Notes From a Native Daughter

"We are the Champions" by Princess Rachella

Monday, June 23, 2008

We are the Champions

If you had told me, back in November, that I would be sharing brats and brews on a hot sunny day in June with my brother Peter and my brother-in-law Ron, I probably would have just sneered. But that's just what I did yesterday afternoon, at the annual DC Barbecue Battle on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a memory I'll cherish for a very long time.

Back in November, it seemed as if every cell in my body was scalded by grief. That is, when I wasn't as numb as a fencepost. Shutting down emotionally was the only way I could move through life. Stretching my face into some semblance of a smile when required, putting one foot down in front of the other, those were Herculean feats for me back then. On those cool mornings in Gulu, it took at least an hour to uncurl from the fetal position and actually leave my bed.

I thought I would never laugh again, at least not like I had before October 19, 2007. I thought I would never feel happy again. I thought my world had narrowed so drastically, that I'd never see the full light of day again, never really feel the warmth of the sun, never even care about much of anything.

That's the trick grief plays on you. It floods your mind so completely that you almost feel like you're suffocating. But then it lets up a bit, and you tell yourself, "I can do this." Then...WHAM! You'll see something, or hear a tune, or think of some memory, and you're right back in the canyon, and you just can't see any way to climb out.

My entire family has battled loss, grief and ongoing post-traumatic stress just about non-stop since March of 2003, when my eldest brother took his life. Since then, we've lost both parents, and, last October, my sister Julie. Frankly, by November, I had pretty much resigned myself to feeling perpetually sad and shell-shocked. I decided if I just stopped pretending that life could ever be pleasant any more, it would protect me from life's inevitable flow of loss.

But then something changed. For me, it happened while I was paying my respects at Julie's grave last month. I think that's when I fully absorbed the concept that love never dies. I feel Julie's spirit every day. I still love her every day. Obviously it hurts that I can't see or hear her, but I still love her just as much as I did when I could.

I believe that's the powerful weapon we all have with when faced with tremendous grief and loss: the fact that NOBODY can kill the love you have, the love your loved one gave you, and fruits of that mutual love. For example, my brother Peter let me roost in his house for five months, half of which were spent being completely overwhelmed by memories of Julie's many visits to DC. There were many days when all I could do was drag myself out of bed, head to the gym for an hour or so, and then head back home and crawl back into bed. Bottom line, I wasn't exactly the most sparkling houseguest.

But Peter never once gave up on me, or sent me packing. I think he knows just how lost I've felt, and probably in some ways will always feel, without Julie. It's the kind of unstinting love and support she would have shown me.

And Ron has been the real champion. Since he got here last Thursday, I have to admit I've been kinda circling around him, keeping a bit of a watch for any cracks in the armor. But he's strong. We've laughed and shared our memories, and I truly believe he's going to be just fine. You couldn't begin to understand how much of a blessing that is for me.

So as we were laughing and strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday afternoon, I realized that we had won our many skirmishes with grief and loss. I felt so strong and sure, armed with the love and support of family and friends. I am so ready to make this next move in my life.

Posted by Princess Rachella at 1:52 PM