A year or two ago, I was watching a show called "Stand Up to Cancer" on television and saw the most moving performance by Taylor Swift. She was singing about a little boy who obviously had died from cancer and there was a photo of a little boy with the most beautiful blue eyes I'd ever seen hanging on the stage above her. The song was so beautiful I had to look it up on the internet and ended up reading all about the sweet little boy, Ronan. My heart broke for his poor mom who obviously was struggling just to get through each day without him. But once I read her blog, Rockstar Ronan, I was hooked. Not just because of how moving the story was but because of how REAL this woman was. She wrote about her life without her son every day as it REALLY was. No censoring. No worrying about being politically correct. Just the real raw emotions, both good and bad. It was refreshing and captivating. And I could understand it. This woman was not a writer by trade (although she should be!) but you can tell that she vents through her writing and I can relate. It helps me to get all of my thoughts and emotions out on paper (or computer screen) and if I'm able to reach others and possibly help them in the meantime, that's a bonus. I'm also a big fan of the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. I think God gives you certain struggles because He wants you to do something with them. "Your misery becomes your ministry." That's one of my favorite mottoes. After every traumatic experience I've had in my life, I've almost immediately felt a desire or even a responsibility to take it and make good from it somehow. Most importantly, to help other people that are going through the same thing that I've already been through. For me, this has been 1) Domestic Violence and 2) Grief/Cancer.
The drive in me to address these two issues is strong, not only because I've been through them both personally, but because I feel like they've both been so misunderstood and almost shunned, that it makes me angry. Good angry, but still angry. I've written another blog about domestic violence before so I won't get in to it too much here but it is beyond frustrating how misunderstood that whole issue is. People still to this day get so caught up in the "why didn't she just leave?" and the look away/don't say anything/avoid the issue mentality, it makes me want to scream. I'm encouraged that there are campaigns like No More that are trying to change this and I hope that I will be blessed to see change happen during my lifetime.
But right now my main focus is of course, grief. Now if you're still reading after that last sentence, congratulations! You didn't get scared or put off just by the word GRIEF. Hey, I'm not placing blame or judging anyone. It's not a happy word. It's ingrained in all of us to get a yucky feeling when we even hear or see it. And it's certainly not something we'd choose to focus on if we have a choice between it and pretty much anything else. But what I've realized having gone through one major loss and now being in the midst of an even greater one is that it is another issue that is so often misunderstood, mishandled or just plain avoided.
It shouldn't be news to me I guess because I have volunteered for an organization called The Respite, a center whose whole goal is to provide a place for healing and grieving after loss. I remember they told me that in our society, we are often taught to keep grief behind closed doors. That it's a private thing that shouldn't be talked about too much. Well who says? Who said that's the way it has to be? Who said they we are only allowed to talk about our grief when someone first passes through the day of the memorial/funeral and then we have to keep quiet? And why is that? Is it because it makes other people uncomfortable and they don't know what to say or how to handle it? Is it because we don't want to bring other people "down" or make them think about unhappy things when everything in their lives is going okay?
GRIEF IS NOT A BAD THING. It is not something to be ashamed of. It does not make you weak. It does not make you selfish. It does not make you crazy. Grief is normal and okay and HUMAN. What's ironic about the whole thing is that grief is one of the few things that joins all of us together. It's one of the few things that we ALL will experience, no matter our age, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status or nationality. We all will go through loss and we all will grieve. Now, every person's grief experience is different. But we all are bonded by the common experience, so why not share it with one another?
The couple books that I have read on death, hospice and the dying process were beyond helpful both during the loss of my dad and right now, with the loss of my mother. Why? Because they talk about the common experience that we all have. The symptoms that we typically have, the behaviors we have, the questions we ask, even the feelings we may have in reaction to others' reactions. Got that? ;) Of course this is helpful because it reminds those of us that are in the midst of grief that we ARE NOT ALONE. That we are not crazy and that what we are feeling is normal. Others before us have felt it and others after us will feel it.
And I guess that's why I feel the need to share my experience, even though I too worry about judgement, reactions or disagreement. Which is where I need to take a lesson from Ronan's mom. ;) I need to share it for myself. To get all of the feelings and thoughts that seem too big to stay inside my head. To try to make sense of it all as my brain continually tries to process what is happening. I need to share it for others. To help other people that might be going through the same thing or even to give people who haven't experienced grief yet an insight into what it's like.
So what is the ugly truth? That grief HURTS. That it's going to hurt for awhile and that's just the way it is. You can't rush it. You can't "overcome" it. It's not about being brave or strong or "bucking up." Your mind and your body have gone through a traumatic experience and it has to take the time it needs to process each and every thought and emotion and to heal. You don't really have a say in the matter. Sure, you can try to numb it or avoid it with unhealthy behaviors like alcohol, drugs or sex. But in order to have a healthy grief experience, where you truly heal, you HAVE to take your time. Well-intentioned people may try to advise you to get back to "normal life" as soon as you can and that may work for some people. But the important thing is to remember that grief is all about doing what is right for YOU. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks.
You have to be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel every emotion and not run from them. And boy is that not fun. You do go all over the place from hour to hour, even minute to minute. One moment you may be fine and then something will trigger you, a sight or a smell, or you may just have a memory or thought pass through your head, and instantly you'll feel like crying or throwing up. That's just the way life during grief is.
I can't say that I've been truly happy since my mom passed away two weeks ago. But I have had moments where I've been okay. Where I've been involved in the moment of watching a movie or talking to a friend and I'm not thinking about my mom or feeling sad. The feeling of emptiness and ache/pit in my stomach are pretty much constant. And the episodes of extreme sadness and/or tears come and go. The things I have of hers all over my house are comforting but also heartbreaking because I think of her wearing the clothes or reading the books or ordering the Vitamix off QVC and it makes me sad.
And why was it so fast? Was it better that it was fast? My brain can't comprehend the fact that she was just here with me going to the grocery store, going shopping, visiting the beach and then she was gone. Just like that. My stomach hurts when I try to comprehend it. My heart aches when I think about how she talked like she was going to be okay even a couple days before she passed. Asking us to get her sunglasses fixed or saying we needed to stop for ice cream on the way home from the hospital. It breaks my heart that she didn't realize how bad off she was but then again, maybe that was a blessing.
I give myself stomach aches worrying about how much she was aware of. If she knew what was happening. If she recognized any of the stages in herself that she and I had witnessed when my dad passed away. If so, was she scared? Was she anxious? When the doctors wouldn't leave her alone about a DNR order, was she afraid? Should I have talked to her more about it? Did we do what she wanted in the end? Should we have done something different? What about a couple weeks ago, should I have made her eat more? Would that have mattered? Why didn't she get the time to make her dream of living at the beach come true? Why did she have to deal with so much besides just the cancer? Why didn't we get to have Thanksgiving at the beach like we were planning? Why don't I get to have my mother or my father at my wedding or to see my children? Why did I end up watching both of my parents go through the death process right in front of my eyes? The questions never end.
You can't describe the grief experience to anyone that hasn't experienced it. You can give them snapshots like this one but you still can't EVER describe it in a way that will allow them to truly understand it. And that's okay. But I guess my hope is that I'll be able to help other people after I go through this myself. To let other people know that what they're feeling is okay. That they're not alone in it. For others who are not going through grief but know someone that is - to let them know that the grief experience (particularly with a parent) is bigger than your loved one can possibly describe. That it's okay if you feel helpless or unsure of what to do or say. That just your presence can often be enough.
It's funny because when I started out writing this blog, I thought I was going to write more about the raw emotions I am feeling. The stuff that I admired so much about Ronan's mom's blog. And I think I still sort of shied away from that a little. Huh. Who knows, maybe I'm not ready for that either. But I do know that I share her passion about telling cancer to take a long walk off a short pier. It has taken both of my parents from me and I know too many people who have also had their loved ones taken too soon. If only words could kill cancer cells, they wouldn't stand a fighting chance.