I had a realization yesterday. One that kind of hit me between the eyes. I’m happy.
Most days feel incredibly normal once again, if a bit frantic at times due to the combination of work and grad school. But underneath it all, I’m happy. I’m content. I feel purposeful and alive and - at least on most days - energetic at heart, something I wondered if I would ever feel again. I feel like I have a purpose and life has meaning. Occasionally the skies are still cloudy and gray, but it’s rarer now, and when I cry, I’m able to shed my tears, have my moment, and then go about my day. Gone are the feelings of hopelessness and despair, gone is the fear that my future is over.
You may think this sounds crazy. After all, I’ve had so many good times and memories since Phil’s death. I’m remarried, I've traveled some, and I have this tremendous opportunity to go back to school! Of course I should no longer be sad!
All I can say is that grief is unpredictable and we carry our loss with us forever. At first, my grief was a reality that was almost too heavy to carry. I realized yesterday that my grief over losing Phil, the changes in my family, my changing relationship with my Mother due to dementia, even a decade old grief over a change in career, was somehow lighter. Oh yes, it’s there. It didn’t dissipate into thin air. I am marked by the experience of watching my husband suffer and die, by his absence from my life and the life of our children. My grief has altered me - in profound ways. Some of this is for good - it has transformed me. Some of it I continue to struggle with - I still have occasional panic attacks and flashbacks, I remain in counseling for support. I’ve learned how important it is to take care of myself. Death was the great educator in my life. But I can bear the grief now. It is a part of who I am but I no longer labor under that weight, it simply is.
I sat for awhile this morning and tried to think of why this is. What brought healing? There is no one answer I don’t think. If I had to pinpoint “ingredients” to my healing, I’d mention these….quiet time to process and write it all out….space to think and rest (at first)…. my children…friends who allowed me to talk and be where I was…prayer…adventures to new places, doing new things…. music…hours spent paddling down the river on my board… lifting heavy weights again and again….time in nature…sunshine on my face…crying a lot of tears…writing my book and connecting with readers who could relate…the help of a good counselor or two…reading helpful books on grief and taking classes on the grieving process…going to Italy which felt like a dream come true …long walks on the beach and by the river…my sweet pup, Ruby…the love and friendship of Matt…knowing Phil wanted me to live a meaningful life again….learning to dream again…serving others…a new environment….new friends that encouraged and accepted me…walks at sunset….and, yes, moving and going to graduate school…..continuing always to grow and learn.
As you can see, it’s a lot of things, and maybe not one thing in particular. What is helping now wouldn’t have helped in the beginning. What helped in the beginning is not what I need now. It has been a journey of the soul, ever-evolving, twisting, turning, climbing at times, resting at others. But one thread remained constant: Every moment of the journey required courage and a determination not to give up. Each step forward required some hope and a lot of persistence. I had to make choices that were helpful and healthy. I had to let go of beliefs and thought patterns and behaviors that were not. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
The bravest thing I ever did was choose to live when I’d rather not. My grief was complicated. My journey has felt convoluted and tangled up at times. I am not done yet. But I feel lighter now. Hopeful. Joyous. At peace with myself. Purposeful. Wiser. It’s been three years and eight months since Phil left this earth. What a beautiful affirmation of his life and love for me to live again, and to do so with a full heart. Thank you, Phil, for loving me and encouraging me to begin again. Thank you, Matt, for having the love and courage to enter this new phase of life with me. Thank you to old friends who patiently held me up through it all. Thank you, new friends, for loving me as I am. And thank God for new beginnings.
*I cannot emphasize enough how healing my time in grad school has been for me. It has not been easy for sure. But the entire experience, along with the incredible friendship of my cohort, has been a healing gift and I am thankful.*