I’ve said it a million times. Grief is tricky. Just as you think you’re getting a handle on it, something triggers it, and the process starts again. There are things wrapped up with loss that we don’t consider when it happens. At the time, we’re just mourning. Sad. Torturing ourselves with “what-if’s.” Trying to figure out what happened. Retracing every step and then trying to figure out the future at the same time. Whether loss is expected or not, it’s the same thing. It’s the same feeling of sadness, hopelessness and overwhelming fear. Fear of your own mortality, your own stability and what life will be like now living with this great loss. It could be the death of a loved one. It could be divorce. Or the loss of a job. It could be any of it, or all of it. It doesn’t matter. Loss is hard, and it is very, very real.
So, we start this process of healing. From day one, we cycle through it. We have good days. Bad days. Then all bad days. Then mostly good days. The back to good and bad days. Until one day, we start feeling better and we’re ready to go back out there. We’re ready to take on a new love, a new job, new responsibilities, and we slowly, and sometimes subconsciously add those things back into our lives. Then, just as suddenly, a trigger comes up that reminds us of what loss feels like, and we panic. We get scared. And we start waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Since Chad’s death, I have experienced more loss. I don’t need to get into the details to make you understand, but it’s tough. Loss is one thing, but loss compounded is overwhelming. After my husband died, I sat in that for a while. I sat in that pain. Without even knowing it, I went back to real life over the course of two years and started allowing all the pressures and stress back in. There was a time where I didn’t care about anything but my healing and that of my children, and during that time, I didn’t care what anybody thought, or what anybody did. It was liberating. But, as time went on, reality came back with a vengeance. My priorities changed again, I started putting myself back out there and I started to live again.
But the problem was, I never lived without the fear. I was always waiting for something to happen. I was always waiting for the bad to come. I was always surrounded by doubt and anxiety. I was constantly worried. When my husband had cancer, we were obviously in and out of the doctor’s office all the time. And each time, I sat in the lobby and asked myself, “Is today the day they tell us the cancer is back?” “Is today the day they tell us there is nothing more they can do?” “Is today the day he dies?”
That feeling has never gone away. I now live my life with that cloud surrounding me. That burden of tragedy. That curse of my past. I often question how I will ever get past that; how I will ever be “normal” again, or if there is even such a thing.
During my subsequent losses, I have blamed myself. I have told myself that if I had just “done this”, or just “did that”, that this would not be happening. If I hadn’t been so worried, it would not have happened. If I didn’t have this fear hanging over me, it would have been ok.
And, then today, it dawned on me. This was not a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was not all my fault, and I refuse to take blame for one more second. Because while all of my loss has been hard, and has affected me in negative ways, it has also taught me amazing lessons, and I have to start remembering that. I have to start realizing that it’s ok to live. It’s ok to be happy. It’s ok to enjoy moments and not worry they will be taken away. But it’s also shown me this:
- I am a strong person, even when I feel like I am not. Because when you bury a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or your best friend, you do something that not everybody can do. That puts you in a club nobody wants to be part of, but at the same time, it means you’re a badass. You’re the elite. You are the Navy Seal in a world full of sailors. YOU are indestructible because you loved somebody so much that you could hold their hand while they died, and stand by their gravesite to wish them farewell. YOU are amazing because you lost your job yet you got up the next day to look for another one. YOU are fierce because you lost a great love and put yourself back out there to try again. YOU are resilient. YOU are a commanding force, and don’t you ever forget that.
- This is not the end of your story. No, no it is not. It is just the beginning. It is a painful chapter in your life, and it is awful to live through it. While painful, it will shape you. And you get to decide how. I chose to be fearful. Maybe you have, too. But I choose not to be anymore. I choose to write my story with permanent ink and be proud of who I am, and where I’ve come from, even if I fail sometimes. Because, it’s ok. It’s ok to trip up and fall, but it is not ok to stay there.
- I can do this. In fact, I can do anything. And so can you. I watched my husband take his last breath and I fulfilled my vows to him. How many people today can say that? I did it. You did it. We took it seriously. For better, for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do we part. You took a child from your womb and loved him and cared for him and poured life into him and then stood with grace while his soul left his body, never once leaving his side. Nobody can survive that without being so intensely and profoundly phenomenal. WE did it. We should be proud of ourselves. We should be shouting it from the rooftops and telling anybody who will listen. We did it. And, we survived. No, we flourished. We excelled. We took life on and looked death in the face and came out the other side.
I’m trying to remember these things today, and I will probably need to remind myself of it over and over. Because even I get mixed up in the emotions and fear and everything that goes along with it. But, I refuse to let it define me in a negative way. I refuse to let it defeat me. I refuse to give up, and I refuse to give in. I refuse to let it dictate the rest of my life. There will be people who come and go, jobs that come and go, difficult situations, trying times, but the right people will be there, and they will never leave, no matter what. And in that face of adversity, we will see people like us, who have dug their feet in and decided to love us through it. And we will keep healing. In five years, ten years, twenty years, we will keep doing it. Because we’re the real deal. We’re the real bruised and bloody package and that makes us worthy. That makes us invaluable. That makes us the best of the best. Don’t you ever forget who you are. Don’t you ever forget your worth, and don’t you ever forget how far you’ve come. And, I won’t either.
A new friend of mine told me something today, I want to share it with you. It has been his motto for years, and now it is mine. Let it be yours.
“And, in the face of adversity, I shall stand defiant.”
Think about that. Absorb that. Live that. Stand in defiance of your fears. Stand in defiance of your heartbreak. Stand in defiance of obstacles. Stand in defiance of your pain. Stand in defiance of your circumstances. Stand in defiance of your past. Just stand.
This story was written for Love What Matters by Diana Register, 45, of Meridian, Idaho. She is the founder of iam149.org, and is in the process of writing of a book about her journey with grief after her husband’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Read more of her work below:
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