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Author's note: As a 16-year-old journalist living in suburban Chicago, I’ve always sought to reach a wide audience with my writing. I serve as co-executive entertainment editor for Buffalo Grove High School’s, “The Charger.” In addition, I have my own video blog on YouTube, which addresses myriad teenage topics, such as relationships, fashion trends and high school survival. I also write for the fashion section of the online publication “EmbraceYou” and I'm also interning at the Daily Herald. I’d love to be a part of your magazine as well.
Grief is not a new concept to the world, but for something so ancient there is little known about it. Generally, grief is connected with a loss. A child grieves over a lost doll; a mother grieves when her child moves to a dorm. Then there are those few, such as myself, who grieve over the loss of a parent; a father, a mother. We parental grievers, as I call us, tend to migrate together like birds. We sit at our small, circular tables, eating and pretending to understand what the other is going through. All the while screaming on the inside, “You haven’t the slightest idea of how I feel!”
We sit there telling everyone who asks that unavoidable question that we are “OK.” God that question! That horribly mundane, insincere, god awful question of, “how are you?” Could they have asked anything more open ended? What other answer besides “OK” are we to give them? No one wants to hear the truth. No one wants to hear that it feels like we are drowning, suffocating in a sea of darkness.
The truth scares those outside of the parental grievers circle. To be frank, the truth scares us too. We are too afraid to admit to ourselves that we are not “OK.” And so even though we are far from “OK,” even though we are angry and scared; we answer with: “I’m fine.” However, we were not always such liars … I wasn’t always a liar. No, I was once just as innocent and naive as a young child should be. For you see, this is what loss does; it takes away the innocence.
“OK so our stories are set, remember deadline is in two weeks,” said my Kardashian-esque journalism teacher.
I’m a student journalist and writer. Actually, to say that “I am” a journalist/writer would not be completely accurate. I am not a journalist, journalism is me. It is everything I live for. Journalism, as well as writing, is what keeps me sane.
It’s September; the leaves have just begun to change. Only now do I realize what the brown, red, and yellow transition foreshadowed. I haven’t talked to my father for a couple months now, but I do not care. There isn’t enough time in the day to worry about interviews, page layouts, and fathers.
“I need your movie review by 2:15,” I yelled. “I have to get it on the page!”
Even though I knew he had about a month left he was still the last thing on my mind. I sat in class laughing with my fellow editors, while yelling at the slackers.
“@Danealle13 and I are Twitter whores,” read the Twitter post between the sports editor and me.
“We are the best and cleanest type of whore,” I laughed innocently.
My friends and I giggle, make inappropriate jokes, and gossip like, for lack of a better term, normal teenagers. I do all of this without a twinge of guilt or melancholy about my relationship with my father. Why should I feel guilty? As far as I know, he gave up on trying a long time ago.
“Have a wonderful weekend guys, this issue is turning out great,” bellowed my journalism teacher.
It’s finally the weekend; a time for relaxation, or in my case time to slave away at work. Anyone who needs a job I do not recommend working for a fast food chain. Luckily, my mother and grandmother are always there to make a joke.
My mother’s cousin is staying with us. She is a short, stout, enigmatic woman. Unlike the rest of my family members, she had the audacity to break the constraining social norms of our family. She married someone outside of the Jewish faith and Russian background. Tattoos and tramp stamps litter various parts of her body, which is actually why I respect her. She did not care if people judged her—she has her own family that would love her whether the stereotypical mold was being filled or not.
“Good morning Danealle,” she said. “It’s already eight o’clock, weren’t you supposed to be at work by 7:30?”
“Yes, but I just don’t feel right. Plus I have to help decorate the halls for homecoming week so I don’t want to get sicker.”
Even though I didn’t feel right, I didn’t pay it much attention nor did I make the connection until the phone rang.
“He did … but the doctor said … I see … yes she’ll be there,” my mother told my uncle.
The funny thing is, I know what’s coming.
“I know you didn’t love him but does it still hurt to know he’s gone,” my mother’s cousin asked before we knew for sure.
“No,” I lied.
My mother walked into the room with a somber look on her face. She gave me a hug and said everything is going to be okay. At that moment I did what was expected of me, I conformed to the rules and cried softly.
“We have to get ready,” I said. “I need to be at school around 11.”
I went to the bathroom to wipe off the tears and paint on a happy face. To be honest, it did not take much mascara to make my eyes sparkle. I wasn’t sad yet, I was just … numb …
“Hey girl, you ready to get yo’ paint on,” exclaimed my eager best friend.
“Yeah let’s get started, whoa!”
“Are you okay; you seem a little off?”
Crap. Too much sparkle.
“Yeah, umm … I just found out my father died.”
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!”
Sorry for what? Did you give him cancer?
“It’s OK, don’t worry about it, happens to everyone,” I lied again.
It was a lot of fun painting the windows and hanging streamers. Decorating work was just what I needed to get my mind off of him.
“Mom, really I’m fine,” I said exasperatedly. This was the thirteenth time she asked me since I got home. At this point that horrible question did not bother me. I suppose this is because I have yet to learn its meaning, its implication.
“OK, but don’t forget to write a note to each teacher explaining why you will be missing their class on Tuesday.”
The next morning I walked up to each of my teachers and gave them that 37 word note that is supposed to explaineverythinging.
Hello (teachers name),
Please excuse Danealle from your (class period) class. Her father passed away and she will be at his funeral on Tuesday. Please give her whatever homework she will be missing.
Unfortunately, the full severity of the loss decided to hit me that same day; yet another reason to hate Mondays. With every note I gave out it became harder and harder to keep from breaking down. Especially when each teacher asked that same irritating question, “Are you OK?” As I answered their questions I could feel myself falling deeper. It felt like I was falling down a dark shaft with no way of stopping. I suppose this is how the Titans felt when Zeus trapped them in the pits of Tartarus.
“Oh my gosh!” “Are you OK?” “How did it happen?”
“It’s not a big deal,” I lied for the third time.
“Yes of course I am, I think?”
I don’t know what’s worse, hearing the same questions or seeing their reactions. My male teachers all wore the same look of discomfort. They did the polite thing and said they’re sorry then went on teaching. The female teachers were more comforting. They offered to postpone an assignment or two and offered some words of advice.
I know they mean well, but it didn’t help in the way they thought it did. On the one hand, it felt wonderful to know I always had someone to talk to. On the other, it frightened me that they thought I needed to talk to someone.
“We’re almost there,” my mother said. “They will probably go out to lunch after this; do you want to go to?”
“Yeah, sure,” I lied for the fourth time.
My mother and I are sitting in the car on our way to the funeral. I’m wearing all black, though if I had it my way I would be in red. I had on black dress pants, ballet flats, and a thespian style turtle neck. I wore a beret atop my head in order to complete my “Jew meets Broadway” ensemble.
As the car drove at 40 miles per hour I looked out the window. The trees zoomed by in a blur of autumn colors. Colors that used to bring joyful memories of crunching leaves and warm laughter now bring painful reminders of what used to be. I got sick of looking and thinking, so I just stared.
When we got to the cemetery I felt strange. The feeling is hard to describe, but Lindsey Lohan said it best in “Mean Girls.”
“Have you ever walked up to people and realized they were just talking about you?”
That’s what it felt like when I saw my father’s side of the family. They were examining me as if trying to compare notes and see who was right about the way I was brought up. I don’t like being around my father’s family too much. I can never act like myself; I am always expected to behave the way someone who just graduated from finishing school would act.
After mingling with some old relatives it was time to go to the grave. I sat there silently crying, while my uncle talked about my dad. I wasn’t crying because I wanted to or because it made me feel better. No, I was crying because it was expected of me. With tears rolling over the cheeks I inherited from him, I watched in horror at how carelessly the workers lowered his casket. To them he was just another body in a blue box, but to me it was like they were burying half of my soul. I wanted to run, scream, kick, and act like a complete child. But, I didn’t. I stood there quietly the way a young lady should.
I know my mother worries when she sees me cry, which is why when she asked me that horrible question I answered, “I’m OK. Can we go shoe shopping?”
“I’m sure you have all heard of the tragedy that has happened,” my journalism teacher said in a solemn voice.
A beloved student has died and now the school paper has to do an In-depth on him. I thanked my lucky stars that I was not the one who will have to write it. After listening to various stories of the student I was unable to sleep. I just lay in bed that night and starred at the ceiling. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, I just kept staring till my alarm rang.
“You then add three to both sides and set it equal to zero.”
“You then add three to both sides and set it equal to zero.”
“The count on that is: 1 and 2 and 3.”
Finally, it’s 4th period. All I want to do is go to the computer lab and focus on my articles, but I can’t. Nothing is coming to mind and whatever I can manage to get onto the page is editorialized and cynical. After going at it for about forty minutes, I gave up and went to talk to my journalism teacher. I planned on talking about how to improve my article; instead Greg was all I could say.
I was sitting in her class room and I couldn’t make myself stop talking. The talking soon turned into crying and the crying into sobbing. I couldn’t stop myself; it was coming out like vomit. I felt ashamed and angry. My father always said “if you are going to cry, you go into your room, close the door, and cry. You must never let anyone see you.” Now here I was laying everything out on the table in front of someone I’ve known for three semesters. At the same time I felt relived, this was the first time I really cried. With every tear that rolled down my cheeks, I felt the dark cavern become lighter.
I didn't know who I felt sorrier for; me for acting like such a moron or for her because she had to listen to my insanity. After a while of me screaming “it isn't fair” and her calming me down, I felt a lot better. At this point it was half way through 5th period.
She allowed me to stay till the end of the hour and watch “The Office,” at which point she wrote me a pass to chemistry, gave me a hug and said the same thing they all say, “It’ll be OK.”
After bringing back the memories school, a place I once saw as a second home, turned into my own personal hell. I hated being at home because it reminded me of him. I hated coming to school because I couldn’t sit in a single class without some sort of painful reminder. But, I dare not admit this to anyone. Instead, I made my eyes sparkle with mascara every morning and lied.
My counselor begged me to join a grief therapy group at school. At first I said there is no way in hell. I do not enjoy being psychoanalyzed nor do I enjoy partaking in a circle of sobbing teenagers all feeling sorry for themselves. However, following my little break down I decided it wouldn’t kill me to go to one meeting.
I have to say it was nothing like I thought it would be. There were a couple people in the room who I knew, which made things a little easier. The counselor and school psychologist who ran the group were quirky and fun. The group met once a week, with each meeting I felt better.
I started to do a little at home therapy too. I started to write my father letters. The first was a letter of closure. The ones that followed had a less severe tone. If something good happened I would write to him. If I missed him I would write to him and feel less alone. Life was becoming easier, almost bearable. As time passed I felt less guilty, I did not think of him as often as I did. For the most part life was perfect, I was happy.
“The person who died in my life is my father, Greg. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. I found out about the death when I was going to work. After death, I believe my loved one is in heaven. My first feeling was numbness because I guess I didn’t get it. Now I feel relived because I don’t feel empty or guilty. I know he is always there, though he may not be seen. What makes me most angry is when people take what they have for granted. I worry about who is going to walk me down the aisle. The hardest thing about school is listening to all the stories about kids hanging out with their fathers because it makes me feel angry and jealous. The adults in my life tell me not to worry about my future. What helps me most is reading and writing. What helps me least is driving by familiar places,” I read during our last group therapy session.
I have learned a lot over the eight month he’s been gone. The memories no longer hurt me the way they used to. I learned new ways to answer the unavoidable question that would come every now and again.
“It happens to everyone, the important thing is to learn from it,” I lied. “It’s just a way of preparing me for something bigger.”
This was the answer that caused the least squirming, but I could tell not everyone completely believed what I was saying. We parental grievers try our hardest to ignore the reaction of these people and attempt to be more convincing.
Although this story sounds morbid, it isn’t all bad. Yes, we grievers sit together at our circular tables, pretending we understand each other, but amid the conversations of our losses we also talk about our weekends and complain about classes. All the while hoping to one day be able to believe the answers we give.
For you see, there is one big lesson everyone who joins the circle must learn; grief is like a drug addiction. The sadness never fully goes away, but with time it becomes easier to control and eventually dissipates into nothing more than a twinge. Even though sometimes it seems easier to fall to the addiction or sadness, it is important to remember that with each passing day and each “even though” uttered the dark cavern becomes just a little bit lighter. I use journalism, friends, and family as my life-vest; how about you?