In my 40 young years I have loved often and without hesitation. Sadly, I have also lost parts of my inner tribe. You know the people who collectively form your world? There are usually only a few. I have been blessed with 7. My parents, my brother, my Abby, my husband, and my two sons. So 8 souls have come together in my life and together they are my world, my purpose, my everything. Two of those souls are gone. Taken before their time. 1/4 of my world, gone. My father passed away very suddenly at the ripe age of 57. My Soul Sister Abby passed away at the devastating age of 37. Each loss took the life out of me. My soul came apart and needed to reconfigure in each of their absences.
I have learned much in the aftermath of each loss. The most important thing I have learned is the importance of kindness. We must be kind and gentle with ourselves in the wake of loss. There is no way to predict how one will react, no formula to follow to get back to a version of normal. There is a period of time where we are simply lost in confusion, fear, anger, denial, all of it. For some of us that happens right away. Others process the loss much later on. I can tell you a little bit about how I reacted.
I. CAME. APART. IN. A. THOUSAND. PIECES.
For two years after my father’s death I wandered aimlessly through life. There are huge chunks of time of which I have no recollection whatsoever. I could see the concern in the eyes of my loved ones when we spoke and I had no memory of times we had shared together. A lot happened during those two years. I gave birth to my second son. I moved with my family from my adult home in NY to my childhood home in MA. I left my career as an assistant principal and stayed home with my children. As I was experiencing many of life’s milestones I was lost in a haze of bewildered rage. Consumed by anger, paralyzed by fear, I spent my days watching too much tv and reading too much facebook. My nights, they were spent drinking too much wine and either crying or fighting with anyone who was in front of me.
This may sound familiar to some of you. Others probably struggle to relate at all. Each of our world’s are comprised of their own unique tribe. That tribe unites and helps to form who we are. How we process loss depends on who we have lost, who we have, and what experiences we have already encountered throughout our life. That is why the best advice I can give is to be kind to yourself. Do not hold yourself to some standard of how you are supposed to react or behave. Do not put time limits on your grief. Accept kindness every chance you get.
I pulled myself off of the cliff of a complete breakdown by committing to three things. I committed to going to weekly therapy. I hated it! I would get anxiety the night before and all day until I got there. I knew I would spend an hour crying and digging into the pain. It was excruciating. I made myself go NO MATTER WHAT. It wasn’t too long before I was going twice a week. $160 a month luxury I had no way to pay. Remember, I had just left my career and our family was now surviving on one salary. I did it anyway. I sold my clothes, my fancy pocketbooks and designer jewelry when necessary but I went to therapy.
Although I hated and dreaded it most of the time, I was lucky enough to know that it was helping.
The second thing I committed to was reading. unfortunately the grief ignited every underlying intellectual, emotional, and mental illness I have. With my ADD in full gear I would read 4 to 5 books at a once, a few pages at a time. I never remembered anything I read. Thankfully I began implementing a reading skill I had always taught my students. Active reading, underlining and highlighting while reading, and even writing on post-its or in the margins became my at home therapy. It also gave birth to my third commitment, writing. I wrote everything I felt. I didn’t worry about spelling or grammar or even audience. I just wrote what came to mind while I read. I connected dots and processed feelings without even knowing it. It seemed as though I did all of this during those first two years without much progress toward stability at all. I felt almost just as lost on 2/2/12 as I was the day my father died. I was wrong. Strength and resilience had quietly been building from within.
That spring I learned that my closest friend, really a sister to me, was sick with breast cancer. This young vibrant, healthy woman, this mother of two young children, was really really sick. Stage 4 breast cancer, metastasized…..
And just like that-The fog lifted.
I still miss my father. Everyday I think about him and what things would be like if he were still here. It is different now though. Witnessing the struggle and fight of my fierce friend changed me in ways I could never put into words. Life is unpredictable like that. In the midst of mourning one part of my soul another was preparing to leave. Losing Abby brought compassion and empathy back into my life. I was, and still am, devastated over her passing. My grieving process has been so very different than before. When I cry over Abby it is almost always for her children, her husband, her parents, and her siblings. Losing her woke me up. It was as if she slapped me right across the face willing me to wake up and live.
We will all encounter death and loss. It is inevitable. There is no way to know how you will handle each loss, you can’t know how long you will struggle. But one day, for whatever reason it is, you will be ok again. In the meantime, just be patient and kind to yourself.