinging feeling that you know will go away eventually but sometimes just takes a few minutes longer to fully fade. These have been My People and now they’re gone and my classroom will be empty until we are done.

On the inside I feel like I have been severely beat, like my entire abdomen is bruised and some of my organs may stop functioning. On the outside I respond to everyone’s inquiries about how I am with a smile and a “I’m fine, just looking forward to summer!” I am unable to admit to people that I am grieving hard right now and that my heart hurts, because I don’t want their sympathy. I don’t mind sympathy when it comes to some things, or even when it’s delivered in written form, but for some reason the face-to-face sympathy that comes connected to death horrifies me. I have a visceral reaction when someone starts expressing their condolences. It makes me feel like I am being perceived as weak and vulnerable, which is the last thing in the world I want to be perceived as. Plus, I never know how to respond. Do I shrug it off and therefore trivialize the Loss? Do I breakdown and make things insanely awkward? It’s easier to just make the world seem that I am coping just fine. The problem independent people like myself have is that it’s hard to admit when we need support. But I don't, because I'm fine. 

Every day gets easier, as they do when this sort of thing happens. The back-to-back-to-back instances this month have just been simply too much to handle. I know that I’ll be okay and that summer will be healing and that there are tons of things coming up starting this week to distract me. One day at a time.


  1. Azucena Perez-BuenrostroJune 4, 2018 at 10:51 PM

    She was truly a remarkable person. I had the privilege of preaching beside her for almost a year. Spending every Wednesday together for the past two months. She spoke of you very fondly. Every time we drove by school she'd tell me she still spoke to you and share something about you.

  2. Christine, it's taking all my willpower NOT to put my therapist's hat on (despite what people might think, it's usually not difficult to keep the listening I do in therapy separate from the kind I do with a friend over coffee but you'll have to take my word for it). Instead this is from one bookish-blogging-friend to another: chuck out most of your summer plans - keep the trips and the sitting by the pool but throw out the 'busy' stuff. Floors can wait. Collapsing boxes can wait.

    Instead, acknowledge your grief. Allow yourself to feel it. Sit with it. Grief is a continuum - it never goes away once it's in your life but the time between feeling it intensely changes.

    Okay, I've said more than I probably should. Take care of yourself and more importantly, cut yourself some slack.

    1. Thank you! This was a very wise, kind comment. I can't promise that I'll slow down as much as I probably should, but I am definitely working hard to acknowledge how I feel and to take time to do a few things that I think will help (talking to a few old students, sending a card to her parents, etc...).