“There are moments in life that define you. We can fight them or tell ourselves and anybody else who will listen that they don’t, but they do. They define us.
I’ve never been quiet about how grief has defined me. It changed so much in my life, some of it good, mostly bad, but all of it, yes all of it, has defined me. And, when I say there has been ‘good’ from my grief, I have dug very deep to find the gifts. Gifts you don’t get unless you’re met with a crisis, like suddenly knowing what is important and what isn’t. Learning how not to waste time. Recognizing the value in people and never selling yourself short again.
But, one thing I don’t regularly talk about is how grief affected my kids. Because it’s not my story. It’s theirs. And, they get to choose how to tell it, or not tell it, or what to do with it whenever and however they decide to.
But, with her permission, I want to tell you a little bit about something that happened with my daughter Kaitlyn. Because it’s a big deal. A great, big, huge deal we can all learn something from.
If you have followed our story, many of you have watched Kaitlyn grow up, either in person or on social media. You watched her go from a toddler, quite literally bouncing off the walls to a competitive champion gymnast, from a cute kid to a stunning young lady and a little girl who embraced the love of her father to a teenager who was suddenly left to navigate this life without him. You know about how she stayed with him the day he died, and how she wiped his brow for hours trying to keep him comfortable. You know she kept his ice-tea full that day and how hard he tried to talk to her, even when it was impossible for him to form words.
You know about how I told her she didn’t have to stay in the room with him when he was dying, and how she insisted in being there anyway. You’ve heard about how she held his hand while he took his last breath and how she stayed with him for an hour after so that he would not be alone. You know that, at 13 years old, she battled through the feelings of wanting to be sick to her stomach so she could be there with her dad when he left the world, just like he was there for her when she came into it.
But what you don’t know is how she struggled once he was gone. You don’t know how hard it was for her to lose him, or what it was like moving homes or going to a new school where she was bullied relentlessly, or how she won the state gymnastics championship in spite of her pain, only to be met with more bullying at the gym until she was forced into retirement. You don’t know how her old friends lived too far away to keep showing up or how lonely she was or how she didn’t want to talk about it. I feel awful for not doing a better job as her mom, but like so many other widows, we’re doing the best we can – working, maintaining a home, and just trying to keep it together without the partner who was supposed to help us make everything alright.
You’re depressed. They’re depressed. You feel like you’re constantly trying to dig yourself out of this hole and make sense of it all and sometimes, it just doesn’t. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t. You’re walking in a fog, tracking through quicksand, slopping through the muddiness of it all. You try to find ways to heal. You talk about it; you don’t talk about it. You work, you lay in bed, you get up, you travel, you stay home, you cook, you order out – you just try to keep on keeping on. And in the middle of it all, you’re dealing with all the stuff your life keeps throwing at you because, in the end, life really does keep going on.
And sometimes you’re successful at it, and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes, it’s easy to give in to social pressures and sometimes, it’s easier to not deal with it. Anybody who has suffered grief can surely understand this. Sometimes, it is easier to just not deal with it.
And for a little while, that is what Kaitlyn did. She didn’t deal with it. She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to keep reliving his death and the loss of the only life she had ever know. And, I’ll be honest, it got tough for a little while. Mix teenage hormones with great loss and you have a recipe for disaster. There were plenty of times I was ready to throw my hands in the air, and there were plenty of times she probably wanted to, too.
He wasn’t just her dad. That man was her best friend. He protected her. He loved her. He would have moved mountains for her. He did gymnastics with her in the living room. He danced to Hannah Montana. He let her put his very short hair in ponytails. He baked cupcakes with her, every Sunday night. He snuggled with her, he made up songs with her and he kept her safe. And then one summer night in 2016, he died holding her hand.
I don’t blame her one bit for losing her way for a little while. I don’t wonder for one second why.
And then one day, she decided enough was enough. And drawing in a deep breath and the strength she had that day in the hospital room, she turned it all around. She took responsibility for her mistakes. She cleaned up the messes she had made. She started looking at the future instead of concentrating on the past. She righted her wrongs. She fixed the stuff that was broken. She closed her eyes and braced for the reality, dealt with the pain and then she did the best thing she could have ever done.
She forgave herself.
And, she moved forward.
She put one foot in front of the other and marched right into her future.
Because of the severe bullying issues at her high school, regular school wasn’t an option and online school became overwhelming. After lots of consideration, she and I decided it would be best for her to take her GED and enroll in cosmetology school at some point after she completed it, because we all know how amazing she is at that beauty stuff.
And, after four months of studying and test-taking, she is done. She is ready for her new future.
She did it.
She came full circle.
She persevered, and she did it.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but one day she decided to wake up her soul, and boy did she. She woke up, crawled across the floor, pulled herself up and stood on shaky legs, but she stood anyway. And, she’s been standing and shining and succeeding ever since.
And even if her success doesn’t look like what your success looks like, it IS a success. And nobody gets to tell her anything different. Because that little girl just did something over the past two years that most adults can’t do amid their grief.
She fell and she stood back up. She stood back up in the face of grief, in fear and with total uncertainty, and she did it anyway. And to me… that makes her my hero. And really, if you’re looking for your own hero in a young woman who can teach you a thing or two about survival and perseverance, well then, she’s your girl.
I am proud of all my kids. They all have had their successes. They’re all so smart. And, they’re funny. And they have all overcome things and become really good people.
But this one, yes, this one, right now, the spotlight is squarely on her and I am not able to properly put into words how proud I am, so I won’t even try. I’ll just say this:
You can let your grief consume you, or you can learn to let it into your life in a safe way and let it walk alongside you. You can let grief destroy you, or you can learn how to have it near you and still rise far above it. You can let the things that have happened to you change everything about you, or you can dig deep, stand tall, and take control. You can allow yourself to become a victim of your circumstances or you can decide to succeed. And even if you lose your way, you can decide to come back. Even if you fall, you can get up. And keep getting up and keep getting up and keep getting up. And in the middle of all of it, you can, and you should, forgive yourself for not being okay. Because you will be. If this story has taught you anything, know you will be.
Incidentally, the last school test she had to take was the toughest. On her second try, she passed it and completed all the requirements to receive her certificate of completion.
I don’t think she could have asked for a better score, because this one was absolutely perfect. If you don’t know what the number means, ‘149’ was her dad’s police badge number and a number that appears to us all-the-time when we need to know he’s still around. It makes total sense he would show up when we checked the last score on the last test before she starts her future.
I’m pretty sure he’s just as proud of her as I am.
In fact, I know it.
Because in true Chad form, he showed up. He showed up to show her that he too, is just as honored to be her dad as I am to be her mom.
Congratulations, my love. Congratulations. May you get all the big, beautiful, shiny, glittery things life has to offer. You deserve every, last bit of it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “Grief & Glitter” are available in print and on kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
Read more from Diana here:
‘Is this the real pin?,’ my daughter squeaked out. ‘Yes, my love, it is.’ ‘From his shirt?’ Her eyes were big and curious.’: Widow’s emotional gift for daughters honors their late father, ‘My hands trembled. It was beautiful, stunning’
‘I kept repeating, ‘This can’t be real!’ My deceased husband’s badge number kept showing up in places it shouldn’t have.’: Widow gets countless ‘winks’ from late husband, ‘It’s the most beautiful, comforting thing in the world’
‘No, don’t panic. He has a plan. Oh Lord, please let him have a plan.’ He led our daughter in, eyes closed. I gulped my wine.’: Widow recalls emotional birthday surprise late husband planned for their daughter, ‘I didn’t know I was crying until I reached up to wipe my face’
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