It is around seventy-thirty at night on Mother’s Day. This upcoming Tuesday marks the two-year anniversary of someone who was a big part of many people’s lives. Including my own.
About a month after the passing of my stepdad, Jeff, I was experiencing some heavy writer’s block which is common, from what I had learned in grief counseling at the time. Yet, when it was my regular job, it became an issue; ultimately, getting let go from two companies I was working for. Fortunately, one of my bosses was sympathetic [enough] to give me the, “Look, I get it, but you do need some time for yourself.”
For a moment, I wish I would have seen and accepted that. But at the time, I was very depressed and angry with the world. I was just one pissed off twenty-something year old. Yet, something that had not been—from what I had believed with every other aspect of my life—I was able to tackle on nonfictional pieces regarding, well, my life.
“The Impact of Grief, After the Loss of a Loved One” was something I sat down and wrote in a matter of minutes just three to four weeks following Jeff’s unexpected passing from a heart attack. He was on vacation with my mother when I had received the news. The days leading up to Jeff’s funeral, I had a decision that needed to be made: would I speak at his service?
I did not and for a while, I held a lot of guilt for not doing so. But to cut to the chase, a lot had to do with me not wanting to say or do something irrational because of my real-life strained relationship with my biological father. Scandalous? To the world, it will always when it comes to a child and a parent not speaking. With Jeff, over time, he was always a father to me.
The month leading up to Jeff’s one-year anniversary was painful. Some days, I woke up feeling like dog shit and would not listen to my body and do the opposite such as going out rather than staying in because I was physically and emotionally exhausted; or staying in to sort of hole myself up when friends or family would invite me out, regardless that I wanted to tag along. It was a battle to overcome and accept, especially when I took my grief out in ways that seemed…normal such as partying or jumping into relationships…
Yeah, it sucked to hear a few months ago by my therapist when I had the courage to ask her if Jeff’s passing, as awful as it sounded, had…ruined my life.
And that is just it, right? When it comes to a parent’s passing, most children (the survivors) feel obligated to ask and even wonder, “Would this have happened if Jeff was alive? What would Jeff think about the new guy I am dating? What would Jeff tell me about my own choices when it comes to my career or general life stuff?”
Two years later, and all I can say is that Jeff is deeply and forever missed by everyone whom he crossed paths with. Regardless of knowing Jeff for days, weeks, months, or years, he was always a part of milestones in others’ lives; including my own. Jeff was the man whom I wanted there for my first award ceremony for a short script that placed in second place to my college graduation, which was controversial for the obvious reason.
Yet, that never matters to me at the time; the fact was that I wanted someone who was becoming closer to me in my present-day life. Jeff was one of them.
And now reflecting on how the months leading up to the two-year anniversary has been—compared to the build-up to year one—all I can say is that I know Jeff would be happy with the person I am becoming. I am, although there are many MANY days where I have my own self-doubts and think, “Jesus, Natalie, what would Jeff say or do if he saw you acting this way?”
The irony is that was a question I had recently asked myself, now going into the last week of filming a feature film that I wrote and directing and ironically deals with both anxiety, depression, and grief and how first and secondary survivors cope. AGAIN, the irony, with this film project’s message, is that in life, there is NEVER a pre-requisite nor a “right way” to overcoming or dealing with something. That is always a battle I will forever be learning to overcome myself, yet I do feel that over time, it gets easier in the sense that I believe in myself for ‘handling it.’
Truth be told, he would probably chuckle at most things, considering that a lot of (what I thought was at the time) CRAP has happened. From having a fallout with both friends, colleagues, including a mentor as well, to quite a few breakups…all I can say is that I wish Jeff was actually here to hear me complain, cry, or just sought out to for some advice. No matter how embarrassing the situation was, at the end of the day I wanted him to be one of the first people to know about it.
I would like to believe that Jeff would give me the, “Hey, I agree with you, but you should handle it this or that way next time.” He gave me that talk before, especially when it came to moments where I felt that I was standing up for myself with a situation; often, he would shake his head like he wanted to hold back a big laugh. I could tell.
I want to conclude this follow-up piece that it NEVER EVER gets easier. I still wake up or come home at times, remembering how much has changed and found myself bursting into tears. The shittiest is waking up and remembering it all and then bawling my eyes out and having to get up and carry on with the ‘today’ and get through whatever the day has planned. That sucks. It SUCKS to lose a parent no matter how old one is.
Jeff is someone whom I will always be thinking of when it comes to future milestones in my life, including both personal and work-related. Whether that is attending another award show, festival or someday getting married, I know Jeff will be there because he knows I would want him there. I do not consider myself ‘religious’ per say, but I can admit that there have been countless of moments since Jeff passing that is too good to be true to not say it is a way of the universe of him letting myself and other loved ones know that he is at peace and most importantly, he is with us. Forever.