On August 22nd at 2:00am I tucked three of my four youngest children in bed, watched my teenagers close their bedroom doors, and walked into an empty bedroom where a little boy should have been sound asleep, but his body was in a hospital morgue.
I walked to my room where my husband and I lay in shock and pain until at some point the anesthesia of grief caused us to fall asleep. And the next morning, somehow I stood up. Somehow I rose and carried my beaten and bruised body to a green chair in the living room. In the days to come, I would rise again and again- to hold crying children, to buy funeral clothes, to greet friends, to stand at a coffin and honor a boy who changed my life.
In the year that followed, I would walk around in a blue haze of grief, I would fall and I would rise, and I would fall again. I would grasp the edge of life and hold on tight, pulling myself upright over and over again. I would struggle to manage my business and even to do simple things like go to the store or read a book. I would forget simple things, like a dear friends name. My body would betray me. I would survive, and even begin to heal. I would go to counseling and make hard choices about learning to breathe again. I would look at the seemingly insurmountable mountain of grief and wonder if it would ever feel better. Unsure if “better” was even possible or if I even wanted to know what “better” might look like.
At a very distinct moment near the one year mark, I made a choice.
I chose to do the work.
The hardest work I have ever done.
The work of healing.
Somehow the clock kept spinning and the pages of the calendar kept turning, and now it has been two years. Two years of mourning. Two years of conscious healing. Two years of living and breathing even when everything in me wanted to dig my own grave. Two years of not quitting on life. Two years of helping my children heal. Two years of guarding our marriage as we heal together and as individuals. Two years of getting to know myself all over again. Two years of waking up and choosing to keep doing the work.
I’ve learned a few things along the way-
Grief is Lonely
No one can grieve for you and very few people are able to truly grieve beside you. At some point you have to lay down your expectations and just do the work of healing alone. Accept what can be given by others as a true gift, but don’t expect it to be what it cannot be. Don’t get stuck in begrudging what you think you “need” from others. That grudge can become a huge set of blinders that will prevent you from doing what you really need- the hard work of feeling fully, mourning deeply and healing.
Grief Must Be Felt Fully
Giving yourself permission to truly mourn is the first step to healing. Grief cannot be stuffed. Stuffing will only create a pressure cooker of feelings that will one day explode and make a big fat mess. Feel all the feelings. Take as long as you need but you really truly feel them. Bringing a trained grief counselor into the mix can be a huge help in learning how to feel and really mourn. There is no short cut around it. There is only a huge path that you get to create, right through it with twists and turns, bumps and boulders, but it’s yours and yours alone.
Healing is Intentional
You don’t get over grief one day. You don’t get to the other side where it suddenly feels better. As much as I wanted it to be, the one year mark was not a magic moment where it all shifted into a deep sigh of “all better”. You have to wake up and choose every day to do the work. It’s not fair, I know. It should not be hard on top of hard. But it is. Get counseling, take yoga, try on meditation, write in a journal, start eating healthy and taking care of your body mind and spirit. Reach out to those who are two steps ahead on the path, we are here to help. There are way-showers out there- grief pioneers- find them and listen.
As my dear friend Tom Zuba states in his book “Permission to Mourn- A New Way to Do Grief”:
In order to heal
You must mourn
You must push grief
Up and out.
Contrary to the old way of doing grief
And stuffing your feelings and emotions down
You must find ways to feel
All of the feelings and emotions that are bubbling up inside of you
You must give yourself permission to mourn
You must actively pursue your own healing.
(ps. buy this book NOW)
I wish I could say I was writing this while feeling whole and empowered, like a cheerleader at a pep rally; but to be honest I’m writing this after days of being in a bit under the waves. I feel a little more like a sailor who is giving the crew an encouraging word while rough waves are still tossing about and spraying salt water on her face.
I wrote about grief and the ocean earlier this year:
Grief doesn’t end, any more than love could ever end. It simply changes.
Just like the ocean’s tides, the tides of grief change. They change in part because of the deep need within the human spirit to live and breathe. There is a cry within a grieving soul, that whispers, “Please, please don’t let me drown.”
There was a moment, one very sure moment, when I realized, “I cannot possible be this sad the rest of my life. I must choose to live. I must choose to breathe.”
And when I made that choice, the deep work of finding happiness began. My eyes began to look above the waves to the deep blue of the sky, gazing far out to the horizon’s steady line. My face gently raised, aware now of the ocean breeze. My legs were suddenly stronger because they had walked through wave after wave and had held fast against the current.
From Changing Tides
And I guess two year later what I’ve found is that the waves still come, but they always settle. Though sometimes I can now predict them or prepare for their arrival, at times they still crash in unaware. But I am a wiser sailor. I know this sea of grief. I know how to turn my face to the wind and allow it to strengthen me. I know how to embrace the waves and ride just above them. I know that if I sink for a moment, I will surely rise again. Most of all, I’ve learned to stand at the bow of this ship called “Healing” that I built for myself at sea. I’ve learned to steady my soul, adjust the sails, and journey on.
As sure as I stood on these two feet the day my son died, I am still standing today two years later.
I’m standing on feet that have learned to walk with compassion.
I’m standing on legs that are girded with courage.
I’m standing in a body that has chosen to heal and be a healer.
I’m standing on ground that is sacred.
Walking a journey that is holy.
I am still standing.