"It's important to tell the people you love how much you love them while they can hear you." Meredith Grey
Karen died. She's gone from my life forever. Those two simple sentences shock me, mock me. They make me cry. The pain is still so sharp it takes my breath away. For a while it took my daily life away.
We were so close, grew even closer when she got cancer. I became a different kind of Caregiver, Captain of Team Karen, the Little Engine That Could. After she died, to my amazement, my world totally derailed.
Unlike Catherine Zeta-Jones after the ordeal of seeing her husband through cancer (and live!), I don't have the means to check into a posh "mental facility." So I checked into my own bed. For two solid months I huddled under the covers all day, every day. Watching reruns of Grey's Anatomy.
There are many, many days I still do.
Meredith, Cristina, George, Izzie and the rest of the Seattle Grace populace saved me. They gave me a reprieve from my grief, offered a safe haven from the real world, problems to solve, interesting issues and relationships to ponder.
In my case, most important, Grey's Anatomy gave me a reason to wake up, if only to follow the intricate threads of their stories.
"Cristina ... what are we looking at?
Izzie... Meredith put her Mom in a baggie and brought her to work
Alex ... and now she is haunting us all ..."
Everyone has a story. We had ours. Karen will be with me forever, but she won't haunt me. Think Meredith and Cristina. We loved each other the same way, without being "mushy," gave tough love too, faced the world together, celebrated and whined about life to each other.
"Your problem is Estrogen." Cristina
"No, my problem is Tequila." Meredith
Her mother Judy and I, as sisters, have been thisclose for most of our adult lives. When Judy's husband was killed in a plane crash, we declared ourselves each other's Person, just like Meredith and Cristina.
"She's my person. If I murdered someone, she's the person I'd call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She's my person." Cristina
It's not such a stretch that I'd have the same sort of relationship with her daughter. Separate but equal. Similar yet different. Judy and I have faced more illness, trials, tribulations and loss together. Including now. Especially now.
But she's in her world and I'm in mine. You'll see. That's life. It's not my place to speak about her grief. Her greatest challenge now is being there for Karen's children, as Karen had asked.
Grey's Anatomy portrays a wide variety of life's challenges, decisions and reactions to disease and death. It provides perspective on the many ways doctors, families and friends cope with life and love and loss.
Yes it's a TV soap opera/drama, but it speaks to us on many levels about the human condition. We all react differently to our families, our childhoods, our own traumas and dramas.
And, as in the show, lots of us develop very real, intimate relationships not always defined by positions on a family tree.
"At some point, you have to make a decision. Boundaries don't keep other people out. They fence you in. Life is messy. That's how we're made. So, you can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them." Meredith
Yes, Karen was my niece, the daughter of my older sister. But only fifteen years younger, our relationship was unique; she was much more than my niece ... simultaneously my daughter, my sister, my cherished friend.
We laughed and cried together, fought and forgave, shared secrets, confidences and advice, connected in a special bond that death cannot sever. It remains unbroken, deep in my broken heart.
I shouldn't have been surprised Karen's death would be a major blow. I can be the Mommy, the Organizer, the life of the party, but I'm "dark and twisty" inside too. I knew I would grieve. I just didn't realize how much.
"I can't be in there. And if I can't be in there, I don't know where I'm supposed to be." Cristina Yang
Picture Cristina after a maniac's shooting spree. "The strong one," she was so traumatized she couldn't practice medicine, enter her precious OR, participate in surgery. Her life's blood, so to speak, was frozen. That so resonated with me.
Miranda Bailey's fear when her son was so close to dying ... every parent can relate. When George's father died, when Denny died, George and Izzie's grief was painfully legitimate.
"An hour ago he was proposing. And now... and now he's going to the morgue. Isn't that ridiculous? Isn't it the most ridiculous piece of crap you've ever..." Izzie
When someone loses a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, it's tragic, everyone understands. Lose a 'niece' ... well, sure, it's sad, but get over it, get on with it, what's the big deal.
Not. So. Fast. If the relationship was close and strong, it can be a very big deal. It's not about labels, it's about people. People who feel real pain.
"Pain, you just have to ride it out, hope it goes away on its own, hope the wound that caused it heals. There are no solutions, no easy answers, you just breath deep and wait for it to subside. ... Pain, you just have to fight through, because the truth is you can't outrun it and life always makes more." Meredith
And here's the thing about my pain. I couldn't, can't share it or ask for help. Karen left behind a grieving husband, two devastated young children, a mother, a father, a brother. All numb. Dumbfounded. Gut-punched.
All can lay claim to a far greater loss than mine. Their grief, in whatever form, is their own. They share support in the varying ways they are dealing with her death.
Most of her life, and certainly during her cancer battle I was a major part of that nuclear family. Because Karen always turned to me, counted on me, trusted me. Until Karen died. Now she's gone, and I am alone in my despair.
Less so when I'm with Meredith, Cristina, Callie, Miranda and the rest of my Grey's Anatomy family of friends. They help me feel less alone. The help me feel less, period.
"Intimacy is a four syllable word for "here are my heart and soul, please grind them into hamburger, and enjoy." It's both desired, and feared, difficult to live with, and impossible to live without." Meredith
Long before her illness, whenever Karen needed me, I was there. Karen asked for and got my time, my attention, my love and comfort and counsel and support.
When Karen first got cancer, my role stayed the same, I gave moral support, did research, took notes at doctor visits, made lists of questions, and of the answers. I offered suggestions, some accepted, some rejected.
I was sometimes in the way but I helped much more than I hurt, I listened and soothed and cheered each small victory. I was so often the source for what meds to take and when and how much. It's a small comfort, but I literally helped ease her pain.
"Maybe we like the pain. Maybe we're wired that way. Because without it, I don't know, maybe we just wouldn't feel real." Meredith ("When you're dying, maybe that's true." Me)
We developed a routine. She'd call me every night around 7 PM for "whining hour." She was trying hard not to complain around her husband and children. I was her outlet, her sounding board, her wailing wall.
I was the rock, the go-to person, the "vault" for all the worst information. I focused so much time and energy on that role for so long, I am lost without it. I am lost without Karen even more.
Picture Christina jumping into Meredith's bed or Meredith calling her into it when either needed comfort and support. A lot. Even married to Derek and Owen, they could still totally count on each other.
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Meredith
As she got sicker, Karen knew she could call or text me any hour, day or night. We weren't together all the time but we were connected. She tried to live her life as normally as possible. So did I.
Then one day normal hit the last wall. A routine blood test turned into This Is It. And I rushed to her side.
When I entered her hospice room, she reached out her painfully thin arms to me, "Will you stay with me to the bitter end?" I wrapped my strong arms around her and fought not to weep.
"I thought I could be the same person I was when I woke up this morning. Now I'm just another patient in a cancer ridden body." Izzie
Respecting Karen's husband's wishes, I was there almost to the bitter end. I will never forgive myself for not staying one more day to fully honor my promise, even though she was deep inside herself then, preparing.
The things we focus on in grief. It doesn't matter now. But it's one of the feelings that plunged me into my bed and made me grab onto the life preserver of Grey's Anatomy.
Looking back, you'd think I'd be creeped out when Izzie got the very same disease, Stage IV Melanoma metastasized to liver, brain, other organs. I actually felt comforted to see Karen's valiant struggle validated by the portrayal of similar treatments, fears, struggles and strength.
But then. Fury. Frustration. Izzie was cured! Seriously???
They do take some medical liberties on the show for "dramatic license" but this was so stupid, and wrong! Nobody survives Stage IV Melanoma metastasized throughout the body.
Not Izzie. Not Karen. Nobody.
The show could have made a major contribution to public understanding of melanoma's deadly outcome and the necessity for prevention and early treatment.
I almost abandoned Grey's Anatomy. And I would have drowned.
But Izzie left and I calmed down. It's just a TV show. About friends and lovers and medicine and trauma and drama. About life. Some people suffer and die, others survive and thrive. There's joy and laughter and even when there's pain, somebody who cares is there to help.
In reality, Grey's Anatomy is more than a TV show to me. It saved my sanity ... possibly my life. It gave me other people's lives to live when I couldn't bear to inhabit my own.
Even now, more than seven months later, my grief is still intense. When I'm called upon, I rise to every occasion. But my world isn't back to normal yet. I don't know when, or if, it ever will be.
I'm so glad Grey's Anatomy is there to help me continue to heal.
"The brain is the human body's most mysterious organ. It learns. It changes. It adapts. It tells us what we see, what we hear. It lets us feel love. I think it holds our soul. " Callie Torres