Being Dana — Good Grief

“Good Grief!” for many who are old enough this statement brings to mind the Peanuts character Charlie Brown. It was used mostly as his catch phrase to show disdain with a situation he was in. Sometimes it this was due to something minor that happened or to something someone said. This article is not about this kind of grief. This article is about the differences in how I experienced loss and grief before and after beginning my gender transition.

Woman in black mourning dress, head bowed into folded arms, grieving.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Content Warning:

This article details loss and grief regarding the deaths of my parents, and my brother(two of which are covid-19 related). I do mention portions of how my family accepts me as the transgender woman I am. It is a bit long but it is what I need to say.

Mother:

During the winter of 2014/15, I was still attempting to show the world the gender I was assigned at birth. I don’t remember if I had my biker’s goatee and moustache or not. I would go through phases of being so irritated with facial hair and how I looked that would grow it out and shave it off frequently. I would also wear my feminine clothes in private to help put my mind at ease when stress situations were high.

My mother was hospitalized and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It was not know at the time how long she was expected to survive. I traveled with my wife from Denver to Ogden UT expecting to say a final goodbye. I remember being emotional and crying quite a bit, but I refused to cry in a public settings. I felt an immense pressure to “be the man”, and to “be strong”. I wanted to weep and grieve for a mother not yet lost. I could only do this when alone or with close family members.

A surgery was suggested with a high possibility that she would not survive. A decision was made for her to be released and enter home hospice care. As her body began to fail I still refused to show emotions publicly. Instead I hid behind a smart alec’s wit and humour. I hid behind the comfort of knowing she had lived a full life and we were nearing her time. I visited a few times, and called some.

Mom would survive until April 21, 2017. On the flight to see her the night she passed I cried, publicly. I remember being both embarrassed & relieved that I shed tears for her. I arrived at her bedside near eleven pm. I was the last of her eight children to say goodbye. Again, I would force myself not to cry, even as I held her hand, told her I had made it, and that it was ok for her to go. She left this world with her hand in mine. Still I dared not cry. I had to be strong. Later that night, when I was alone in my brother’s camp trailer, I cried. I sobbed. I sought refuge by wearing the few articles of feminine clothing I had brought with me.

I continued to show my strong male persona as much as I could through the coming days and her service. Each time I slipped, I felt a false sense of embarrassment at showing my love for her. I refused to show my true emotions. I was completely shattered at the loss of my mother, but I couldn’t show it. I withheld because of incorrect social norms. Strong men do not show emotions. Emotions are weaknesses.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    No.

I visited my mother’s grave on August 31st of 2019. I spent about an hour there. I came out as a transgender woman to her. I expressed my deep love for her. I apologized for not letting her know earlier that she actually had three daughters. This began a long period of me grieving her loss again. This time as her daughter. I cried off and on the entire length of my journey home. I was approached a couple times by other women while I waited on my flight. As I explained that I just came out as trans to my mother’s grave, they shared in my grief. One went so far as to tell me I was a good daughter.

I recently recounted my experience along with memories of mom to a good friend. During the discussions I noticed a whole new flood of emotions that were now available to me as a woman to experience. We discussed the care mom took in teaching me how to cook. Specific foods I remember helping prepare suddenly took on a whole new dimension of flavor. I even reached out to my sister’s and others for recipes which have been in the family for generations.

I prepared some of these foods and each step of the way I also remembered mom. I was finally experiencing good grief. I now understood that embracing my loss and the many emotions that came with it was a health thing to do.

Father:

I came out as a transgender woman to my father on July 31st of 2019. I don’t think he really understood even though I spent a day explaining to him. I expected this. He was after all in his eighties. I had been seen as his son for 52 years.

I began calling him weekly. Partly because his health was declining, and partly because I finally felt like I could have an emotional and satisfying relationship with my father. We mostly spoke of common things. Every now & then he would surprise me with a question about how my transition was going. I was so eager to tell him everything, but I limited my answers so he wouldn’t get overloaded with information.

Covid-19 came into our lives in early 2020. The conversations I had with my dad took a more inquisitive turn. Many times he was unsure of how the virus could affect such a large number of people. I would search out answers to his virus related questions during the week and discuss them at the beginning of our calls. I felt a strong urge to ensure his spirits were lifted by our calls. I feel this was one of my more feminine desires of wanting to be a caretaker being realized.

I asked him frequently to recount stories from my youth. As he relayed certain stories, I explained to him what I was feeling during those times. Many instances came to my mind where I felt distinctly female, but never had the words or ability to express what I felt or who I was safely. We shared many emotional times on the calls. I felt the comfort I imagine a father would give to his daughter.

Dad’s health began to fade. He began to use feminine pronouns to refer to me while on our calls. I still longed for him to call me Dana or his daughter. My brother, who lived with and cared for dad, told me that around the house he did use my name. At least one time he even corrected someone, telling them I was Dana now. My heart rejoiced, but also sank. The longing to hear him say my name turned to a craving.

Dad passed away due to old age November 1, 2020. We found out he was covid-19 positive the day he passed away. This was at the height of travel restrictions due to covid-19. This meant I could not travel and grieve his loss with the rest of my family. I was so struck with grief that I did not really leave my bed for a few days. In that time I cried my way through at least two full boxes of tissues. I had the local support of only my wife.

The day of the funeral, I did my hair and put on a black dress, then watched a poorly executed internet live stream of his services. I co-ordinated & recorded a Zoom video call of the shorter graveside service. I noticed that I was feeling many different emotions and feelings all at once. I had rage, love, longing, loneliness, grief, and happiness. I felt I was finally “allowed” to feel. My dad’s loss was the first I experienced as a woman undergoing transition. The range of emotions I had was new to me. They were overwhelming.

I slipped into a depression. I have know depression most of my life, but this was different. I had grief. I had memories of a rekindled deeply emotional relationship between father and daughter.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    Yes, I believe it was.

Brother:

This section is about my parent’s the fourth child, my brother. I have five brothers and two sisters the order of the family runs:
Brother
Sister
Brother
Brother
Brother
Sister
Me (Dana — Sister — YAY!)
Brother

Shortly after our father’s death and funeral, our oldest brother began his duties as executor of dad’s estate. Emails and text messages were exchanged. A Zoom video call was scheduled to go over estate business. Once the details were discussed, I asked if we could spend time listening to how we each were processing dad’s passing and how life was hopefully getting back into a routine.

My 4th brother discussed his liver health. He had been battling a condition which he didn’t discuss much with other family members. My 6th sibling, sister, is a nurse. The two had obviously had more conversations regarding his health. soon the rest of the family was up to speed. My brother was in dire need of a liver transplant. Preferably from a living donor from the immediate family.

I immediately began wondering if my health was sufficient that I could be his donor. I already knew we had the same blood type. The next business day I reached out to my doctor, who had no concerns with my being a donor. The following day I began the selection & testing process. I scheduled a couple calls with my brother to discuss the situation. I was fully prepared to give my brother part of myself so he could have years added to his life. The only question I had in the decision was if I was healthy enough to help.

A couple weeks went by. The transplant center stated my brother was no longer on the live donor recipient list. I called my brother to find out the details. The doctors had said they needed additional testing before allowing him to be active on the recipient list. Before the final test could be performed covid-19 entered our family’s lives again. Our brother’s family of five had been exposed and all but one had tested positive.

Our brother was soon admitted to the hospital, intubated, and passed on December 17th 2020 taken by a combination of his liver condition and covid-19.

While still in the midst of the deep depression following dad’s death, I had to again face the same feelings. This time I added to my list regret. I wish so much that I could have also rekindled an emotional relationship with my brother. Perhaps if that had happened he could have had part of my liver sooner. Perhaps then he could have had at least a fighting chance against covid-19.

I allowed myself again to feel all the emotions and feelings. Grief settled in to it’s still warm seat quickly. I mentioned regret joined this time. Hatred also followed. I absolutely had no room in my mind or heart for those who tried to minimize the virus or it’s impacts. It had taken two of my family. It has kept me from completing the mourning of my father. It was now preventing me from mourning my dear brother.

He was always the quiet but supportive one. He offered me counsel many times in my life. His example of serving others because it is the right thing to do is one of the most admirable traits I hope to someday have a portion. These are only some of the things said of him in the internet live stream funeral.

  • Did I experience grief?
    Yes.
  • Was it healthy or good?
    Yes, I believe it was even with the addition of regret and hatred.

Summary:

I am so grateful that I am now able to feel emotions. Previous to beginning my transition, I would have not felt much. Yes, I knew some grief but the range of emotions that are available to me to fully express and experience have made living my life so much more worthwhile. I would have never allowed myself to even know what these feelings were let alone even embrace them. I now know what it means to have good grief.

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