Friday, July 17, 2009

A Grief Worse than Death?

Death is horrible. Based on what I've seen, it's usually horrible for the people who go through it. It's horrible for those left behind. It's just ... horrible.

I'm wondering, though, if losing a person through mental illness or substance abuse or a complete change in their personalities and values is even worse. I'm thinking that, in my opinion, it might well be.

Although several people close to me have passed away, the most difficult loss was unquestionably my stepfather. Even when I acted like an idiot and hurt him and my mother repeatedly, made mistakes that forced them to face things no parents should ever have to, he never gave up on me. He was always there, for me, for my family, and for thousands of other people (he was in a service industry--helping people was his life's work).

He died of lung cancer almost five years ago, and I still think about him every day. I try to live my life under the tenets that he lived his, and I take great pride in knowing that I help children every day.

While he is in my daily thoughts, though, he is no longer here. There will always be a hole in the hearts of those of us who loved him, but time passes and the hole grows a little smaller. It's an eternal pain in the heart that swells up and bleeds anew on Father's Day and Christmas and his birthday and the day he died and sometimes out of the clear blue, but it has shrunk because we have all had to figure out a way to live a life without him in it. It's incredibly difficult and it doesn't make the missing any less, but he came to this earth and shared his love and magic and then left for what's hopefully a better place.

When somebody becomes a different person and it happens in increments so small you are almost completely unaware, it's completely different. You can't help but think that the person who laughed for hours with you over a sign advertising for a wife in a way-up-north New Hampshire town and who was steadfast during nineteen and a half hours of labor and who knocked over a Diet Coke display in a foreign country and who convinced you that you were okay just the way you are ... he must be somewhere in that pathetic, hollow shell. All the caring and kindness he possessed, the desire to do good ... where could it possibly have gone? Can a person vomit out their positive qualities?

I truly believe that it's the worst to know that a person I was once madly in love with became so altered that he is no longer identifiable ... and that I can't even grieve for him. After all, he still walks the earth. It feels like the same sort of grief as death, though.

I suppose in a way it is a death ... the death of a person who once existed. And I can (and should) grieve for him, for I loved him beyond words even as I'm sickened by the puppet that walks around with his face and hands and feet.

Am I wrong on this? Is death worse than a loss like this in your opinion?