“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” (Albert Camus)

Overwhelmed by grief? Can’t shake a loss?

Been there too but I promise you there is bright light ahead. The secret key?

You have to face that monster and get it before it gets you.

If you are stuck grieving, angry and confused, your road ahead will diverge into two paths. Take a solo path (like I did) and run away from it, you may hurt for a long time.

But if you slow down, walk towards the grief, and reach out to others, you will find the brighter way. You wont forget your loss or the person who hurt you, oh no. But you will be on the road to healing, health and happiness sooner.

Here’s my story on how I (and others) wrestled through our pain and slayed the grief monster to gain peace with the past.

As I sat down to write this, I realized it had been over 20 years since I saw my beloved, awesome, funny, amazing Dad take his last breath of air. For 16 months cancer ravaged his strong body.

I was only 21 when he died.

In shock and denial for the entire 16 months of him battling cancer, I made the unconscious decision it hurt way too much to deal with it. It is amazing what the brain can do!  I packaged the grief away in a wooden box and put it up on the shelf.

Get through school Amy. Get a job Amy. Get on with life Amy. Deal with it…later.

You know?

That anger, lump in my throat, tightness in my chest, tears welling in my eyes. I
can still feel it. We are so small but the pain of loss can be immense.

The blur of loss.

A year after Dad died I remembered at times feeling like I was in a glass room. I was sad and angry. I wanted to smash the glass that surrounded me with a steel wrecking ball. To get outside of the grief I had kept inside.

To escape.

Yet, I had no glass house….no wrecking ball. Every time those intense emotions came up, I pushed them right back down and back in the box on the shelf. Gasp.

After college, years of counseling and “anxiety” medication Drs. gave me did nothing to help me navigate the grief.  So, I gave those up and stayed on the move. I chose to work my ass off and exercise every day to find peace.

I worked in sales and traveled in planes every week for a internet start-up business. I made it to the gym at 5am weekdays.

Sundays were so slow and quiet it was painful. If I had to go to Church, or just “be”…my mind would wander to my Dad-gone. Boom, I would feel trapped back in that darn glass room with the grief monster!

“I never knew grief felt so much like fear?” wrote C.S Lewis.

Eight years after my Dad died of cancer my mother was diagnosed with ALS. I was 30.

ALS? Holy, holy shit.  

We had no ALS in our family history. With ALS, I learned Mom would become 100% paralyzed within months or a few years. In the end Mom would only be able to communicate with her eyes. My God…where are you?

I quit my job to help care for her and manage the disease. I was going to find a cure too.

When the neurologist at Johns Hopkins tested mom’s muscles and drilled her on her past, he asked if she had any physical or emotional trauma (Yes, she had some. Could that spur disease?).

The cigarettes and Manhattans did not seem as of interest to him. It was the heart wrenching, brain draining, emotional and physical trauma he focused on. It’s like those tears you refuse to cry become icicles inside.

Mom died 4 years into her diagnosis….100% paralyzed, could not speak or move.

I was 34. Hello…GOD?

A month after my mom died of ALS, I was sitting on a cozy couch in the office of a RN name Margaret Nunez who specialized in grief therapy.  I had been referred to her by my Dr. who was concerned about me.

Arms crossed.

I was wondering why I could not move on “normally.” Normally?  What is normal?

This hurt. So, I wanted to know how to get through those stages of grief faster. With a brand new baby girl and a 16 month old little boy, I had to get clear. You know?

“The loss of a loved person is one of the most intensely painful experiences any human being can suffer.” (John Bowlby)

She looked right into my eyes and said ,“Grief has no timetable Amy.”

Argh! Not what I wanted to hear.

“Two weeks is the amount of time the outside world moves on. Someone who suffers a loss, tragedy, or diagnosed with illness does not move on as fast.”

Then she said:

“To begin healing, you need to do 3 things. Find a mentor, get with a community of support, and follow your passion by doing more of what gives you joy, daily.”

Good thing: I chose to follow my passion (running outside).

Bad thing: I ignored everything else she said.

I was fairly new to Charlotte and reaching out would make me way to vulnerable.

My long road to healing.

It took me 6 more years to realize I had to stop running away. Time to deal with the pain for my own little family.

We all know long term grief and stress is not good for mind, body or spirit. I made healing a priority. I was going to finally figure out how to deal with the grief. It was scary. I had kept the grief monster in a box for 20 years and it was brimming over with tears.

You see, sometimes grief is so strong. Sometimes it is the only thing left to hold on to.

I could not move on alone anymore (exactly as the RN had said 6 years before!). And, it would take way more work than reading handouts on grief my church gave me.

Yet, I had no idea where to turn locally in Charlotte.

Where is Lucy from Peanuts and her wooden psychiatry stand?

Hey you Amy!  Want to heal your grief? Stop here like Charlie Brown does for some life advice.  

So, I did some research online and found a resource out west. I  booked a trip to Golden, Colorado for a “Transformation Camp” weekend. Hubby watched kids and I flew away for a “fitness” weekend. 🙂

Transformation “Camp” was life re-directing.

I met my amazing team in the hotel before boarding the bus to the gym. All ages. All backgrounds. All had suffered losses that had kept them stuck.

For three days, we circled up, shared our stories, worked through the pain and laughed and cried. We also worked out together, ate clean meals, talked, thought, and built friendships. Relationships that I still have years later. Here are some tips on healing I learned that weekend.

8 Ways to Take Action on Your Grief Today

1. Grab a Hall Pass
This is big. I had to forgive myself for holding on so long. So give yourself a freaking break so you can move on. You get an official grace pass for caring so much.

2. Connect 

Reach out sooner than you think you are able. Raise the white flag. You cannot do this alone. Trust me, I tried. Whether a loss just happened, or it has been chasing you for a lifetime, connect with others. Loneliness is not an option if you want to heal.

You have to be proactive on this. Find a community you can relate to online. Then go check it out in person. Bring a friend for your first visit if you need mojo. This community might be found within a church, a religious center, a local respite center, local veterans group, art or music group, dram club, outdoor fitness group, local college, fitness club, alumni group, senior center, AA, ALANON, etc.

Cant find a group you love? Create your own tribe. This community should be both online and offline for max connectivity and accountability.

3. Forgive

Often THE hardest part. You forgave yourself, now forgive those people who hurt you. You won’t forget what happened, but you will release them from hurting you and owning space in your soul.

4. Sweat it out & Get outside

Exercise is the best medicine for mind, body, spirit. Exercise outdoors = Bonus endorphins. Be intentional (and vigorous) about this when you are feeling blue or under stress because of the natural high.

Running, walking, working out at a gym, outdoor bootcamp, yoga, golf, tennis, swimming, biking, Zumba, dancing. Whatever works for you. Just get out there and do it. One step at a time. Sweat it out.

5. Do what you love

What brings you joy? What gets you in the flow? Pursue it daily.

6. Know you are not alone

We are not so alone in our crazy ways. Everyone of us is a little bizarre, don’t you think?

Everybody Hurts Sometimes (1st saw REM sing this in Athens, GA).

7. Get Expressive.

Write it all down. Great therapy. Be authentic. Cathartic. Write to music you love. Write songs. Take up art. Whatever you need to express, do. Then share it! It lights the way for others.

Should someone say “Is this gonna be your life story?” Or, “OMG, it’s TMI.” They just do not get it, for whatever reason. You wanted to move on. You just did not have the tools to heal until now.

What if they keep judging you…or your writing. Well, as my pastoral counselor Jim once said on these types of people: “Just fuck ’em.”   Yes, he said that.

8. Pay it forward

When you begin to heal, pay it forward. Help others. Be the calm in someones storm.

There you have it.

8 ways to find your invincible summer. Take it one stable step at a time. 🙂

Fin. ARP Nov. 2014

* I do not claim any rites REM, Warner Brothers, this video or music.