Have you ever lost someone that you cared about, and the grief seemed like it was too much to bear? Could you feel your heart breaking away into a million tiny pieces unsure of how or when it might ever be whole again?
Did you ever sit alone and weep or run out into a field and scream?
Have you ever sat in silence and simply let the feeling of loss take over so that you could finally begin to process every morsel of emotion?
Did you feel numb, or angry, or scared?
Have you wondered how, or if, you will get through it?
Well, that was me six years ago when my mom, who was 82, suddenly passed away on my birthday. I remember feeling numb, shocked, lost, angry, and so full of despair that I cried nearly the entire night. Although my husband did his best to console me that night, and for many nights following her death, a chapter in my life had been permanently altered.
And I wasn’t ready for it. Then again, are you ever prepared for it? It was a moment when I wished I could press control-alt-delete to restart.
When I reflect on what it was like to lose my mom, I sometimes wonder how the hell I made it through. I know we were fortunate to have her in our lives for so long, but selfishly it wasn’t long enough, and even though I knew she was in a better place, it still hurt deeply.
Work was an excellent distraction at first because I threw myself into it even more than usual. And my family and friends did their best to support me and my bouts of emotional turmoil. And I had many of them.
Yet something still felt off. I felt disconnected, aloof at times, and sad.
I remember feeling numb, and with that came an uncertainty – even more so than when my husband had cancer. At least with his disease, we had a direction and a treatment plan. We had science and statistics, and a team of doctors, and we had hope.
But when my mom passed, I felt like the hope that had been my light for so long died along with her.
She was, after all, the umbrella in the rain and the shelter from the storm.
Grief had seized my heart, and as much as I tried to pretend I was okay, the truth is that I wasn’t. I know now that my stubbornness and resilience kept me fueled and perhaps even aided my ability to believe I was okay. It’s amazing what you can bury when you are in denial, and how much of a ripple effect can happen.
I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer, however.
Thanks to a subzero winter night in a small town in New England, a long walk listening to mood-music, and a bright shining star against a clear evening sky, I faced my grief as I stood in front of the village church and listened to Beth Hart sing about learning to live.
I felt my mother’s presence, and I heard her voice whisper to me that it would be okay. It was only by acknowledging and accepting my grief that I was finally able to work through it and begin building new bridges of hope.
It wasn’t easy, and it took time. But in that moment of reconciliation with my feelings, I found a renewed spirit. It is this spirit that enabled me to move past the hurdles, albeit slowly and channel my grief more productively.
My daily workouts became even more critical as I connected the dots on how much it improved my whole being. Suddenly I was more in tune with me, and I began to recognize when I was feeling that angst. Acknowledging it, leaning into it, and using exercise as a medium to help me cope with it provided not only relief, but it also fed my inner yearning to get stronger: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
But something else happened along the way. As I navigated writing this new chapter that didn’t include my mom, somehow, I found my voice. There was still so much inside of me that I was trying to discern and disseminate, and I felt this intense push to share a layer of my story. I had never wanted to peel back a layer as I did during this period. I felt compelled to help someone, anyone who might be going through something similar.
A constant stream of thoughts catapulted by the pain in my heart suddenly escaped from the confines of my mind and through to my fingertips.
Except that one thing stood in my way: I was scared. Who am I kidding? I was petrified. I had talked myself out of writing it at least a hundred times, and my heart would race when I would think about it. But then one day, when I was feeling particularly down, I sat in front of my trusty old laptop, and I began to write. A constant stream of thoughts catapulted by the pain in my heart suddenly escaped from the confines of my mind and through to my fingertips. And as I typed away, I felt some of my pain flee with it. For so long, I had bottled things up and kept them in my safety deposit box that when I finally began to open up, I could feel my heart begin to mend.
I thought that if I kept it all close at hand, I could control the flow. If I stashed it away, I would forget and just move on. I was wrong, however. It only made it more difficult, and I know now how much it weighed me down. It kept me from being my best self until I was finally able to see for myself. I am sure it was at that moment of putting my heart out there when I understood what my mom meant when she used to say to me, ”what are you going to do?”
I’m as sure today with the sun beating down and warming my skin as I was that cold winter’s night when I made peace with myself that writing repaired my heart and is my forever pathway to healing and helping. I had found a catharsis to help me extract what I had stashed inside. And while my writing continues to evolve, it never fails to harken to that place deep within my heart that knows that words can heal.
My path wasn’t easily identifiable, and it still eludes me from time to time. But I know that despite everything, I am stronger for having traveled it, and I am grateful for those who have been by my side through each step.
This journey continues to teach me that we all have moments in our lives that will test us. Grief was one of mine. I almost failed miserably, but thankfully, from the most painful depths, I was able to create a space to heal – a space where I heard my mother’s whisper and creativity was born.