As I sit down to write this, I am procrastinating going on a run. So far, it’s working great!
Fast forward to three hours later. . .
It dawned on me when I sat down to write this morning that if I could create time to write, I could surely get my butt out there to run. I would probably write better after a head-clearing run anyways, so I got dressed, procrastinated a little more, then finally leashed up my dogs and headed out. I figured I would warm up by walking them and then head back out for a couple more miles.
When I walk my dogs I like to take them to a trail that runs behind the nearby creek– it’s only three blocks from my house. My dogs drag me down the streets until we get to the trail where they know…
This goes out to every single person that is missing someone they love. . .
Today is my niece’s birthday. She is 12. And today she is partying in Heaven with her mom and grandma, just like she has been since 2012 after a drunk driver cut their lives on earth short.
I wish I was writing this to tell you that three years later life is grand and that I rest comfortably in the fact that three of the people that I love the most are celebrating wildly and beautifully in Heaven. Every. Single. Day. Somedays, that is true. In fact, even as I write this through blinding tears on the most painful of days, I know in my heart that it is true. They live on in the most glorious of places. But just because something is true and beautiful, doesn’t mean that it does not SUCK. As much as I will be celebrating my niece today (in fact it started yesterday when I drug my bestie to the bakery for cake) I will also be glaringly reminded of the fact that my niece is not here celebrating with the rest of us. The scab gets ripped off, so painfully at times, and today is definitely one of those days.
But today, like everyday, life goes on. . . the world around us often seeming oblivious to the searing pain that losing people we love brings. At one time in my life, I would have been one of those oblivious souls. “It’s been a year (or two, or three) you should be over it by now.” Or maybe I would have said, “Maybe you need therapy or something, you shouldn’t be STILL grieving after all this time.” Or maybe I would have tossed out some meaningless platitude reminding the person that their loved one is now “better off” or that they are in a “better place.” Wow, I know so much better now. Grief doesn’t end after a certain amount of “socially appropriate” time that the world allots. People will do all they can to avoid talking about grief because its uncomfortable, and messy, and really, who wants to talk about death anyways, right? And that is okay. I get it. I don’t want to talk about it either. But not talking about death and grief doesn’t make the hurt go away nor does it lessen the pain. If anything, it may make grieving persons question their sanity. “Should I be ‘over this’ by now? Is there something wrong with me?”
The answer to that is NO. In fact, it’s a HELL NO. Whatever you are feeling right now is probably normal. To all of you missing someone, whether you lost them today or 50 years ago, know this. . .
You are not alone. Ever. There is a massive tribe of beautiful grieving folks out there. Seek them out and bask in the comfort that being with other grieving persons brings.
Grief makes no sense. You will have good days. You will have AMAZING days. Then suddenly, as if out of the blue, you will have a terribly awful and insanely painful day. A smell, a sound, a song, a memory can bring you to your knees. Grief is like that. It creeps up and punches you in the gut when you least expect it. You suddenly find yourself gasping for air wondering what the hell just happened. (Yes, even years later. And , yes that is okay, see above, you are probably normal.)
Grief has no time limit. Don’t ever let anybody tell you it does. But also know that life really does go on and wehave to figure out how to go along with it–even if it drags us along as we are kicking and screaming.
Also know this . . . it is okay to celebrate life, even after excruciatingly painful loss.Life, even with the pain, is too beautiful and short to not live it. (You may not be there yet. And that is okay but always look for the littlest of things to celebrate. It helps. More than you can imagine. Buy birthday candles and light them often.)
Breathe. And then breathe some more. Purposefully take a deep breath. Do it again and again. And then do it some more.
So today, on my niece’s birthday, I will celebrate. I will cry happy tears and sad ones. I will lament over how unfair life is yet I will still figure out how to celebrate it–one gloriously painful beautiful moment at a time. And I will not be alone in this tearful celebration of life and death. To all of you missing someone right now, my heart and soul are with you as I know yours is with mine.
Happy Birthday Jules! I love you. Party on in Heaven little angel. Party on. We miss you like crazy.
Update July 29, 2015: When I originally wrote this, I was sure I was ready to move on and start fresh in a new blog. Well, I guess I lied. I’m really not going anywhere. This place has too much of me poured into these pages to ever let it go. I was and will always be Hanging by a Thread. ~Melissa
This is a rambling, a jumble of words, a see-ya-later-but-not-really.
They say all good things must come to end, and so to must this blog.
When I began Hanging by a Thread in January of 2012 I was a different person, one that had done the work and was ready to take charge of her life.
Little did I know that the title of my blog would become an aching metaphor for life. . .
And now I have come to a crossroads. . .
A season of major life changes, a season of loss, a season of finding me–is slowly fading.
I can feel it in my bones.
What is next?
I have no clue. . . only visions in my head of where the path is leading.
Visions placed there by the whispers of my soul.
It feels like a settling in, of heading where I am being called, of finding the courage to share with my whole heart what life’s journey has taught me over the years.
And even though I am ready to take the leap, to dive headfirst into the deep end–it is scary.
But in a good way, I think.
It’s a new season.
A new day dawning.
I have felt it for a while now.
But it takes courage, both to let go and to move forward.
And sometimes courage is hard to muster. Really hard.
It is easier to just stay where we are at because it’s comfortable. It’s safe.
Then I remember that comfort and safety are really just illusions anyways.
I wrote this a while back and just found it the other day. I don’t even really remember writing it. It was one of those thoughts that popped into my head and I recorded it on the spot. I knew it was a perfect snapshot of where I was at, of where I am, and of where I am heading.
Change is coming again. I can feel it. I don’t know exactly what it will be, even though I have an inkling. I have learned to be okay with not knowing. I have learned to trust, even though I wonder. I have learned to be patient, even though I’m not wired that way. I have learned that even though I know the change will be amazing, it will be hard. It always is. Growth and change and healing are like that. They don’t call them growing pains for nothing.
I have learned to trust, even though I wonder . . . luckily my middle name is faith.
It’s what has gotten me through, given me hope, and brought me home.
Even though this blog is ending, I am not done writing.
I don’t know exactly what it will be. In fact, there isn’t even anything there. And even though I don’t exactly know what it will be yet, the words real and raw come to mind–kind of like a conversation with those that know me best. A space where authenticity, tolerance, grace, and love are welcomed . . .
Thank you all for your encouragement and love over the past few years. I thank God for each and every one of you.
Thank you to all who have shared my tears, watched me come undone, and stayed by my side through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And lastly, thank you to those that have remained through the brokenness and the beautiful of this journey.
“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…” – C.S. Lewis
A friend of mine posted these words on her Facebook page yesterday. The words struck me. I couldn’t help but think how absolutely perfect this powerful quote was as we close out the old year and welcome a new one.
As I then began to reflect on 2014, I thought about how I don’t really feel any different that I did a year ago. Except, that I do.I KNOW that I am a different person. You cannot go through a year of dancing and not emerge a different soul. It’s impossible. Even though I am sitting on the same sofa, probably in the same jammies, doing the same thing I did last January 1, my life is so completely different now that it would take days to explain. For me, 2014 was the year of the dance–the one of joy and grief. Old paths intersecting with new ones as the journey of life danced on. . . whether I was ready for it or not.
As I was reflecting, I remembered a blog post, (one of way too many that I had started and never finished in 2014) one that sheds some light on the dance.
It is like a dance really. . .
The one of joy and grief.
Some days, it’s like a lively Irish jig–the back and forth of emotions moving as quickly as a river dancers feet. Joy and grief simultaneously morph into something so mind-blowing that I have yet to find the words to adequately describe.
Then some days, the dance, well, it’s more like a graceful waltz. Joy and grief moving together as beautifully as they possibly could given the circumstances that brought these two emotions together in the first place.
And still other days, it’s like the mosh pit of a punk rock concert. Out of control and coming at you full force, like the beat of a thousand drums pounding at you until you just want to run away forever. But you can’t. You can’t escape a mosh pit. You are stuck until music ends.
And that’s the dance of joy and grief.
When you are missing people who you loved like crazy, the dance is always there.
But, life goes on–it doesn’t stop because we are grieving. Joyful moments intersecting with painful ones. One unable to exist without the other. And just as you are beginning to find a familiar groove, a new dance suddenly begins. Jigging, waltzing, moshing. The dance is there waiting to remind you that even though life is good–so very good-–there is a hole in your heart so big that it’s impossible to fill. Those days are mosh pit days. And I am not a fan.
And so it went. And so it goes. Raw becomes real. As the numbness of the first year after loss began to fade, year two slowly became a dance. A very painful one. My old life constantly intersecting with the new. Well worn paths and new ones forged–colliding, over and over and over. The dance became one of clinging ever so tightly while slowly letting go–like you are hanging onto the edge of a cliff and one by one your fingers are slowly slipping. . .
It’s almost like a cha-cha now.
And instead of dancing in the rain. . .
I dance through tears–the ones of joy and grief.
Somewhere along the line, I learned that you make the choice to stay and dance or you choose to leave the party. You choose to jig, waltz, and cha-cha through the ups and downs of life, or you choose to stay stuck in the mosh pit, even after the music has ended and the crowd has gone home.
I choose to stay and dance–sometimes, like no one is watching.
And I’m glad.
Because even though the dance is exhausting, and painful, and messy, it’s also beautiful and joyous, and worth every crazy, aching moment.
To all of my friends and family that have danced with me in 2014. . .
I thank you and I love you.
Good-bye 2014 and hello 2015.
I can only imagine the new dance steps I will learn.
February 7, 2014 would have been my dad’s 72nd birthday. Today, would have been my mom’s 70th. After my mom’s death 18 months ago, I found myself grieving my dad as well as the collective loss of my parents–something I never expected would happen.
I cleared the leaves and freshly fallen snow from my mom’s newly laid gravestone. It had only been a few months since she, along with my sister-in-law and eight year-old niece, had been killed by a drunk driver. As I looked at her name etched into the stone, I was sure the heaviness in my heart would cause it to explode. My mom was 68 going on 50 when she died and I had yet to make any sense of her senseless death. I stood there in tears for a while and when I finally turned to leave, I noticed my dad’s gravestone. It was covered in layers of dead leaves and snow, nearly forgotten by me. My heavy heart sank further into my chest.
The year was 1977 and I was eight when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 34 years old and his death was shocking to me, even at such a young age. Standing at his grave 35 years later, his death seemed like a lifetime ago. The older I had gotten, the less I had seemed to think of him (even though I did occasionally) and at times, I still really missed him. So many years had passed though that for the most part, my memories of him had faded deeply.
My mom had remarried when I was 15 to a wonderful man who I have considered my dad for the three decades. My stepdad walked me down the aisle, was grandpa to my children, and loved my mom to no end. He had been there for me, through thick and thin, throughout most of my life whereas the man buried at my feet had only been there for the first few years. Yet, I shouldn’t have forgotten. Even though he had been gone for so long, my dad had loved me deeply, that I had known from early on. As time had passed I had taken those memories and tucked them away. Maybe it was to protect myself from the hurt, maybe I really had forgotten, or maybe it was a little of both. I wasn’t really sure. All of these things quickly raced through my mind and suddenly, I found myself sobbing. With guilt-laden grief, I quickly dropped to my knees and began to clear away his stone.
As I drove home, the tears kept coming. I had just been thrust into an unexpected, adult-sized mourning of his death at the same time I was mourning the new loss of my mom. I found myself grieving a lifetime of memories lost as well as grieving the collective loss of my parents, something that I hadn’t considered would happen. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The two people that had loved me and cared for me from the very beginning of my life were now gone. If it was possible to feel orphaned as a forty-something adult, this had to be what it felt like.
Over the next few days, I found myself in tears quite often as I kept thinking a lot about the early years of my life, especially those days and weeks surrounding the time of my dad’s death. Even though those memories had been dormant for what seemed like forever, my grief-stricken brain easily–albeit painfully–recalled them. Saying goodbye the morning of his death, being taken out of school knowing that something was gravely wrong, going with my mom to pick out his casket, sitting with her at his funeral, as well as the sorrowful days that ensued— these memories were now incredibly fresh in my mind. As they flooded in, I found myself reliving the pain of that time, not through the eyes of my eight-year old self, but instead, through the eyes of an adult. As a child I knew the loss of my father was tremendous, but as an adult, I was able to realize fully the magnitude of his loss and it hurt– big time. Even though I thought I had completely grieved his loss years ago, I found out that really wasn’t true at all. Now, as an adult, I was able to give my eight-year old self the space and permission to hurt and then to heal. I had discovered quite out of the blue that grief is funny like that. It sneaks up on us and can send us reeling into some dark places when we least expect it to. We can either run from that darkness or through it to the light. I chose to move towards the light.
It has been just over a year since that grief-ridden, heavy-hearted day in the cemetery. Since that day, I have been able to heal from the childhood loss of my father in a deeper and more meaningful way than I ever thought possible, even while grieving the recent death of my mom.
The biggest lesson that I have learned throughout this time is that grief and healing are constant and fluid, ever changing as time passes. I know that I will always be grieving my parent’s deaths, both individually and collectively, in some way or another, and I am completely okay with that. I know that with every resurgence of grief, the opportunity comes to heal and grow, and to reconcile and release the pain of their losses. I know that it is okay to give myself permission to grieve and to create space in my life for healing, whether it’s from something that happened years ago or just yesterday. This new understanding of grief and healing has created a newfound peace in me–despite the pain— and I know that with each new level of healing that I reach, I will be able to stand in that cemetery. . . my heavy heart a little lighter than the last.
A friend and colleague shared an article recently about the things grieving people often experience. More specifically, the stuff nobody tells you, the messy stuff. You know, the stuff you really need to know that isn’t always in the neat little pamphlets that you get. It’s straight-forward, easy to read, and brilliant. The entire article,”64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief,” can be found here–http://whatsyourgrief.com/64-things-about-grief/ and it is WELL worth five minutes of your time to read, whether you are grieving or not. Any human being on this planet that lives long enough will experience loss and the subsequent grief that ensues. I highly recommend taking a look. You can never be too prepared to enter into the world of grief, trust me on that one.
So often society seems to get caught up in the “if onlys” and the “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s” when it comes to grieving. For instance, “You should, be over that by now” or “You would be over that by now if only you would _____,” or “You could be over that by now if only you could just let go.” And while most people are not ill-intentioned when trying to offer help, to a grieving person (well, me for sure) those comments often sound like the adult voices on Charlie Brown, you know, “whah, whah, whah. . .” (Sorry to digress, but humor now and then is essential when grieving. Here’s the link to check it out if you aren’t sure what I mean or just want to reminisce http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss2hULhXf04.) Grief is simply not that simple. You don’t just get over it. You don’t just let go. Closure doesn’t automatically happen because a socially allotted amount of time has passed or because a perpetrator goes to jail. Everyone grieves in their own time, in their own way. Grief cannot not be put into a neat little box. We each have to figure out a way to weave the pain of our losses into the tapestry of our life stories, even if it is only one tiny thread at a time. Then, we need to figure out how to move forward or as #58 on the list says “get used to it.” I couldn’t agree more with that terminology because “getting used to it” is about all we can do some days. In fact, there wasn’t a single thing on the list that I couldn’t relate to or agree with on some level. . .
#2- Stop avoiding and be present. Being present is ABSOLUTELY one of the hardest things to do when you are grieving. Being present means you have to acknowledge your pain and quite frankly, that sucks! BIG TIME. Unfortunately, healing can’t take place in the past or in the future, it has to happen in the now. FYI: This one becomes harder to do as the numbness of early grief wears off. Work on staying present in small doses at first because it is difficult. But, keep trying. Work on it. I make staying present an intentional part of my day, every single day.
#9- Death and grieving make people uncomfortable, so be prepared for awkward encounters.People will avoid the subject and maybe even you. I am ashamed to say that I have done this in the past to others when I should have reached out. It is totally okay if you don’t know what to say. Most times just a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” and a hug will do.
#16 and #17- There is no such thing as closure. There is no timeline for grieving. You can’t rush it. You will grieve, in some form, forever. Not much to add here except that, it’s okay to not close that door. Loss is part of life. We don’t expect closure on the good things in life, so why do we expect it when life’s difficulties arise? We don’t need to worry about closing those doors, we need to figure out how to make our losses part of our story without continually living in the past. It’s SO hard to find the balance between the memories and moving forward. It takes work to arrive at some form of acceptance. Do it in your own time.
#23- Grief doesn’t come in five neat stages. Grief is messy and confusing.LIFEis messy and confusing. Why would grief be any different?
#27- However badly you think it is going to hurt, it is going to be a million times worse.All that I have to say to that is AMEN! Wowsa. So true.
#33 and #34- You grieve your past, present and future with that person. Big life events and milestones will forever be bittersweet. The word bittersweet has become a regular part of my vocabulary. It’s these bittersweet moments (graduations, holidays, and wedding planning currently in my case) that have proven to be difficult to navigate with grace.
#63- You will never go back to being your old self. Grief changes you and you are never the same. And that is totally okay! So don’t try to be the same person you once were because that would be impossible. That very moment that your loved one was lost, you were forever changed. It’s okay to be your “new” self, whatever that new self may be, as long as you are not being self-destructive. (See #60.)
It seems every time I read this list, something else jumps off the page at me. In a nutshell, whatever you are experiencing as you are journeying through grief, is quite possibly normal— even if it seems weird at the time. If you feel that what you are going through isn’t normal or if you have questions, seek help from a professional. It’s totally okay to do that (see #53). We aren’t meant to walk through grief alone.
“As I started to picture the trees through the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that stand up strong and straight are the ones that break.” ~J.B. Hill
For all of you reading this that are desperately trying to fight your way through a difficult situation by “being strong,” please, STOP IT NOW. By saying this I don’t mean that you should give up the battle, I mean that you should give it up to God. Let it go. Let it go to Him. It is only through surrender that we find our true strength. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way too many times.
There have been some desperate and terrible periods in my life when I mistakenly thought being strong was my only choice. You know the sayings, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option,” or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” Although there was a time where I would have been all “hell yes!” to those sayings, I now call bullshit. The only place being strong has ever gotten me was down hard, to my knees, crying out in desperation to God to fix my broken life. Being strong is never the only option we have and we are never strong enough alone to make it through all the difficulties that life will throw at us. Being strong is so overrated.
My biggest lesson in surrender came about five years ago. Life had been difficult for a long time, on many levels. I had been the poster-child for what “being strong” was supposed to look like and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was pretty obvious that my way wasn’t working and life could not continue the way I was trying to make it be. Something had to change. I had to give it up, which I eventually did–in a screaming, crying, desperate fit.
I was driving to work one morning when the tears began to uncontrollably flow. It was through these blinding tears that I looked to the heavens and screamed out loud (yes, literally) for Him to fix the brokenness that had become my life. I swear He was waiting for that moment because as soon as I let it go, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I knew immediately that things would work out–maybe not the way I thought they should–(obviously not working for me anyways) but that things would be okay. I also knew in an instant that I had been foolish in thinking I could just “be strong” and things would work out. Being strong for so long had blinded me to accepting the truth of my situation and kept me from reaching out to others that could help in my times of need. Being strong kept me from realizing that the things we often think are most important in this life, really are not. Being strong had kept me from pursuing an authentic and courageous life. Being strong kept me from taking care of myself and had kept me from turning to God when I needed Him most. Being strong had gotten me absolutely nowhere. Besides, I was SO tired of “being strong.”
I’d like to say that I immediately learned the the lessons that my big surrender brought. It took me a while longer to figure it all it out, but thankfully I did. I can’t imagine living through the last 15 months without leaning on God every single moment, of every single day. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had tried to “be strong.”
True strength comes only when we have the courage to give it up to God continually, not just when we are forced to our knees in broken surrender. And even though I still occasionally try to do it my way, it usually doesn’t last long. Strength comes when I am simply being patient, listening for the whispers, and learning to accept that life is the way it is. My strength comes from learning to bend in the storm. My strength comes from my surrender.