I have found that grief and loss are exactly as bad, and somehow worse than I thought they would be. Previously, if I heard a story similar to mine, I would have responded with, “I could never do that. I would fall apart”. Now, I am part of a club that no one wants to be in. Someone who I could not live without, died. And then my relationship of over seven years unexpectedly ended. My life as I knew it, fell apart not once, but twice, in the span of three short months.
When things went from unthinkably bad to traumatizingly worse, my friends and family came through for me in the biggest and most meaningful ways. By gracefully showing up, going above and beyond what was asked, and selflessly caring for me when I needed it the most, they taught me a new definition of motherhood. They reminded me how to love myself.
In the weeks following the accident, many of my Aunts and cousins came to stay with my family. They did things like laundry, grocery shopping, and played interference to the parade of well meaning visitors.
But, they did more than menial tasks. To encourage us to stay active, they invited us to go on walks with them each day. To nourish our bodies, they made smoothies in the afternoons, and chocolate chip cookies at night. Every morning, they greeted us with hugs and loving smiles. They showed me, through their kindness, what it looks like to give to those truly in need. They physically and emotionally mothered me and my family through some of the toughest moments we faced.
Friends texted me throughout the days, sending messages as simple as, “Thinking of you.” They sent funny articles and YouTube videos, in case I felt like being distracted with a laugh. They asked how I was doing and actually wanted to know the answer. They showed up, and they stayed around.
After the break up, my circle of friends rallied together, more focused than ever. When I did not know what I was feeling, let alone how to explain what I needed from them, they gave me the time to figure it out. They gave me space to simply be how I was, without pretense or fear if I was good enough. They answered the late night phone calls that began with me gasping for breath through sobs. They texted me before I woke up with, "I love you and I'm here for you" messages.
One friend invited me to stay in her guest room with little to no notice needed. She gave me a safe place to sleep so that I didn’t have to make the 90 minute drive twice in one day. But more importantly, she let me take over her living room weekly, with my tears. She listened as I asked different versions of the same questions over and over again. How could this all be happening? Why? Now what? Slowly, our visits became happy reunions and our relationship began to resemble a 50/50 split in care taking. Sure, sometimes it is still 60/40 or even 80/20, but I’ll never forget the few months in early 2017 when she let me take up 100%, and loved me exactly as I needed to be loved.
For weeks, I operated in the strangest state of in between. Not wallowing, and yet, not fully living. Going through the motions. I slept a lot, and was also never quite awake. For the second time in three months, my world split down the middle and swallowed me whole. Everything seemed to be ending and yet my body kept on living.
At one point or another, nearly everyone said a version of the same very powerful words, “I am so proud of you.” "I am proud of you for driving yourself to therapy." "I am proud of you for speaking at the service." "I am proud of you for keeping grace and kindness as priorities." "I am proud of you for doing your best." When they communicated these emotions, it sparked something inside of me. I thought, If all these women whom I admire are proud of me, then I must be onto something. I must be doing something right. Soon, I started recognizing the things I was proud of myself for, too.
I nurtured myself by continuing to take care of me. Each night, I poured myself a glass of water and took my vitamins, supplements, and medications. I said a silent prayer of gratitude directed towards my body. Every morning I got out of bed, showered, and ate something. Some mornings I got right back into bed and would instantly fall asleep.
A key for me became continuing ahead; not moving on, but rather, moving forward.
My brave friends, who had been through similar experiences of loss, listened and shared that they had been in the place I was now. They understood that it felt hopeless, and as though I would never get back to myself. With their help, I learned that I needed to give myself grace and time to move through this. They repeated that it probably would not feel “all better”, but that I will get better at dealing with, and managing the feelings, associated with all this loss. Knowing that there was hope that I would not always feel this way, allowed me the ability to remain mindful and take things one day at a time. I began to learn and slowly accept that I was doing all the emotional work I could, and that healing of this magnitude was going to take time.
My mom and sister resisted the urge to jump in and do things for me, perhaps because they saw how helpful it was for me to continue taking care of myself. That act was life affirming, and in many ways, was the start of me building up my new foundation. Picking up the pieces of the broken one, filled with smashed dreams, shoulds, what ifs, and could have beens. This new one is being built of sturdy stones, scarred by what I've experienced and lost. The pieces are rough but the worn edges fit together easier now. There’s not so much resistance. Like a puzzle where the pieces were being forced together before, now they slide into place.
One Sunday afternoon, a friend texted that she wanted me to call her. Selfishly, I figured it was to check on me, but when I called, she let me know that she was pregnant. My heart immediately broke open for the new life that was starting, during what felt like the darkest period in mine. I could not imagine the many emotions she was feeling, just like she couldn’t fully understand the pain I was going through. And yet, here we were, on the phone, crying for each other, and for both of our new beginnings.
"You know, what strikes me is how desperately we all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don't need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we've faced and overcome. To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don't need a magician to take it all away - we just need a witness" (Glennon Doyle Melton). To the women who give of themselves and continue to stand as my witnesses, while I begin the process of growing into this new version of me: thank you.