Upon driving into my garage coming home from work this evening, I suddenly burst into tears as the garage door slowly closed behind me. I haven’t felt like myself at all this past week. I tried my hardest to discern the reason for my melancholic mood and pinpointed a series of events that occurred after the subject of death was brought up during my therapy session this past weekend. The subject of terminal illness and inevitable death is never an easy one, even as a physician who had to pronounce deaths in the hospital wards and was educated on how to talk to patients about advance directives (Do Not Resuscitate/DNR), hospice, etc. We all have triggers that may occur randomly during our day that may unleash suppressed feelings that go deeper beyond whatever triggered us in that present moment. A patient once told me that hamburgers made her sad because her deceased father cooked them all the time at family gatherings. For others, something as simple as a hamburger triggering profound emotions may sound ridiculous, but we must be empathetic to each individual because none of us know of the history, context, or meaning that a symbol (such as hamburgers) provided in a person’s life.
My initial trigger was watching the movie Furious 7 last week. Now, I know that millions of devoted Paul Walker fans (including myself) were profoundly impacted by his tragic death, but the uncontrollable amount of tears that I shed was far too disproportionate to the mild attachment I had for the actor. Since everyone I knew who watched the movie admitted to shedding tears, I didn’t think much of my emotional response at the time. But, during my group therapy session, I was extremely angered about an unrelated topic, and again, I couldn’t figure out the reason why. Leaving my therapy session in a pissed off mood, I contemplated quitting group because I didn’t want to be a part of anything that made me feel angry and unsupported. I looked at my phone and started scrolling Instagram to distract myself from my emotions, and stopped incessantly scrolling once I came across the picture below, which my sister posted for National Siblings Day with the following caption:
It was always the four of us. Although we’re all grown up with separate lives, we will always have the same love for each other, and share the same values that our Lola and Lolo (Grandma & Grandpa) taught us. My latepost In honor of siblings Day 4/10 and my lolo’s birthday 4/7. I love you all. I miss you Lolo & Lola.
Last week was my grandfather’s birthday. The theme of losing such a devoted and integral part of a family is the theme that resonated most with me about the movie. And watching the ending somehow re-opened the wound in my heart that I experienced when I first received news that my grandfather passed away from cancer thirteen years ago. I continue to re-experience feelings of grief each year around his birthday and this year is no exception. I wrote about my grandfather’s influence and my difficulties coping with losing him in previous blogposts (here, here & here). Last week, a few of my patients discussed their own grief, which is always a hard subject to process. I always do my best to provide them with as much support as possible because I know what it’s like to feel isolated, angered, and confused by a complex mixture of emotions.
I used to want to believe that “time heals all wounds,” but one of my inspiring readers modified my perspective of the statement to make it more accurate: time may help make the grief a bit more tolerable. Grief never goes away, but rather is re-experienced in different, sometimes confusing ways. But, just like the goal of the movie, I try to shift my focus from sadness to embracing my grandfather’s strength and legacy. I can already feel the wound close a tiny bit as it starts to repair itself yet again.