It’s easy to preach about living in the moment when we’re numbing out or avoiding reality.
When we create false moments through parties, drinking, shopping, drugs, food, gossip, social media, etc. In order to avoid our feelings about our actual reality, it’s so very easy to tell ourself that we live in the moment.
I was numb for a very long time. So numb that I had to seek outside sources of pleasure for myself in order to remind myself that I even had feelings at all. I was not totally dead inside yet, but my soul definitely slipped in and out of a coma-like state for a while.
Pain and trauma do that to a human. Our bodies are hard wired to shut it all down and encase the tender parts of us with iron clad armor.
*Note: before you tell yourself that you haven’t experienced pain or trauma, I challenge you to look honestly at your life. And the truth of it. It may not have been a tragedy that made headlines, but most trauma is quieter than that. It’s quieter than the word itself. So quiet that we tell ourselves it was nothing, dismissing our tender feelings and opting to suit up with the armor instead.
The thing no one could ever truly convey about healing, because you have to live it to know it, is that it gets ugly. The mind and body will literally battle the soul, clinging to the armor that protected the whole of the three so well, for so long.
Living in the moment, truly living in the moment, is actually brutal when you are recovering from something. Peeling off the armor, then removing the distractions that numb us is beyond uncomfortable. It is painful. The truth of our trauma is painful and forcing ourselves to feel it, is counter intuitive to our human nature to survive.
It takes patience and bravery to let the soul take over the mind and body like this… because the soul knows best; it also takes a type of self love that most of us are not nearly as used to giving ourselves as we should be.. (I’m sorry for that… because we all deserve to love ourself.)
If we can get here, if we can force our ourselves to peel away the armor, remove the distractions, look at the truth and feel it for as painful as it is, it will truly suck.
It will truly suck.
This process brings us to a breaking point, and just when we think we will break, we choose something better than the numbing distractions of the past. We call out to Him… and feel the relief.
There’s relief on the other side of that pain. There’s pain on the other side of that numbness. There’s bravery in venturing past those hurdles…. And there’s whole wide life to be lived on the other side of it all.
Remember, life is going to hit you hard with a lot of crappy stuff. Might as well live anyways.
Maybe you’ve kept so focused on being “nice”, understanding, polite…
Maybe you’ve let one too many wolves tell you they’re sheep.
Maybe some times you just didn’t know how to say “no” or “That doesn’t work for me.”
Maybe for years you’ve suppressed the darkest parts of yourself for fear of the capabilities. You’ve kept your boundaries written in erasable ink and far too many carry an eraser.
Jordan Peterson, a modern philosopher and Toronto professor, says that not having a dark side isn’t what makes you virtuous. It makes you just another thing to take care of. What gives us virtue is having a dark side and knowing how and when to use it.
There’s sheep, a vulnerable thing to take care of. There’s the wolf, a dark and predatory thing with bad intent. Then there’s the shepherd, who takes the care to tend to the sheep and will also shoot the wolf dead if needed.
There’s nothing wrong with your anger, your ‘no bullshit’ meter, your fire. They’re our internal alarm system telling us when a boundary has been crossed or needs to be readjusted. (If we’ve been violated or betrayed a lot in life, our alarm system will be much more sensitive, but that’s a different post for a different day.)
Say “that doesn’t work for me”
And watch who stays.
Watch who says you’ve changed and phases out of your life…
Chances are they were either sheep, preferring other sheep to do sheep shit with or … they were wolves, looking for an easy kill.
Judgmental people exist. It’s part of life, and many of us live in fear of the judgment of others.
However, it’s very rare, as an adult, that we experience judgment in a direct fashion. It usually comes as an undercutting comment or a question disguised as innocent curiosity or as encouragement… but intuition hints at contempt.
Widows know this hint well.
“Do you ever feel guilty for dating? “
“What do your kids think of the new baby?”
“You don’t have to feel guilty about falling in love again.”
As a widow personally speaking, I’ll just go ahead and take the time to answer this now.
I don’t feel guilty.
If I felt guilty, I probably shouldn’t be dating… How could I possibly have a healthy relationship with Mike if every time we did something that mattered, I felt guilty about it?
Answer: I couldn’t.
When we feel guilt, it is either warranted or not.
Sometimes, we feel guilt because we just should… Because we did something wrong or are doing something wrong or because we’re about to do something wrong.
Other times, we feel guilt that’s unwarranted for no reason at all. And when this is the case, we still shouldn’t be doing the thing we’re about to do… Why? Because we will likely sabotage it for ourselves because we feel undeserving.
When we feel guilty for no reason at all that’s an indication that there’s something internal that we need to explore. There’s healing to work through.
So do I feel guilty for meeting and falling in love with Mike and Myles? For getting the opportunity to carry and give birth to another beautiful baby?
No. I don’t.
That series of questions insinuates that my children and I don’t deserve the experience of loving and being loved by new people. Further, it also stems from an archaic notion that the grief we were tossed into is over once new love is introduced. I reject both of these ideals. One because it’s ridiculous to think that we don’t deserve love because we’ve experienced loss. Love is a blessing, and we will take all the blessings that we can get.
Guess what? I’m still in it here. I’m still working through missing Scott every day, especially the holidays. I’m still sad that I can’t share all of the good things that have happened for us with him. I can’t introduce him to Mike, Myles, or Lukas. He won’t see Sophie progress in cheerleading, clap for Lydia at her first home run, or seeing Jax on the ice as a goalie.
I still wipe their tears after a cemetery visit. I still answer hard questions and hold my daughter in her bed for as long as it takes because she just read her baby book and found a letter that I wrote to her back then, and she can’t understand why there’s not a letter in there from her dad.
“Where’s Dad’s letter?” She asks disappointed, near frantic, “everything’s in your hand writing, Mom.”
So I’m the person who tucks her in from something like that, heads upstairs and cries; because when I wrote that letter 12 years ago, there was so much love in my heart. And hope… so much hope for my infant daughter… that she would read it some day, as a teenager and know how loved she was… but here the time came, and instead all she could think was: where’s Daddy?
Never in my nightmares, did I ever think when pouring my heart into that beautiful letter, that it, along with so many other things, would be tainted…
So, yes, yes we will take some new, fresh, and pure love.
These are the types of things that I manage and help three children manage all of the time. The only difference now?
I have help.
We have a wonderful person who lives with us, loves us, supports us through living to the fullest and healthiest and supports us through our evolving grief.
Do I feel guilty for that?
No. And no person should feel guilty for living despite heartache and strife, widowed or not.
I felt guilt when I wasn’t able to get to my husband the minute I knew he was not safe.
I felt guilt I wasn’t able to bring him justice.
I felt guilt that I gave him so much shit when he was alive.
I felt guilt for not doing my part to make myself happy in our marriage, losing myself in a relationship, and putting the pressure on him to make “us” happy. Codependency at its finest.
I felt guilt for loathing traditions like balloon releases and leaving an empty chair at holidays.
I felt guilt that I relied on my kids too much, too early.
I felt guilty for living. Often.
I felt guilt when it was the wrong guy. Definitely.
But not any more and never….
Have I, for once, ever felt guilt for loving Mike.
The other day, we visited the cemetery so the kids could take time to talk to Scott about all that’s happened in their life. Jaxson brought his school stuff to show. The girls talked about the new baby.
Afterwards, there were tears (as there usually is), but the kids were conflicted.
“Mom, I miss Daddy but that means we wish away Mike, Myles, and Luke.” One cried (and another child later expressed similar feelings.)
They feel guilty. I thought. And for a split second, a combination of my empathy, and my own self doubt gave me the residuals of that guilt. I almost took it on.
Was I wrong? Did I curse them with internal conflict by moving forward and asking for more from life?
I quickly reminded myself that they’ve been given a gift. Forever feeling the loss of their father and cursed with grief, they’ve been given the opportunity to love and be loved. Again, here was another situation they needed my guidance on.
“You can feel both,” I said, “You don’t have to choose between hurting and missing Daddy and loving and enjoying our life now. You were made strong enough to handle both.”
And in order to coach my children on this, I have to believe it and live it out myself.
And I do. No guilt here. Just love. Because God made us strong enough to handle it all.
To you: Life is complicated, unpredictable, and really really hard anyway… might as well do what we want and live it. Big love, Meg
While there are many forms of loss such as divorce, unemployment, estranged relatives, the death of another human being cannot be compared to any other experience on this earth. It is a totally unique experience. When it’s unexpected, there’s a whole other set of challenges that present themselves.
Everything is cyclical. You will have dark periods that cycle out and return, and with time and healing, the dark periods grow shorter. Do not expect them to disappear completely though. We loved that person; And it’s because we loved that person that there will always be sadness associated with their absence.
I’m not an expert (I don’t know who would want to be an expert in this). These are all things I’ve learned and observed through the last two years.
My long time friend and fellow writer, Trisha Lynn, and I did a FB Live this week to
discuss some ways we cope with the losses that we’ve experienced. (*to see a replay of this go to www.facebook.com/31MainStreet ) Here, I briefly recap those suggestions, as well as discuss some other tools that weren’t mentioned in our Facebook Live:
Music – PURPOSE: Creating new pathways and associations in your brain. Music can understand you in a way that people can’t some times. When talking to others who are grieving, I’ve noticed a commonality. A lot of us have songs or entire genres associated with our loved one. In the beginning, it can be painful to listen to a song that feels like it belongs to someone else who is no longer here. So until then, I highly recommend finding an artist or genre that you never considered before. It could be EDM, Classical, or Jazz. For me, there was a whole other world of music that I never knew about (*for more on this see my post: How Music Worked With Me this Year )
Journaling – PURPOSE: Our minds race. Thoughts can build up and intertwine with one another, binding us, making it impossible to function. Many times, our thoughts can get so tightly wound up. It can be hard to make a decision as simple as what to do first in our day, so we go back to bed. Journaling (first thing in the morning or last thing at night in particular) can be a wonderful tool to rid ourselves of the useless thoughts. There’s a book to reference for this. It’s called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the book, Cameron offers a means of decluttering one’s mind. She calls it “Brain Dump”, and I think that’s the perfect term. Get rid of all of the crap bouncing around in there, close your journal, and be one step closer to clarity.
Learning Something New – PURPOSE: Creating new neuro pathways within our brains. Learning something new will build your confidence in this foreign world. It will give you a sense of control that you feel you’ve lost. Some skills that I’ve learned over the past two years are real estate and shooting. Both of these areas have served different purposes for me personally, but the world is boundless with possible new careers, skills, or hobbies you could develop.
Reading – PURPOSE: This serves as a great escape from reality and can be incredibly comfortable and relaxing. It also serves another purpose. It goes along with the suggestion above: learning something new. I highly recommend reading books that feed you in a positive manner. Books like, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, come to my mind. As Olson states in his book, reading just 10 pages a day will still move you in a positive direction forward. This fosters both patience in the process of learning, and also, it’s effective in the absorption of content.
Faith – PURPOSE: It’s my ‘why’. The promise that I will be reunited with loved ones some day is what keeps me going. While I don’t push my beliefs on another, I will say that believing in something bigger than myself has gotten me through some extremely dark times. (If you ever want to have a respectful conversation about it separately, I’ll gladly discuss my beliefs.)
Exercise – PURPOSE: Get rid of toxins. The enzymes in a sad tear have a different make up than the enzymes in a happy tear. These are toxins being released. Exercise elevates the heart rate, getting blood cycling throughout your body, but also, helping you to literally sweat out bad feelings. There’s so much already written about this, and I invite you to research it on your own, but endorphins have been way more powerful in my life than any other outside substance.
Physiological Exercises: PURPOSE: These are calming activities done for severe panic disorders as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The sudden death of a loved one brings trauma. Traumatic memories are stored differently than other memories. Our brain boxes them up tightly, so we can function in other aspects of our lives. The problem is that the mind takes this tightly packaged memory and puts it in the emotional section of our brain, so if we have a trigger, a stimulus that pops the top off of this memory, we experience the emotions as if the event is happening all over again. This is overwhelming. Here are some recommended activities that one can use to calm his or her self down from a panic situation. While Trisha and I explain it in the context of PTSD, it is applicable to many other situations. Parents use this for children with intense emotions or who may fall on the spectrum. With the demands of our world nowadays, these activities are beneficial to anyone who feels like they are overwhelmed with panic. The first step before any of these recommendations is to recognize the rising feeling of panic, then proceed with any of the following exercises…
The A-B-C Trick – Trisha explains this as first, choosing a category. The example she gives is “Animals”, but you could decide on any category (i.e. food, cars, TV shows). Once your category is selected, go through each letter of the alphabet and name an item within that category. So for Trisha’s category, “Animals”, one could say, “A – Alligator; B – Baracuda; C – Chamillion…” And so on. Do not stop until you’ve reached ‘Z’. Repeat as desired.
Shoulder Tapping – This was recommended to me by a fellow widower, who experienced intense trauma in his life. Here, the individual takes his or her arms and crosses them over their chest, each hand on his or her shoulders. Then, just lightly tap their shoulders with their hands, remaining silent while tapping. (I was also told that one could tap their own sinuses to alleviate stress. This is depicted in my blog: Panic Attacks: 5 Quick ‘In-the-Moment’ Exercises to Alleviate Them)
While I know most of these are fairly simple recommendations, I also know that adding them into your life, when you’re under mental stress and emotional pain, is easier said than done. Here, I reference the book “The Slight Edge” again. Jeff Olson, the writer, points out that this “…path can be uncomfortable…scary. Especially if you’re the only one around who’s on it.” He also continues on to say that, despite this, if we take small baby steps forward, we will see change. Positive change. Pick one small way to cope and take your first baby step, even if it’s itty bitty.
On our third date, Scott and I had a long conversation about where “this” was going. We talked about what we wanted for the future, and I remember my neurotic tendencies enveloping it all. Finally, Scott grabbed my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You’re gonna be my girl.”
My heart skipped a beat, and I smiled. Looking into his eyes, I felt the sincerity emanate from him. This was it. I was his. He was mine.
What neither of us realized then is that we don’t get to keep people. They are lent to us for an undetermined period of time. . As much as we can “claim” someone on this earth. The truth is that nothing truly belongs to us. The only things we possess of our own are thoughts, feelings, and spirit.
This is something that I quickly realized after having my oldest daughter. Holding her in the hospital and again, looking into her curious eyes, I knew. She wasn’t mine. She was my DNA. Her title in this life would be my daughter, but my responsibility was only to guide her on the ways of the world. And funny enough, many times now, she’s the one who guides me.
Eventually, she will leave me. She will have a family of her own to tend to, and it will hurt. If I’ve done my job right though, she will flourish on her own. This is my perspective with all of my children. Of course, I would later learn a deeper version of this lesson.
Scott died on the phone with me. Mid sentence. One moment he was “mine”. The next he was “gone”.
I knew, before, that life was short. I went to bed every single night and prayed to God, listing off the things in my life that I was grateful for. I said I love you. A lot. And still, nothing could have ever prepared me for the way my life would literally become the cliche that everything can change in an instant.
I’ve asked “why” often since Scott was taken, and that’s an answer I won’t get in this lifetime. My “why’s” began with desperation, then they were bitter; then they came from a place of deep sadness and defeat… Now, I find myself slowly growing into humility.
Only He knows.
The answer isn’t for me to understand, but what I’m learning for sure is that people are lent to us. They come into our lives to teach us. They teach us in the literal sense, but moreover, they teach us in their actions and way of being. The relationships we form, both atrocious and Godly, contribute to our growth. They prepare us for something bigger.
And for today anyways, I’m going let go of all possession and to look to bigger things.
Well, here we are. It’s the end of Christmas break (hallelujah!).
Weeks ago, I was so looking forward to the “busyness” of December to slow down.
Before grief, I knew that December was a demanding month for parents; Take away one parent, add intense emotional pain and the demands of every activity my children are involved in, and you’ve got me: someone who was just pushing through the tunnel to get to the light:
Little did I realize that once the “busyness” stopped, then other things would come to take its place. Things like reality.
My current reality (and just going to put it out there): I’m living with PTSD because my husband was killed on his way home from work, while we were in the middle of a conversation. I am now left to make a new life for our three babies without him. I attended a funeral without him for the first time ever as an adult (my sweet grandpa, RIP). Other glaring firsts: My first wedding anniversary since his death. My first house signing. This was also our first Christmas without him. It was our first New Year too. We were forced to leave him in 2016. And it’s because of all of those reasons, that I find myself using the eff word a lot these days.
When my therapist told me that I have PTSD, I thought she was being dramatic. I’m not suppose to have PTSD. That’s something that men and women who serve our country get. People in uniform who run into burning buildings and kick down doors. Fighters. Defenders. Not a mother of 3.
Sure. If I hear sirens when my kids are not with me, where I know they are safe, I fall to my knees. Sirens. It’s always the fucking sirens.
Then, the other day, while driving on the way home, the red lights of a state trooper filled my rear view mirror. My heart sank as I pulled my car to the shoulder of the expressway.
I was speeding.
My heart sank and guilt and grief turned into curdled lumps. Sirens again. And they’re my fault.
To my surprise, I watched the trooper zoom past me. It wasn’t me that he was heading towards. My heart sank again, and I knew to where he was going before I even looked ahead, but I looked anyway.
Up ahead there were dozens of flashing lights…and I bawled. Traffic came to a stand still. And I had to fight the urge not to get out of my car and run.
I wanted to run up to the scene. I wanted to find my husband, drag him out of his stupid car myself, and hold him in my arms. I wanted to beg God to please grant me a miracle. It’s something I’ve longed for since hearing his accident.
We were rerouted around this fatal accident. And as we passed, I didn’t see any other person… I saw my husband. Let me be clear here, I’m not speaking figuratively. My emotional reaction was so strong to seeing this other car that my mind thought it was my husband.
So that was new. Hey, I guess that’s another “first” to add to my list of this December.
December is a month where all of us, by nature, reflect on the past. Family traditions, etc. This is so bad for the grief process. I repeatedly say that in order to survive this grief, I have to be present. December took me by my face and shoved my nose in the mess of my recent past. It forebode me from being in the moment. Ok, I feel the need to say the eff word again, so I’m going to: Fuck December. Seriously, fuck it.
All sarcasm and negativity aside — I am now looking to January and February… and every other month for that matter. My goal: Focus on that which gives me hope.