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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

Don't put the pity in serendipity (a grief no-no)

When you’ve lost a loved one, certain dates are etched in your mind. The big milestones are impossible to forget, but other, less monumental dates stick out, too. People share these “anniversaries” for a number of reasons — to reminisce, to document a memory, to relate to other grievers. And, yes, sometimes it’s for attention, sympathy, and the like. That’s not my modus operandi. I seek no ”I’m sorrys” when I post about Ramón. So, here I go.

I realize we’re approaching Presidents Day weekend. When I made this connection, I observed a slight change in my body. It wasn’t drastic or concerning, but rather it was like my entire body sighed.

Most people I talk to remember the last moments of normalcy before COVID-19 changed our lives. They remember the last day in the office, the last social outing, or the last trip out of town. I personally never experienced a pre-COVID-19 moment because of the bigger instance that happened just before.

Court was closed on Presidents Day, so Your Honor Ramón and I trekked to the North Georgia mountains for the long weekend. It was February 2020. On Monday of that week, Ramón had gotten a follow-up bone marrow biopsy to check his status three months after finishing chemotherapy. The day before the biopsy, he completed a half-marathon. He’d done quite well in the race, so I deemed it the test before the test — the pre-biopsy evaluation that told us the biopsy would come back without any signs of cancer. Seemed like sound logic to me.

Ramón on Sunday, Monday, and our mountain getaway

When we returned home after our relaxing weekend getaway, we learned Ramón’s leukemia was back. It was Presidents Day. It’s not like we were in the bed of a pick-up truck decked out in red, white, and blue, stuffing our faces with hot dogs and apple pie. I mostly remember it was Presidents Day because the next day I announced the news in a blog post titled Putting the dent in Presidents Day.

We were in the hospital as the world began shutting down due to COVID-19. But, at the time, that wasn’t very high on our personal radar. Ramón was miserable from chemo, and I was busy reading books in preparation for his bone-marrow/stem-cell transplant.

Within two months of Presidents Day, things seemed to be looking up. Ramón’s cancer was back in remission, and he’d successfully received his transplant. Then, his immunosuppression led to an infection, which ultimately resulted in his cardiac arrest. He remained minimally responsive until his death three months later.

So, for me, Presidents Day doesn’t go unnoticed.

Here’s the thing, though — and this is important for people to know. When I write about memories like these, it doesn’t come from a place of sadness. My goal is not for you to feel sorry for me. In fact, that’s my least favorite feeling. In this specific case, I’m sharing because it’s surreal to think about how much has happened in the last three years. I’m putting these thoughts to screen because I know others can relate to the oddness that surfaces on a memorable date. My words might make others feel less alone.

When I write about Ramón, it’s not because I’m sad — unless that’s what I articulate. I do it because it matters to me. And I know other grievers can empathize with this conundrum. A well-intentioned post can lead to a barrage of pity, which is often the antithesis of what the writer is going for. If someone expresses their sadness, comfort them however you see fit. Otherwise, just let it be — acknowledge the memory, share your own experience, or even just react with a click.

Sometimes it’s merely rooted in serendipity — minus the pity.

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