LETTING GO…

It is finally the weekend and I am exhausted. Straight from the conference to back at work, packing up all the emotions and tossing them aside in order to be effective in a different role wearing a different hat. In the middle of all of this though, we had Lindsey’s 39th birthday and our 9th birthday without her. It seems surreal and now she and Rick are forever 29 and 66.

While going through pics, both this week and for Ricks service, it became crystal clear that there will be no more pics of us together. There will be no pictures of our family together, intact, growing older, making memories. It’s as if those moments are now frozen in time, never to be the same. Families are different, nothing is really the same except the love we shared represented by album after album of pictures. Anyone who knows me knows I take a lot of pictures and now those pictures are like treasured sea glass. You have it in your hand, it’s full of beauty causing you inadvertently to smile. You know that which you hold is a rare find and your chances of finding another like it is not going to happen. This piece of life is forever changed just as that sea glass is a moment in time you’ll never forget.

This is another loss, sort of collateral damage I call it. Along with no pictures, you may not choose to do a lot of other things you did together. Holidays and vacations may look different and it may comfort you to change it up on special events like this. I remember thinking that I could not sit in the same room and open presents on Christmas Eve like we had always done. I also remember wondering if I was letting anyone down by feeling that way. Along comes a little guilt to further complicate things.

The “forever” empty chair or in my case chairs are obvious now. The get together is small. There are no hours of preparing because honestly, it doesn’t feel the same. The girls have become the lead on making plans and Tiffany has taken up the reins on the cooking. I don’t know how we’ll do all those “firsts” this year. I guess we’ll just see where we are at the time. It is definitely the anticipation of the event more than the day itself. The day is just another day and everyday hurts the same as any other.

Of course then there are all the “things”, clothing, cars, treasured memories, hobbies and in my case a boat. The boat represents all the years we spent at the river, dating all the way back to the 50’s. Now I don’t remember this, but I have been told my father built the first cottage on Stingray Point in Deltaville, Va. I actually have some old pictures of he and a friend working on the cinder block building and standing on the beach. My parents would divorce a few years later, but we would often talk about those times.

In the late 60’s Rick and I began dating and spent weekends with his family at their cottage in Whitestone on Bald Eagle Point. This is when I fell in love with Rick’s family and I remember thinking how I hoped someday to have someone love me like his parents loved each other. How blessed I am to have found that.

When our children were young, we bought a vine covered, dilapidated house with my family.. The term fixer upper would not do this justice. We worked on it until it became inhabitable and spent weekends there with our family. Some of our best memories were of Rick steaming crabs and sitting together picking crabs under the multicolored summer sky. We played board games at night and enjoyed the little beach during the day. Once it rained so hard that the water reached the cottages forming an artificial lake. . The girls and their cousins had an inflatable dragon boat and floated from house to house greeting all the relatives. Simpler times, treasured memories.

Rick always had a boat of some sort throughout our marriage. He bought what he could afford and sold it when he found another gem. I think he spent more time working on them than enjoying them, but the water was his passion. For some reason, he always found solace on the water and that connection got him through some tough times. I think the only time we were without a boat was in the early years of our restaurant and we sold it because he didn’t have time to enjoy it. We would go on to get another and another, always trading up for something a little better than before.

Our final purchase would be a 33 ft. ‘95 Sea Ray Sundancer, a boat we had been watching for sometime. We decided to throw caution to the wind and bought it in the fall of 2016. We surprised everyone with it in November of that year and christened it the Linzi-Lu, in remembrance of Lindsey and my mom. The significance of the name overshadowed everything else and we looked forward to lots of adventures the coming Spring.

Over the next couple of years, we would get there as often as we could, with whatever family could join us. The grandchildren would pile in the cabin together and I don’t think we could have been happier. Although life got in the way and we didn’t get to do a lot we had envisioned, when we did go, we made it the best it could be usually culminating with a trip to Stevie’s Ice Cream. Those were great times and now Linzi Lu is one of those things I have to do. The river will never be the river without Poppy at the helm.

I thought I would never go there again, but that isn’t the case and actually I already did. It was a knee jerk reaction to the pain of never going again with Rick. It’s not the place but the pain of loss that holds us back. What I have realized is that when I do these things, the images of good times play like a movie in my head, reel after reel of memories with loved ones. Unfortunately I am at a point in my life where I have to be logical and I can’t hang on to things because of the emotions attached to it and I have to let go of the Linzi-Lu.

So tonight I’m mourning the things that represent our life as a complete family. Tonight I am thinking of all the things, 46 years of things that meant something to us, but have a different meaning to me. I know it’s no rush, but I do think about it all the time. I’m floating the maze tonight in the Linzi-Lu, the canals lined with memories of Rick, his favorite shirt, his BBQ trophies, his Clint Eastwood collection of movies, his Ducks Unlimited memorabilia, things from his childhood, his huge collection of cookbooks and from the helm of the Linzi-Lu, I take it all in. This represents his life, a life well lived and one I am honored to have been a part of. You see, I got my wish, he loved me like his parents loved each other.

WALK WITH ME…

Another Compassionate Friends National Conference in the books. I wish I could explain what it is like to spend the weekend with 1200 grieving parents, grandparents and siblings. Sounds depressing doesn’t it? I’m here to tell you it is anything but depressing.

There are stories of auto accidents, suicides, cancer, heart problems, death secondary to substance abuse, shaken babies, murders, drowning accidents, AIDS, electrocution babies who didn’t survive, deaths secondary to mental health struggles, and many died leaving loved ones with no answers at all. There are tears and more tears, but there are also laughs and smiles and magnificent stories of survival. To hear these stories is a gift to the listener because this group can’t share their stories with just anyone. If they share their story with you, it means you are someone special and you make them feel safe and that their loved one mattered. In this environment, it doesn’t matter how your loved one died, no stigma, no judgement, just love and understanding. We are all the same, we loved someone and we lost someone.

We wear picture buttons, make memory boards, visit the Crafty Corner to make memory items, shop in the Butterfly Boutique, check out raffle items and silent auction, attend workshops, sit quietly in the reflection room, get some healing at Healing Haven, listen to speakers who walk our same walk, light candles and walk through a sea of signs with pictures of our precious children, grandchildren and siblings. We also hug and hug and hug some more.

In the corner you see a young mom, head in hands, hiding her tears. Within seconds, she is flanked by those that recognize the face of new grief. They offer something unique, a promise of survival. Further down the road, they have an understanding of the journey before her and offer information on finding a chapter, closed Facebook pages, and resources on hope and healing. Before they part ways, there is usually a phone number or email exchange. See, they know what she needs. She needs hope that this searing pain she has at this moment will not last forever. She needs to hear the stories of survival and how it took years to find their way. She needs the truth, no platitudes and no promises, just guidance as to how to continue her life when getting out of bed this morning was hardly manageable.

The mother stands close to her daughter as they enter the room. She is a grandmother so her journey is very different. Her grief for her daughter and her grandson is a double loss as she knows her daughter’s pain all too well. She watches her take steps into her new reality, cautiously, slowly trying to figure it all out. A mother takes care of her daughter so she remains present for her while silently grieving her own loss. It’s as if she is there to buffer the world for her daughter by wrapping her in love and understanding. A grandparent’s love is unique and their journey is tough trying to comfort while, at the same time, suffering their own loss.

Across the restaurant, you see someone sitting alone. You ask if you may share his table and he graciously accepts. He is here alone, having lost all of his siblings and a niece. You share your story of hope and healing and you listen to his. He has no surviving family and has a Birthday coming soon. He always shared his birthday with a sibling. You get a picture with him and wish him a safe journey home. He has been coming to this conference for 17 years. You have been blessed to share this time with him and walk away with a new friend, keeping in mind, he has a birthday coming.

The young brother-sister team grew up at National TCF conferences. They lost their sister when they were 10 and 12 and their life changed in a way they could have never imagined. Now they stand in front of the room speaking about how the loss of their sister changed their lives forever. They speak honestly about things that hurt them, things that affected their lives, and how it feels to be a bereaved sibling. They offer more than advice, they reach out all year to broken siblings in an effort to help them find their way. Siblings are called the “forgotten mourners” as most people say “How is your mother?” They feel invisible as shrines are built and the parents try to survive. The parents take their advice with them and try to fix what they didn’t even know was broken.

A very special friend shared this blog with other Bereavement Groups she belongs to while we were at the conference. Someone took the time to read it and reached out to her through Facebook, asked what Compassionate Friends was and what the Conference was like. She wanted to know about the Walk and all the details. It turned out she lived close by and my friend registered her for the Walk and got her a T-shirt. We met that morning and walked along side her in memory of her daughter. This is what Compassionate Friends is all about.

I attended this conference knowing it would be even more difficult this year with the recent loss of Rick. I wasn’t sure I could get what I needed at this point and surely I wasn’t going to be able to help anyone else. It was going to be different and I knew that. A mom and daughter sat beside me at the Candle Lighting and we started to talk. We looked at our children on our buttons and we briefly shared a little about our kids. Common ground right? Turns out she lost her husband shortly after losing her son. She is a widow and also grieves her child. Maybe it’s coincidence, but I don’t think so. I’m walking the maze again and there appears someone who gets it. How blessed am I to have had this week with these people? There are no words. The maze today is lined with the signs of all the loved ones we miss so deeply. I feel them with me holding my hand.

I can do this…

‘We Need Not Walk Alone. We are the Compassionate Friends”

A DIFFERENT VACATION…

This week is the annual Compassionate Friends National Conference in Philadelphia. It will be my fourth conference and I call it my vacation with Lindsey. It will be the first conference I’ve attended as a bereaved mother and not as Leadership in the organization. When you volunteer with the group in any capacity, it takes on certain responsibilities and obligations. Without these amazing people who give their time to help bereaved families, many would be lost. That being said, I am glad to just be a mom and see what I can glean from this.

Going to this conference is scary for first timers, knowing you will be with 1200+ grieving parents, grandparents and siblings. How can this help you ask. Walking into this environment is like walking into a massive hug. As you meet eyes with others, there is silent communication that says “I understand”. This is often followed by a hug that is tight and warm and maybe starts to be weird it goes on so long. There is even a hug booth around the corner. Where else has one of those? These people understand what it’s like to live without a cherished loved one. No words are necessary.

The world outside of this is very different and often very lonely. This is sort of how a bereaved mother goes through her day.

Person 1: “Hi how are you?”

Bereaved mom: “I’m fine”

Translation: I don’t know why I say that, it feels weird, I’m not and never will be fine. I wish I could really tell you how I am. I miss my daughter.

Person 1: Did you have a good weekend?

BM: Yes it was ok, didn’t do much.

Translation: Weekends, weekdays, all days are tough without my daughter. Everything is different. All the happy families are living their life and watching their children grow. I’m constantly wondering what she would be doing and thinking. She should be here watching her son grow up.

Person 1: Are you looking forward to vacation?

BM: Oh yes everyone is excited to get away. Can’t wait.

Translation: I don’t really look forward to anything much, but I go and I do it and I actually enjoy it, but I have to take her with me. She needs to be welcome for me to have a good time. She should be here.

Person 1: What are you guys doing for the holidays? Have you decorated? Are you finished shopping?

BM: No real plans yet, probably do something simple.

Translation: I don’t really plan anymore. Mostly, I try to get through it for everyone else. I don’t want to bring them down because that isn’t fair to them. Decorating isn’t really that important to me. I just want to survive it.

What you’ll notice most in this conversation is that she is telling you what you want to hear, that which will make you comfortable. If she says what she is really feeling, the room will clear within seconds. Nothing is more fun than a grieving mother and I know because I am one. I spend everyday living and laughing and working and interacting…and missing my daughter. It is as if you have an empty space that can’t be filled and honestly, it can’t.

Every son, daughter, grandchild, brother or sister has a special place where only they fit. It’s made just for them, the edges so intricate that not even the finest sculptor could create a match. Each person has unique qualities that make their place in your life theirs and theirs alone. In order to continue without that piece, you must find an alternative way to hold that sacred place and yet live a fulfilling life. That friends is a tall order.

At the conference, there are workshops on everything from learning to live without your loved one to choosing a memorial tattoo. See, we also are different and we need different things. Our grief is unique to us and therefore we will use individual coping skills as well. Learning how others navigate this path is invaluable and eventually you go from being the student to being the teacher. You use what you’ve learned to help others and that in turn helps you. This has been my experience and my “compassionate friends” are like grief warriors, armed to battle the toughest of days.

As I walk the maze today, missing my husband and best friend, I am reminded of what it took to see the hope after losing Lindsey. It took work, it took perseverance, it took people leading me at times, it took patience, it took walking into territory I didn’t know existed. It was a choice I had to make on my own. I chose to hold that special place just for her, so Wednesday, Lindsey and I go on vacation. It’s our time, our place, our journey. Wish me well.

OUR VACATION 2018

GIFTS FROM GRIEF…

I know it may sound odd to many and unbelievable to most, but there can be gifts in grief. How can there be something good come from something so incredibly painful? It is really difficult to wrap your brain around this concept, but I am the recipient of these gifts and so is my family.

People are great at coming out for funerals and visitations to show their support. Flowers are delivered, meals are cooked, calls made and cards sent. These are all methods in which we give and receive support. We were fortunate enough to be the recipient of all of these. Thing is, these things eventually end and that is actually the norm.

At first, the cards fill the mailbox , sometimes spilling out as you open it. You sit with your grief and read each and every verse and personal note, often more than once. Then one day, there are no cards. You lean over and peer into the mailbox knowing it must be a mistake, you reach all the way to the back, but nothing is there. Your heart hurts because it means life goes on for everyone else, just as it should.

The phone rings nonstop and in today’s world, the texts keep coming, social media remains abuzz, and all forms of communication are used to let you know you are loved and cared about. Then one day, the phone is quiet, the texts are sparse, and social media is back to perfect lives and politics. You wonder what has happened, are they just busy, is everyone ok or did they forget you are hurting? Truth is, life is returning to normal, just as it should.

The timeline of grief is different for the griever and the world. It can be physically painful to watch the world go on as if nothing has happened. Doesn’t everyone know your pain will be there when the flowers are gone, leftover food is trashed and the quiet descends? Does no one care that your loved one is missing at holidays and vacations?

Welcome to my world. This is all part of the grievers experience and can make the journey even more difficult. In my experience though, I still get an occasional card, a “thinking of you” kind of card which makes me smile. I had someone apologize for the late timing of a card and truth is, it came when all others had stopped. It was perfect.

I get texts throughout the day and evening just checking in, letting me know Rick is not forgotten and neither am I. My phone rings often and it again is a “had you on my mind and heart” kind of call.

People are still feeding me and to be honest I’m enjoying that very much. Cooking and shopping just isn’t a priority right now, but time spent with friends is a gift. My girls often fix me dinner to eat with them or take home after work. It helps to not eat alone. My neighbors have cut my grass and taken out my trash cans. They sometimes show up to walk Lucy and that is a so helpful.

The biggest gift I’ve received is to know how much people loved Rick, but the coolest part of this is he got to know it too. Once we found out and shared what was going on, people started showing up. Some brought things, some called him, some sent good wishes and prayers and some came and sat at his bedside and shared his last hours. For Rick this was something special and all he could say was “wow”.

Through this experience, I have reconnected with people I haven’t seen in many, many years. Rick was astounded that elementary and high school friends cared enough to reach out. Old customers and employees of the restaurant checked in. Friends slept on my couch, swept my floor, cleaned my bathrooms, fed my dog, and kept be company. These are some of my gifts, those taking their time from their life to sit with us when things got tough.

When Lindsey died, I was exposed to some of the saddest people I had ever met and those people inspired me to survive this horrible tragedy and to find joy again in what remained. These are some of the most courageous people I have ever met and without my life taking this course, I would have never met them. They have made me a more compassionate person in every way and I treasure these friendships. Again, these are some of those gifts in grief.

I left the maze yesterday for a short while. It was a difficult decision and costs me hours of sleep, but I took the chance and stepped out into a very uncomfortable place. Two dear friends I have worked with most of my career took me sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, the one place I wasn’t sure I would ever return to. There was sharing, laughter and tears, but most of all some very simple healing. The memories that surfaced for me were so positive and so meaningful that my head was spinning with good thoughts. The missing took a back seat for a moment and let the “good stuff” take the helm. They let me share what I needed to and sat with me in the place I’m was in. What a gift it was and although I have to return to the maze for awhile, I hope to stick my head out once again and check out my new world. Maybe it won’t be so scary next time.

LOSING SIGHT OF WHAT’S IMPORTANT…

I’m a little late this week with my thoughts, but I’ve definitely had a lot of thoughts. More new discoveries have surfaced as I continue trying to live without my very best friend. I’m learning a lot about myself these days, some things frighten me a little and some things are just me being me.

It all started with a lost contact. Now for those of you that have never had problems with vision, count yourself lucky. I started several years ago when I hit those dreadful 40’s. At first it was one and that was challenging enough. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the process of putting them in and removing them. About a year ago I had to graduate to both eyes, but I had finally mastered it or so I thought.

The saga began last week when I couldn’t find the left contact to remove it for bed. I tried and tried until my frustration got the best of me and I gave up. The next morning I tried again and after a lot of “You Tubing”, I tried to put a new one in to pull the other one out. I haven’t mentioned that this can also be extremely painful at times and the more it hurt, the more I cried and the more alone I felt in the world.

Now how can I link losing a contact to my grief journey you ask. Truth is, in the world today, we take a lot for granted. It’s not on purpose, but we are so busy with life and all that goes with it that we just don’t stop to appreciate the little things. Sight isn’t a little thing, but it is something you just don’t think about, just like you don’t think about losing the love of your life in 6 short weeks.

To be honest, I’ve had a fleeting thought that something could happen to one of us, but it crossed my mind so quickly I never went into it any deeper. Just like my contact it was sudden and painful and left me in a bit of a fog. It was going to require patience and time to heal and I didn’t have time for that. My vision of the world was altered and I became afraid it may not return to the way it had been.

Oh how right I was. My world is altered in a way I could not have imagined. I wake alone, where Rick used to be lying on the pillow beside me, now the covers remain unchanged, no wrinkles, no muss, always the same. As I sit quietly and look around, the house remains the same, decorations and furniture untouched, as if preserved in time. There is the occasional robo call in the evening and I think of how that irritated him. The TV is hardly ever turned on and it used to be on all day. Meals are lonely and most of it is prepared food from the local grocery store, things that could actually be delivered to the door. The grills remain covered, unless the wind blows them off. When night finally comes, the bed is again untouched on one side and I slide in hoping my dog will sleep beside me to help with the loneliness. The next morning it starts all over when the covers remain untouched.

I know this sounds sad, but that is not my purpose in sharing it. These are the facts of life after such incredible loss. It’s something we take for granted like summer days, celebrations and family vacations. Nothing is the same, nothing will ever be the same.

I never found the contact, but after confirming that with the doctor, I gave in and left it to heal. You see, the more I fought it the more damage I did and the longer it would take to heal. I had to give in and rest and take care of myself.

Although it is not as painful and I can see better, a blurriness remains. My eye aches and I wish it hadn’t happened, but my hope is I will get better everyday. I took my eyes for granted, I won’t make that same mistake again.

I treasured my marriage and our life together, but I took it for granted that Rick and I would grow old together. We would be the little old couple you saw out and about, wrinkled hands and face, eating the Senior Special at five o’clock. We can’t be that now and I wish I had appreciated the simplicity of that sooner.

When you walk the maze as I am, make sure you have lived and loved and done your best. Don’t take a single thing for granted, because life can and will change one day. Make every moment count and know that we can’t change what happens to us, but we can change how we react to it. I’m trying to take my own advice and be patient with myself while I take each step, sometimes waivering and stumbling along, but continuing to step nonetheless. Love with all your heart and appreciate each and every little thing. The simple things we take for granted might be the most important in the end.

My buddy

HOLDING ON…

I discovered something this week that I think is very profound. It was another difficult few days and I know that is to be expected. Thing is, I don’t want to feel this way again…and I do. The physical and emotional pain of grief is all encompassing and affects you in every aspect of your life.

So what was my discovery…I know this can get better and I want to fast forward through the hard part. Now I know that’s impossible, but that’s a fact. I don’t want to be sad, but I am. I don’t want my chest to hurt when I think of Rick, but it does. I don’t want to go to bed crying and wake up crying every morning, but I do. I don’t want to live my life without Rick, but I have to. There is no choice, but to wait this out and hope that someday I won’t feel like this. So I need to continue the journey, do the work and wait it out.

My life has been turned upside down in a way I could not have imagined. I tried to think yesterday what we used to do on our time off. I got so frustrated because I couldn’t put my finger on anything exact, we were just always together. Even if we weren’t interacting we were together. I am alone now most of the time. Funny thing is even if I am with others, I am still alone.

The challenge is to figure out who you are and where you fit. I remember after Lindsey died, I felt lost and disconnected from everyone whose life remained the same. When I went to my first Compassionate Friends meeting, I walked into a room of the saddest people on the planet and felt like I belonged there. A friend asked me why when I was so sad, would I want to be around all those sad people. I told her that it was the only group of people that know how I feel. I found solace there that I could not find anywhere else, although I had a huge support system. Fact is, during all of that, my main support was Rick, right there side by side.

I sent a text this week to a friend and said “you know life sucks when you are looking forward to a grief conference”. This is a place I’m like everyone else. Isn’t that a weird place to be? I don’t want to be a grieving spouse, just like I didn’t want to be a grieving mother, but these are the cards I’ve been dealt. I’ve got to figure out how to play them. No one can do that for me, I have to do it for myself.

It’s sort of like standing on the edge of a cliff looking down, seeing the expanse of the canyon. I have to choose how to get to the other side. There are two ropes, one is sturdy and has lots of safety features, but takes a lot longer to cross. It comes with a lot of directions. The other rope is a little frayed, maybe a tad dangerous, but if it holds will get me there quickly. The first rope allows me to take all the steps, buckling and snapping, taking every precaution to get it right, checking and rechecking, assuring arrival to the other side intact. The frayed rope has no directions, no steps, no safety, no time to assure a safe arrival, but promises to be quick. If I make it, I’m on my own from there. Which rope do I choose or do I want to cross at all? Should I just remain here where it’s safe?

As I look across the canyon, I see a light, it is bright and filled with lots of color and promise. It is beautiful and looks like a place I’d like to be. Which rope do I choose, safe and cautious or frayed and dangerous? If you get there quicker, do you feel better and are you in a place you feel ready to take on life. Or…are you just there and don’t know what to do now?

I’ve decided to take the safe route, walk the maze, do the work, take the time, find myself, look for the light, arrive when I’m ready. It isn’t easy, but I know that already, because I’ve made this choice before. The other side is worth it, I know this because I’ve been there before. Hope is something you have to hold onto with both hands. If you start to weaken and let it slip from your grip, it can be devastating. Hold on with all your might, just as you hold onto that rope crossing the canyon.

I wish things were different, but they aren’t. In the end, I know someday I will be able to look back and know I made the right choice.

WISHING THINGS WERE DIFFERENT

THE LOAD WE CARRY…

Today is not a good day. I’m not sure why it’s different than yesterday or several days ago, but it’s just not good. This is an example of how unpredictable grief is.

There is a lot written about the stages of grief. While I agree on the emotions you experience, there is nothing predictable other than it’s unpredictability. Many describe it coming in waves, first the waves are one after the other, fierce and relentless, knocking you off your feet. Over time, they start to get farther apart and gradually aren’t as large, maybe knocking you off balance, but no longer knocking you down. Eventually the water becomes calm, with occasional waves that you hardly notice, just enough to make you aware grief is still present. Then one day, a big wave comes and knocks you down, but you get up, easier this time and wait for the next one never knowing when it may hit.

I think of grief as a journey. The ticket would say: Departure Date: Immediate Arrival: TBA Destination: A Different You

What To Pack: In your backpack, you will carry many emotions, each having weight, causing your load to be extremely heavy. Depending on your personal situation, the weight of your pack will be different, just as your grief is different.

The first of these emotions is often shock. In our situation, the news of Ricks diagnosis was and remains a shock. I received the call with the news on February 27th at work. I knew, without a doubt, how serious it was and that time was most likely short. I broke this news to my daughters and granddaughters first, leaving them in tears to return home and tell Rick. To say we were shocked is an understatement. We sat in silence for what seemed like hours, but probably was only a few minutes. Honestly, I think I am still in shock and have never really been able to process the news. I will never forget his facial expression.

Denial is often packed along with Shock. Often these experiences are unexpected and how can someone be there one moment and gone the next? How can someone be working and driving and planning their summer and in an instant that is over? How can a marriage start with love and respect and end in anger and hatred? How can a beautiful child be ok one day and get a catastrophic diagnosis affecting the rest of their life and the lives of those who love them? These are grieving experiences also. Going through denial is inevitable, not only do we not want to believe these things, but how can we when at one point it all seemed normal. As denial wanes and reality sets in, there is often anger in your pack as well.

I’ve never been angry, but it is a very normal and natural response to grief. I have met many for whom anger is a major obstacle in their grief journey. Anger can be at family, friends, employers, the legal system and even God. It is a volatile emotion weighing down the pack. I’ve never felt like I had a target for anger, but I understand and respect those who carry this weight. I guess I could be angry at Cancer, but that is an intangible so it doesn’t work for me.

Many wrestle with suicidal thoughts, wanting to be with the one they have lost. I’ve learned it doesn’t mean they don’t love their family they still have, but just that living without that loved one seems insurmountable. If someone has an existing mental health challenge, this can feel like another enormous battle. Those that live with anxiety and depression can be severely affected by loss and grief. Sometimes this is the first experience with anxiety or depression following loss. Again it makes the load unbearable at times.

Another emotion often weighing us down is the “G” word Guilt. Sometimes I think back and wonder if I missed something. I’m a nurse, did I miss something that could have changed the outcome? I know everyone says don’t do that, but that is my reality. I know it would not have been purposeful or intentional, but I do wonder. Those are the feelings of someone grieving whether they make sense or not. I’ve experienced this so much in childbirth where there is a poor outcome and the first words from the distraught mother are “what did I do to cause this?” See it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else if it makes sense to you. I learned the definition of guilt is “intent to do harm”. No one intends to harm their loved ones, but it is something we have to work through in our own time.

These are just a few of the raw emotions that take up space in our backpack and in our mind. As we walk the maze, we start to unpack and place these emotions gently to the side, but before that can happen, we need to feel them and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way. Those that are willing to walk beside us, will help us do that, mostly listening and being present for us. What works for one is different for another. Advice, though well meaning can fall flat because there is no “one size fits all”. Sometimes these emotions return and we repack them, until, once again, we are ready to place them aside.

I am busy unpacking as I walk the maze, but it is a slow and arduous process. It requires patience and perseverance. It requires intense emotional work. So today was not a good day and the backpack is heavy, but maybe tomorrow will be, and I’ll lighten my load.