It was Brene Brown who said
" Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do"
Then I guess this is me owning mine. Imperfect, wounded open and without apologies.
I woke up this morning with a fog of sadness. I am a happy person usually. Sure I have bouts of lows like everyone else, but they never last, not even when they should. When people thought I should be inconsolably drowning in my grief, I found ways to float to the top and find air. Maybe it's my brand of weird, perhaps it's me being strong, or just broken enough to appear strong. Read on and you'll find out.
I woke up and rolled over to find my little one's angelic face beside me. Baby L had pitter-pattered to my very tall four-post bed last night, tugging at my sheets. "Mommy… mooommmyy… wake up!" I did wake up reluctantly to find her crawling across me and settling between my husband and me. She laid her head on the baby pillow I placed there just in case. That, just in case, is usually once a month, sometimes less now that she is five. "I'm thirsty, Mommy she whispered to me." I rolled over and slipped out of bed. The bright green numbers on my charging apple watch snarled at me. 3:30 am, a good hour and a half before I usually wake up.
Tucking baby L in bed, I went down to grab her a glass of water, then curled up and spooned her warm body as she went back to sleep. Just over an hour later, I was awake, this time for good staring at my baby girl sleeping. Awake and sad. I couldn't shake the feeling of gloom which is very unlike me. I just chalked it up to missing the morning jog, thanks to the constant rain, the sunless sunrise which always made me restless, or the film of cold air persisting despite my deep need for spring warmth clawing at my skin. I monotonously moved through the day, working, staying busy waiting for the fog to lift.
11:35 am I looked at my watch, and it stared back at me… the same angry glaring green numbers as this morning.
11:35 am March 24th
Six years ago today also a cold sunless day like today at 11:32 am, I got a phone call from my husband. His voice eerie, almost mechanical, and purposefully devoid of emotion. He was strong because that's what I needed him to be. We all live under these invisible expectations of what others want from us, don't we? He thought he needed to be strong for me. I thought I needed to be silent for my kids; the world thought I should grieve as if grieving would fix it all. I was told gently by many well-wishers grieving meant losing composure; it is falling apart needing a shoulder to cry on or crying. They didn't just expect it; they waited for it. And it wouldn't come.
Today was the day, and I had forgotten. Six years have passed, and I'd forgotten the date. How did I do that? It was as if my neurons had memory. The memory my mind deemed forgettable. That sadness was my loss, my grief, my pain inching its way to the surface pulling at me to remember. Maybe it was the universe urging me to remember. Remember without pain because I've earned it. Remember without guilt because I've learned how. And I did, I remembered.
I remembered all of it like it had happened yesterday. The only thing missing is the squeezing pain in my chest. Now it was just a dull ache in my heart. Time doesn't heal, but it does fade some of the horror.
Do you know what it is about the death of a loved one that surprises you the most? It's how people treat you. Like you are a piece of glass about to shatter or like a circus animal they can stare at for entertainment: the awkward glances and long silences waiting for the right words to come. I watched with amusement as people struggled for the words. My inner people watcher and storyteller was alive and alert, or maybe this is how I coped in those days.
I remember telling my parent's lawn care guy, he''d been working for them for over two decades. He cried like a baby and I… didn't. Over the days, I managed to wade through unchartered waters on autopilot.
What takes you by surprise is how you spend your energy and time consoling others as if it was your job to make them feel better about your loss. Looking back, I had to break the news of my parent's death to so many people and then tell them lies to soothe their pain. Lies. Their pain, not mine. (shaking my head) The eternal happy girl in me grasping for ways to float to the top again.
Telling people they are in a better place, telling them things happen for a reason when all the while I didn't believe a word of it. The fact is I didn't cry because I was crisis managing. I was too busy running through my regrets. I should have done more, called more, visited more said more been more... I was slashing at my guilt with my eyes closed pushing away the pain for another day. I didn't fall apart because I was always the one people fell apart on. I didn't know how to be vulnerable because I wasn't strong enough to be strong. I didn't look for a shoulder to cry on because I am used to being the shoulder. It was safe, it was expected to always play the role which people have allowed you to grow into. I wasn't taught to be truly strong I was taught to be silent and fight back weakness. Play defense always. Ill equipped, caught off guard and truly desperate. You wouldn't know it though from looking at my rounded belly dressed in my mourning black and curls pushed back in place. I played the part I always played. Defiant and unemotional. I didn't care what people thought of me and that wasn't an act. So I stood in silence because my mother's voice was alive in my head. "You don't cry; you are strong and graceful, not weak." I needed to give her that one last time.
I am the girl who fixed broken things but here was my heart shattered into a million pieces and I didn't have a clue how to glue it back together. I am the one who thrives on stress and meeting numbers and goals and deadlines and grades and passing tests and winning… I was always that girl, I was good at it too. And now all the numbers added up to nothing but the inevitable truth. The cold unwavering truth I couldn't face, couldn't wrap my arms around. I wasn't angry not at them for dying not at the kids who all but walked away from the accident which left my father dead and my mother mangled. I wasn't angry at God or anyone else. So when someone suggested I see a therapist about my grief, I laughed at them. The last thing I needed was a head shrink in my head. Six years later, I still don't know if that was the right decision. But I know I've changed a little since and learned some about myself along the way.
Two years in, my body was showing signs of exhaustion even if my mind wasn't. Lack of sleep, high blood pressure, muscle pain, and this deep gnawing restlessness was my grief, looking for a way out. Every time my husband traveled I waited for him to come home to me in one piece. Waiting without knowing for the other shoe to drop. It was as if I was in a game with no rules now, like the only certainty was uncertainty. I fought the shadowy demons in my head while pretending I was thriving and surviving. I wasn't. I was treading water and that too barely. I figured out how to let it out; everyone does it in their own time. Letting it out by letting it in. It was the only way.
Six years later, I don't know if I am "normal" for what it's worth. I am convinced no one really is. But I do know that I didn't lose my parents. They are inside me, at least the important parts of them. Whenever I meet a challenge or tackle a problem or stand up for something or against something, I am not one but three. And that makes me a force to be reckoned with. No, I have not accepted their death; I never will, but I have made peace with its occurrence so they can live on.
When I look at my daughters, I see pieces of my parents in them. The pieces they don't even know they have but use so wonderfully well, making their own way in the world. They are not chained by their grandparents or by me. They are Free. I will not pass down my legacy of regrets or my need to be strong. The only voice in their head will be their own speaking sweet gentle affirmations of kindness and acceptance.
Six years later, I know writing these words sets me free too. Free from the guilt of not feeling things like the world expects me to. Free from the wrong definition of what Strength is. Now I know Strength is vulnerability. It is the courage to feel things even when they are impossible to survive if felt completely—but doing it anyway. Strength is knowing I am not alone in the world not even in the room. I am three. Always three. Imperfect, work in progress, learning to love myself and let go-three. And now I am free.
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