By Ramon Nieto
I was always a very inquisitive kid. I tried to ask questions and analyze situations in order to comprehend them fully; however, there was one concept that I could never understand: the emotion of grief.
Grief is deep sorrow due to loss, disappointment, or misfortune suffered by oneself or others. At a glance, there is the reality that grief is not wished by any rational individual.
I myself remember feeling grief as a child and thinking “why do I feel this way? This is not a nice feeling.”
Granted, the reasons for my grief were not always rational; however, as I grew older and matured I realized that grief is not exactly wailing for a lost toy or a broken phone.
There is an obsession with the process of grieving due to the needed perseverance. The 5 Stages of Grief stand as proof of the obsession that society has on the whole process of grieving. A whole program dedicated to the process instead of the possible aftermath or consequences.
I also overlooked the underlying purpose. As I discovered that there were more complex causes of grief, I realized that there were many consequential events and reasons tied to it.
By experiencing it deeply, I saw grief for what it truly is: that which justly exposes the true, human self.
The true human self is the person that remains when many factors are pulled away.
The saying “actions speak louder than words” is one of the phrases that rung in my head when dealing with the most intense grief I have ever felt.
In the summer of 2013, I began to cope with the realization that my father would never be the same. I did not lose my father that year. What I lost was a version of him that will never return. In 2013, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. During this time, everything that I believed to know became blurred. My understanding to what I thought to be grief vanished.
This was grief.
This was the moment that allowed me to dive into it completely and try to uncover the true meaning of grief and its purpose. A difficult process, grieving through my father’s hardship exposed my true, human self.
Unfortunately, my first focus was distraction. I did not want to recognize the reality of the situation. I chose to spend my time doing different recreational activities. Instead of being a pillar of support, I disappeared to numb my pain. I played video games, listened to music, watched television, and ate unhealthy foods.
I got my hands on anything that would distract me from the devastating feeling that would spread through my chest when I thought about it. This process that I was undergoing is usually the main focus for society for it seems to be the most difficult.
This is the stage in which work and academic commitments slip due to the absence of motivation. This type of behavior is not uncommon in students that are facing a sort of loss. There is a page titled College Grief Information, which provides evidence that proves a hardship on an individual with academic commitments has many prolonged effects.
As stated earlier, I faced something similar. I no longer cared about my grades or my academic performance.
This behavior seem to show parts of me that I had no idea I contained. I did not like to recognize anything that could cause me pain. Perhaps a better interpretation is that family is everything to me. Because of this, every other responsibility was no longer present. Because I care so much about my family, which of course includes my father, any hardship that includes them is able to cripple me if I allow it.
My exposure commenced.
In my head, the aftermath of my behavior was equivalent to the ashes that remained after a house set on fire. My imagination materialized and metastasized my pain to appear as flames engulfing me. My faux personality was burned away, exposing me for who I truly was.
This vulnerability was completely unwanted. Once again, I began to discover myself. I was and am terrified of vulnerability. I began to find myself trying to fight back the feeling of sadness for I did not want to show that side of me to my peers. It was a side that, until recently, I was not connected with.
To this day, I do not like to be vulnerable. In fact, many individuals believe there are 3 myths that pertain to vulnerability:
- Vulnerability is weakness.
- Some people do not experience vulnerability.
- Vulnerability means spilling secrets.
Vulnerability is not always encased by three myths, however.
Grieving allowed me to discover this and allowed me the opportunity to improve.
After exposing my humane, vulnerable side, my grief began to anger me for not only existing but transforming me (or so I believed). I grew defensive and impatient with different situations. From that point on, I grew conscious of my defensive tendencies. I lashed out on people who commented on any aspect of my life for I believed them to be malicious accusations. By discovering this formerly dormant part of me, I once again began to dedicate a large amount of effort in improving the slightly aggressive faction of my personality.
Up to this point, all of the exposure and burning appeared to be on my grounds. Because many of my ugly sides were now apparent to many, there was an aftermath. Many of my friendships seemed to be in trouble. In that moment, I did not want to care about other people, even the individuals I considered to be my friends.
Something that I began to ask was “are real friendships ever in trouble?” There is ugliness. Ugliness is the side that every person conceals in fear that others will not embrace them. All of my exposed parts were fusing together, and I grew frightened that my friends would not accept it or myself.
Grief is not biased.
Grief does not choose who it touches with a finger, but instead combusts and impacts many.
I did not perceive my friends to be a part of my grief. This not only exposed me, but them as well. Their true, human selves were now becoming apparent. They proved to be supportive, compassionate, and accepting. Not every individual has those virtues, and certainly not every “friend.”
Some of my best friends were made at that time. Grief escalates the befriending process simply because the time that it takes to get to know a person is replaced and accelerated. It did not take years for me to be friends with these people for I truly knew who they were. I knew their intentions and their hopes. They were not concealing anything from me as there was no need to. It takes over the body and every other emotion.
When grief is present, prejudice and ego are stripped. There is no need to judge others in that moment. Unless it is the individual’s true nature, criticism will never be present. I never found myself trying to bring down other people while I was upset and grieving. If any form of judgment is present, then that aspect of a person becomes apparent. In this pivotal stage where the role of others come in, the masks come undone. This is not a masquerade. They, the peers who choose to criticize, are truly exposed to be mean, insensitive people for there is an absence of compassion and a lack of love.
Grief is always inherently connected with a loss. Ironically, there seems to be a gain here: a perspective, a perception, an epiphany.
Many doubts are answered and the world loses its haze.
Grief is never truly replaced by what used to be there. After a fire, the foundation that once held a house up is burnt down. There needs to be rebuilding, and for the better.
After overcoming the most intense stages of grief, I was able to begin work on myself. It is not enjoyable to feel upset, nor do I wish to ever conjure such intensity, but there is a purpose.
There were many discoveries that were meant to be found and many humans that were meant to be exposed.
Switching gears, grief is no longer encircled around the concept of loss.
Grief is now connected with gain.
When riding a bike, there are little training wheels on the sides meant to aid the individual in steering their way. Through time, the need for these wheels is no longer obvious. The training wheels are stripped from the bike and the bike begins to seem to lose its course. At this point it is not clear if the bike will steady or fall, but even for the second, it is standing. The bike stands without the wheels and that is the embodiment of empowerment.
The bike is no longer using the wheels. It must now stand on its own for aid in such a way is no longer needed. People cling to the belief that they “need” a person or an object, or a situation, but there is no need.
For many people, training wheels are stripped in many ways and most of the time, while they wish to have them back, life must move on with more determination. There is no longer any training wheels. The only option left is to get on the bike and ride on. There is now a need to grow and become stronger.
This empowerment is also evidence of the true, human self.
It is not easy to know how strong someone is until that is the only option they have left.
This is a discovery indeed.
At seventeen years old, I was lost. I did not have a grasp on the type of person that I was or the person that I wanted to be.
My whole family was lost at that time as well. I do not think my family had any situations that deviated immensely from the traditional family, but perhaps my initial perceptions were not so correct. My family needed a guidance at that point, and it did not come in the way that I expected.
When a person, including myself, hears the word “cancer,” there are absolutely no positive emotions. There is, in that moment, no sense of hope or motivation. Dread and fear replace future hopes and dreams. Cancer might just be grief incarnate.
It is a checkpoint in life. In that moment, my family needed to build the home that grief destroyed. We were able to build a new home.
With new hopes and dreams, our human selves were now very finely tuned. I now knew who I was and who I did not want to be. I would not have been able to wake up and live life with a newfound perspective had my family not been touched by what seemed to be so horrible.
It is frightening, to have any insidious thought take over a miniscule fear but sometimes it is still present. The fear that my father will not be by my side.
In those moments, I find myself dialing my father’s cellphone telling him how my day went and asking him the same. There is no moment that I do not cherish with my family now, and with the hardship that my family has gone through, it stands as the constant reminder that nothing is permanent.
Every time that I tell my family, and especially my father, that I love them, I make sure that it feels like the very last time, for I have no way of knowing.
Every person is mortal and life is but a lease.
My father will never be the version that he used to be. I will never be the version that I used to be; however, my family has never been happier.
I now seek moments that matter. Along with realizing who I truly am, grief allowed me to see what a human truly needs. The true, human self needs only support from others who prove to be just as true.
The true, human self now lies exposed to the world, unmasked.
For if there was no pain in this world, there would be no sense of reality.