When the Love Can’t Justify the Hurt

It was so familiar. The salty darkness, the clenching muscles, the buckling knees and silent gasps. It was grief deja vu, I was reliving a pain I had long ago tucked away. It was coming back to haunt me, this time with a new face–or, faces, rather.

After my dad died, sadness and despair became my new best friends. We went everywhere together, holding hands as I forced myself to laugh at a joke made entirely for my benefit. We collapsed into bed together at the end of the day, wrapping me up in their darkness, their grip tightening with each breath I took. I would never try to fight them off, and when they overcame me, when the tears finally came spilling out after everyone else had gone to bed, only then could I just be. Holding the teddy bear my dad had given me when my parents divorced, my body cradled around the stuffed animal like a cocoon, I was at ease. The day was over, and my best friends were there to lull me into a dreamless sleep.

That was almost eight years ago. Since then, I’ve made new best friends, real, lovely ones who understand that sometimes I just need to be silent. Since then, I’ve gotten one new nephew and one new niece. I’ve found that people can hold more than one title in your life: sister, mother, friend. One of the ways I coped with my father’s death was by getting closer to my sister and her family. She was married, and when our dad died, had one son, my first nephew. This little boy was everything to me. I watched him grow up, learn how to say my name, develop his own personality and sense of humor. I saw him as often as I could, and when my sister had her second son, my love only grew. They were about four years apart, but anyone could see how in love with each other they already were. How in love with them I was.

The most beautiful thing about my sister’s second child, to me, was how much he resembled our father. It was so meaningful, almost as if our dad was trying to tell us he was still there. I wrapped him into my arms every time I saw him, growing closer, loving harder. When I went to college, I made it a point to spend at least a week with my sister and her family during my winter break. Before I went abroad my junior year, I stayed with them, reveling in family and love and warmth. They were my everything. They meant the world to me, and I had started planning my life around them. Looking at jobs and apartments near them, wanting to be as close as possible, as soon as possible.

Even when they made the announcement that they wanted to move to Ireland, I kept the dream of being near them close. I’ll just move to Ireland after I graduate, I told myself. Then, their family grew. My sister and her husband adopted a 7-year-old girl from China. Another beautiful reminder of my father: she was born the day after he died. My heart swelled, and meeting her for the first time felt familiar; it was meant to be.

My relationships with my niece and nephews have always been one of the most important things in the world to me—they’re the most important people in the world to me. We laugh and play and hug and have sleepovers. I’ve invested so much of myself into them, never going longer than a month without seeing them (save for when I spent six months abroad). We would talk on the phone, FaceTime, I would write them letters. They were my loves, my heart.

And now, I don’t know when I’ll see them again. The reality of this had evaded me for months, first by forgetting their move-away date. Then, I remedied the pain by planning a trip to visit them this summer, just a month or so after they’d gone to Ireland. But when my sister told me they wouldn’t be ready for me then, my heart finally shattered. I tried explaining that once I got a job post-grad, I couldn’t just take a week off to go visit her. I wouldn’t have a month off for Christmas like I had in college. I didn’t know when I would be able to go to Ireland after the summer. But she stayed adamant. It would be too “stressful” to have a guest.

Guest. Like I hadn’t changed her children’s diapers. Like I hadn’t poured my heart out to her numerous times. Like she wasn’t one of my best friends. Like we weren’t family. I finally caved to the pain, and it’s been following me ever since. It’ll creep up on me when I least expect it, asking to be friends again.

The grief returns, not because she hurt my feelings or said I would stress her out. The grief returns, because it feels like I’m losing my dad all over again. Like a part of me is disappearing, and I don’t know when I’ll see it again. The tears fall freely, even now, collapsing onto this keyboard without ceremony, invading my life. The hurt closes in on me, and I find myself asking was it worth it?

Was loving so hard worth this pain? I know that they aren’t dying and I’ll see them again, sometime, but the ache feels somehow worse than when my dad died. I know them all, so well. I’d just gotten used to referring to my sister’s husband as simply “my brother,” leaving the “in-law” part off, purposefully, smugly showing off how close we all were. I’d only met my niece a year ago, and yet, we had a connection. And my nephews? Nine years of giggles and baking chocolate chip cookies and “Finding Nemo” and splashes in the bathtub. And now they’re gone.

The strain on my heart says no, it wasn’t worth it. I tell myself that I’ll slowly start to fade in their memory. After all, who remembers the aunt that used to visit once a month? The aunt that they loved as children. This hurt is more than anything I’ve felt before, mainly because of the uncertainty of the situation. I need a plan. I need to know I’m not being abandoned. I need to know when I will see them again.

But I don’t. So, I get back in touch with my former best friends, grief and despair. They hold me at night, tighter this time, until it feels like my tears are drowning me and the throb of my heart is suffocating. I can’t breath, until I can. In heaving sobs, my muscles clenched as I try to force away the physical emptiness that has overcome me. I grieve and I cry and I don’t know when I’ll stop, or if I ever will. My love was too big, and now my hurt is crushing me. For now, the love we shared isn’t worth the grief echoing in my heart.

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