Today marks one year since my daughter died. Just writing that sentence is devastating.
I miss her terribly. This last year feels like the shortest year of my life, as well as the longest. I know that is not possible, and time flows on the way it always does, but I remember it like it happened this morning, and yet in some ways it seems so very long ago. Grief is complex, I know that. Logical me knows the various steps of grieving, what to expect, the varied emotions going hither and thither with no apparent schedule. And yet. And yet, it’s different to feel in every day, often every hour.
Chloe was complex. She was brilliant, but didn’t particularly care for school. She was sweet, but if you got on her bad side, it was hard to get away from it. She was ambitious at times, apathetic at others. She was beautiful, but couldn’t see it.
Mental illness has varying levels of complexity, both with treating and with experiencing it. Chloe’s traumas created some emotional and personality fractures that were never able to be healed… at best we could cover them up long enough for her to feel some relief for a short period of time. I remember the night she shared with us what was really going on in her head, and honestly it was only the tip of the iceberg. Although we had been doing what we thought we could to help up to that point, new information brings about new revelations and new approaches. At times, various therapeutic approaches seemed impossible, but I never gave up on her. She gave up on herself plenty of times, and near the end part of her thought I had given up on her, but I never did. I always held out hope that she would feel better, less tortured, less targeted by the bad things of the world.
I used to listen to hard core hip hop and heavy metal with her. Funny, she liked 80s metal bands much more than me (with perhaps, the exception of Metallica, where I think we were on equal ground), but I always loved our time in the car listening to the likes of Ozzy, Judas Priest and Motely Crue (her favorites). On the same ride we would also listen to Joey Perp, ASAP Ferg and Lil Peep (although I wasn’t a big fan of the latter). Of my four kids, I think I had the strongest musical connection with Chloe, it’s one of the things that bonded us, that we could always do together, even if times were difficult.
The picture attached to this post in from a few years ago, in a hangar at Burbank airport. We were getting ready to fly Chloe to a treatment center in a different part of the state, and for whatever reason in this psuedo-private hangar they had set up a replica of the coffee shop from Friends. Chloe and I took some pictures and laughed. She laughed big, even though she usually felt reserved. Even though we were going to another treatment center, the time at the airport felt casual and carefree for both of us.
My sister died when I was 27. How she died is not important right now, but it was not of her own doing. I remember how much it hurt me personally, how sad I was, but more so I remember what it did to my mom… it carved her out, it completely emptied her. We had already lost my dad to cancer five years prior, and now for my sister to be gone also; well, it was a lot. Too much. I watched my mom slip into a permanent sadness that affected the rest of her life. Although she could have happy times, I don’t think she was ever truly happy again. Although I felt pain, I didn’t feel the same pain she felt, the pain of losing a child. All of these years later, I now know. It’s a pain and dark sadness that I cannot compare to anything else. It’s surreal at times, sickening at others, and sometimes it feels quite neutral, although that neutrality is not apathy, it’s void… it’s just the absence of feeling for a time.
Over the past year I have done my very best to go through the grieving process, mostly because I want to be emotionally available for my other three children. They are in pain too, they are feeling terrible loss. Although for the most part I think I have been able to keep my head above water, a few weeks ago I just couldn’t anymore. Maybe it was the literal darkness of the short days, maybe it was feeling ill (not COVID), maybe it was the first Christmas without Chloe, or maybe (probably) it was all of the above. Whatever it was, I cracked. For the first time in my life (at least that I can remember), I absolutely cracked. I had to just check out of society for a while. All gone, no more. I’m so thankful for my loving fiancée who saw me crack and took care of me. Gently, lovingly, naturally. For the past couple of years, she was raising Chloe as much as I was, trying to help to to feel healthy and normal, spending her own money to do what she could to give Chloe a chance. She was hurting too… and yet. And yet, she saw my mind splinter under the pressure of it all, and she took care of me. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. I do not take her for granted; though most people would say “oh, I would do the same in her situation”, it’s very different to be in the situation, not as a hypothetical but as an actual.
Tomorrow is my 50th birthday. I don’t care. It’s just a day. Somebody asked me if they felt that Chloe’s death overshadowed my birthday. I forgive them for that question, because often people just don’t know what to say. I think the way they phrased it actually was, “do you feel it casts a dark shadow on your birthday?” I feel it casts a dark shadow on my life, and of the lives of those that knew Chloe and loved her. To be clear, not everybody that knew Chloe loved her, for many took advantage of her nature. Those people can rot in hell (although I don’t believe in such a place).
I will never not miss Chloe. She brought me to the brink of my own wrestling match with sanity more than once, and she also showed me love, and love of the creatures and nature around her, more times that I will ever be able to add up. When we would go on family hikes, Chloe and I both had to touch everything… the trees, the rocks, the moss, the dirt the water. We had to feel it, examine the texture, feel the temperature. I know it drove the other kids kind of nuts at times, although I doubt they would remember us doing that. But I remember, and I know that Chloe remember too, even near the end.
I will always miss my sweet girl, my Coco.