She met eyes with the newly bereaved mother, there was instant connection and they collapsed into an understanding embrace. The tears flowed and the pain returned her to the day she became that mother. She knew what was ahead, she knew it was treacherous terrain and she knew sometimes there would be stumbles and falls. Some days would feel like they’d never end and some days would vanish from her mind. She knew every road was different and the journey had no end. She knew there would be twists and turns and sometimes she would feel lost and alone. Yes, she knew and she knew it would take everyone and everything to reach a new and different place, one she never wanted to find. She knew, because she had been there before.
As I looked into the eyes of my friend, they were the eyes I had looked into hundreds of times before, as I met many just embarking on their grief journey. I remember my own vision seemed clouded and blurry and although I functioned quite well, I was just going through the motions. I wasn’t consciously deciding anything, I was merely a participant in my own life. Sort of an autopilot or robotic movement that moved me physically, but the emotional part of me was nonexistent. That was, of course, until I stopped and realized what had really happened and that life was changed forever.
When you are thrust into the world of grief, it is scary and unnerving. There are no guidelines, no rules, no timeline. It is as if you are dropped alone on a desert island and the challenge is merely to survive. It is not to have a nice home, food on the table, or a nice car. It is to wake up, get through the daylight hours as best you can, and to finally close your eyes hoping tomorrow will be easier, then gently escaping into sleep. New grief is like new shoes, uncomfortable, confining, often painful and all you really want is to slip back into the old ones. The fit was right, they were soft and maybe a little loose in places. You don’t want those to be thrown out, you may even protest a little. you loved those shoes, but now you are not given a choice and you are forced to wear the new ones, like it or not.
When the fog starts to lift, you become keenly aware of life around you. You watch people go about their day as if nothing ever happened. The world continues to turn and you feel like it’s revolving around you and you are stationary. Your feet are heavy, your legs feel paralyzed so you just stand there, still, immobile, frozen in place.
Eventually, you start to look around again and your next question becomes “what now”? Of all the newly bereaved I have been honored to sit with in their pain, every single one has asked me what to do to get better. There is no real answer to this question because it is different for every individual. So much love was felt and now so much pain. The first thing that I think you have to realize is this…Love never dies. Regardless of the circumstances, love is forever and deep love is going to be accompanied by deep grief.
The next hurdle becomes incorporating the loss into your everyday life. Many believe healing is “letting go” or “leaving behind” the person you loved. Nothing is farther from the truth. This was my biggest fear in the beginning. I was so afraid that any step forward was away from my daughter. I, through lots of hard work, realized it was the exact opposite. I learned to take her with me and she travels with me everywhere I go. She is at every holiday, every event, every milestone, the good, the bad and the unexpected. She is a driving force in my everyday life. Her force is from within while my two surviving daughters are my driving force from without. Her spirit is as strong today as it was the day she died.
This brings me to “what now”? That is the challenge I found the most daunting. I didn’t have a cause, I couldn’t build a building or provide a scholarship. I needed to find my “what now” and I starting looking into the eyes of those families hurting like mine. I started reaching out and trying to learn ways to help someone navigate this lonely journey. If I could help one person then that helped me to heal. I have been so blessed to share the best moments in life through my work as a nurse in Labor and Delivery and I have been blessed to share the worst moments of life through not only my work, but through my grief work. It is an honor to help bring a baby into the world. It is an honor to sit with someone in their hours of grief. It is an honor to hold a hand as a loved one passes. It is an honor to be the person someone looks to for comfort and advice in their darkest hours. I have been blessed to have all of these experiences and even though my own road gets a bit rocky at times, someone who understands has always been there for me. I am honored that you read my blog, just my take on the grief journey, the words of a bereaved mother, daughter, wife and friend.
On October 9, 2021, Alan Pedersen, father of Ashley, will take you on his journey from tragedy to triumph. He will share how he used his most devastating moment to find the “what now”. If you are local, please join us. It will be a day that you will remember forever.