Peace vs Turbulence

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” – Frederick Buechner

 

The lack of finality in what I assumed would be a life with my daughter, has left me feeling a little sad these days. As graduations are celebrated this time of  year, I am quickly taken back to a time when I envisioned my Brittany walking up to get her diploma. Yet what happened in reality is that myself along with her father walked up to receive an “honorary” diploma because Brittany died before her graduation. It is not suppose to be that way.

I also envisioned Brittany living out a life that may not have been what most parents hope for. Her disability would have had an impact on her life; however I also know she wouldn’t have let that stop her from accomplishing anything she wanted to do. Despite multiple setbacks and roadblocks Brittany lived a life that no one could deny wasn’t filled with joy and happiness. She took full advantage of the life given to her not knowing her days would be very short.

I have learned a great deal from how Brittany lived her life. I think it some ways she made peace with her illness. I know she would question why God chose her to let her have epilepsy and crohn’s disease, however those moments of feeling sorry for herself were short-lived. She made peace with what had been given her despite the many periods of her life that were turbulent. Even in her last remaining months one would have not known she was getting progressively worse. She refused to let it get her down.

So when I look at how her death and the absence of her in my life, I have to look at how she managed her day-to-day life and understand that by making peace with what happened I have an opportunity to make something good out of it. To pursue a life with peace that can lead to happiness. As I sit here writing this, I still find that to be a concept hard to visualize. Happiness after such devastating loss. Multiple losses each individually impacting my life differently. It will always be a work in progress for me. A couple of steps forward a one back. That is how grief works.

I want to walk out of my door each and every day with a smile on my face and to experience life full out just like Brittany did. I talk to her a lot about that. I pray often that she helps to guide me there. To this place of peace, even in the midst of turbulence, to find a place each day when I can look back at my day and know I took every opportunity to experience life fully. That is one of the many ways I can honor her life. She did it so well.

Loss can be transformative. It can be life giving. It can help us move forward. That transformation begins with acceptance and ends with peace. A journey that will likely take the majority of my life but I am determined to find a way there.  The path to peace should be our desire for it will allow us to grow into our new destiny for the journey that lies ahead.

Until next time,

m

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Surviving Loss

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Over the past four years since my daughter’s death, I have found that healing comes when I have moved with it, leaned into it and accepted it. I know this because when I have chosen at times to fight it, to avoid it or be angry about it, my healing became stagnant as if I’d taken the wrong turn. – from my blog in 2010

 

The past few months I have spent a considerable amount of time avoiding this blog. While I admit I’ve been distracted, I have been fully aware that I was avoiding writing. Why? I’m not exactly sure – but I believe it had something to do with feeling stuck.

Getting stuck is normal when on this journey, and what I find most interesting those periods where I am I stuck in my grief is when something profound is about to happen. I posted the quote above as a reminder to myself and any of you who find yourselves stuck on your journey.

I found thoughts running through my mind that my writing no longer came easily as it did in the early years since Brittany’s passing. Now it is more thoughtful, I have to concentrate on staying on topic. I even struggle to find a topic I can write about. But that is not what this about. This blog has never been about finding a topic to write about – it’s always been about writing my deepest thoughts about loss. Finding a creative outlet for the pain that gripped my heart – an outlet that would not only help me, but help others along the way.

I have been praying for a while now that I would find the courage to write again. I wanted to know if my writing was helping others. Today I read a post from a follower and it solidified for me that indeed my journey, my pain, my sorrow sketched out before you in this blog, dripping with tears of grief, is helping someone. That snapped in me to understand that my journey is evolving. It’s no longer just about me.

Those of you who take the time to read my blog – I am honored. For those of you who take the time to comment and share your stories with me – I am privileged. Thank you for your support and your time – it is so very valuable to me as a writer and as a mother who struggles daily with the loss of her only child.

Until next time,

M

To Live and Mourn Simultaneously

“To Live and Mourn Simultaneously” for the title of this post because I truly believe it adequately describes how life goes on after a loss.

“Sudden and tragic loss leads to terrible darkness. It is an inescapable as nightmares during a high fever. The darkness comes, no matter how hard we try to hold it off. However threatening, we must face it, and we must face it alone.” – Jerry Sitser

The darkness is a topic I’ve written about before and it’s primarily because it’s a place I resided for a long time after Brittany’s death. In fact, it’s a place I’ve resided for a very long time. Throughout my life of what I’ve coined as “unfortunate events” I have found myself to become a familiar resident in the darkness.

When I say darkness, I don’t mean black, I mean like murky water – sometimes unable to see my way through to the light. To find any good in what has happened to me. However, darkness is unavoidable and it is  necessary to face one’s grief. There is no avoiding it – you really have to face it. You cannot put it off nor can you dismiss it away to face another day – it will haunt you and it will keep haunting you until you face it squarely and walk through it. This is what I know to be true.

My walk through the darkness has had some good days and some not so good days. In the early weeks and months after my daughter’s death darkness was a scary place. I wanted to run away from it. I wanted it to go away because I didn’t like what I saw or couldn’t see but only felt. The pain was so gut-wrenching that I felt I couldn’t bear it another moment more. But I did. And I still do today. It’s just different.

When it comes to making a choice on how we grieve, and we do have a choice, we have to look at the big picture. How we look at our journey and how we can exist in the darkness and still see the light. The power remains within us to take the walk in the right direction. To face the pain and the sorrow right where you are in that moment can bring you to a place where light begins to crack through and the life you see before you can and will be joyful. Just different.

I have to say that facing grief in the darkness can be exhausting. I continue to fight this exhaustion to this very day. Why? Because the battle isn’t over. My struggle, anyone’s struggle with loss lasts a lifetime. It’s not over in a year, a couple of years or a decade – it’s never over. The loss changes you. It re-molds who you are right down to your very core. Life looks different, it feels different and some days it just doesn’t feel right. But you keep moving forward because it’s the only way to let the light shine through.

While loss doesn’t define who you are it is your response to it that defines who you will  become. I have written about this numerous times and I stand by it – we have a choice. The choice we make during these moments in life, whether it is personal tragedy or horrific loss – will define our future. It will mold you into who you are to become. Because, as I’ve said before, you are never the same after a loss. No matter how hard your friends and family wish that you are that same person, you are not. You can not.

“I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” – Jerry Sitser

That quote from Sitter really spoke to me as I have lived that and breathed that for the past few years since my daughter’s death. As I sit here today remembering my mom, whom I miss dearly. She has been gone so long now (September 16, 1988), the memories are so old and few, but I cherish them more. My grandmother died 5 years later and then I became bitter because the two great women in my life who had the most influence on the woman I had become were gone. Gone during a time in my life of great change, becoming a mother and career changes. Those losses took the wind out of me for a while. I felt deflated. I felt like so much had been taken from me and I couldn’t understand why. It was hard to watch my friends go through their lives – births of children, etc. and have their moms at their sides. Yes I was so bitter.

But yes, I have grown from my loss(s). I have grown into this new person, one that sees life from a different perspective. While I won’t deny that I have moments of anger about my losses, times when I want to chuck something across the room when I see a scene on TV about a  mom and daughter; overall I have accepted these losses, but not without a price. I live everyday with a sense of loss that no one else will ever understand. So I fill my days finding purpose in what I do. It helps to fill the void.

Of late I have found that I have been distracted from my journey – result has been that I have lost my step. I liken it to walking down a path and falling off the curb. What do you do? You get up, dust yourself off and keep moving. Get back on track. That is what I have to do now. Writing is one of those things. Mentoring other grieving parents. Speaking out about grief and the journey. Being a great nurse. Providing the best care I can in the role I am in now. That is my purpose. And I will fulfill it with every fiber of my being. But there is a price.

In 2006, the worst loss of all happened, but the world didn’t stop revolving when I lost Brittany, although many times I have wanted it to. Life kept moving on and I had to move with it or remain stuck in it. It was a choice I made then and I continue to make now. To live and to mourn simultaneously.

until next time,

m

Moving On is Hard

In the days before my daughter passed away I enjoyed exercise and felt I was in the best shape I’d been in my entire life. I found running to be very cathartic and it helped me de-stress. I was proud of the way I looked considering I was in my 40’s and frequently, I was told I looked much younger. So what happened. Why do I hate it so much now…..

Me in 2007-2008 as a red-head and in great shape.

Last night as I prepared for bed I checked my Facebook and Twitter accounts and noticed that Jillian Michael’s was asking for questions for her podcast. I thought to myself, I think I’ll ask her why I feel like exercise is such a chore. So in my question I asked:

My name is Malissa and I’m about to turn 55 (most say i look 10 yrs younger) in a few weeks. Nearly 6 years ago I lost my 17-yr old daughter – she was my only child. Since then I have lost my sense of self, my passion for exercise and want to find it again. I have a great job, a great relationship – yet I just seemed to have lost my mojo. When my daughter died I was in the best shape I’ve ever been. Loved to work out.

How do I get that mojo back – I want to feel that rush again after working out. Now it feels like the worst torture and I absolutely dread it.

Did I really think I’d get a response – not really. But this afternoon my cell phone rang and I looked at the number – Los Angeles, CA. So I answered it and sure enough, it was the producer for the Jillian Michael’s Show. They were recording a segment for her show and they thought my question was great and wanted me to ask Jillian later in the day. Around 4:30 my phone rang again, and I was placed on hold and a few minutes later was introduced to Jillian.

I stated my question to Jillian and we began to talk about some of the reasons I felt the way I do. She asked me some questions and after I answered a few, she got a little quiet and then said, “I want to ask you something”, I said ok and then she asked me a question that made me stop dead in my tracks. With your life going well, with a great job and great relationship, why do you think this part is hard to get back to? Tears welled up in my eyes and the sting of truth hit me. I said “it would mean my life has moved on without my daughter”. And she confirmed what I understood at that moment – I was avoiding this part of my journey. I was avoiding working out, exercising because if I do, I’ll get back to the way I was the moment my daughter died. It was the most powerful moment I’ve had in so many  years.

I realized at that moment that if I get back to the way I was before, 15 pounds lighter, healthier and feeling like I was before, that the final step would have happened. Life would have moved on and it would have moved on without my girl. All along I have thought that  I was doing so well in my journey in grief. I believed that I was moving forward and while I have an occasional bad day, for the most part, I have moved forward. But this question to Jillian, led to the simple truth – I have not moved on. Or at least not to where I should be or where I thought I was. So now what?

Jillian asked me how I thought my daughter would feel or what would she say to me if she was here now seeing me like this. And I said she would kick my butt. She would tell me to knock it off and be happy. In fact one time while we were talking she expressed a concern that I had not begun dating after my divorce. She said to me, “mom do not wait around and don’t stop dating because of me”  – I’m ok. You deserve to be happy. So Jillian told me to remember those words, when I want to give up and when I don’t want to go to the gym. Do it for her and eventually I’ll begin doing it for me.

I have to say it was very hard to keep my composure, but I did, but as I write this tears well up again and I feel like this is going to be an addendum to my journey. A part that I wasn’t planning on. A journey I wasn’t thinking I would need. I believe it’s going to take a lot tears, willpower beyond what I have ever needed before – to open the door of my grief and walk through it to the other side. The side that creates a place for me to be happy again. I know it’s possible. I am happy, for the most part, but something is missing and I now know, it’s me.

until next time,

m