“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?
There is light ahead.
I promise you.
Here’s my story on how I (and others) finally found a way out.
To a sense of peace with the past.
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, run 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.
Maybe even able to help others.
As I sat down to finally write this, it has 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 for months, I made the executive decision it hurt way too much to deal with it.
I had to be package it away in a wooden box and put it up on the shelf.
Get through school. Get a job. Get on with life. I’d deal with it…later.
That anger, lump in my throat, tightness in my chest, tears welling in my eyes.
We are so small but the pain of loss can be so 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 so 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.
Yet, I had no glass house….no wrecking ball.
Every time those emotions came up, I pushed them right back into the box.
I chose instead to work my ass off and exercise every day to find peace.
Years of counseling and “anxiety” medication Drs. gave me did nothing to help me navigate the grief.
So I stayed on the move.
I worked in sales and traveled every week for a internet start-up business.
I made it to the gym at 5am every day.
Sundays were painful for a long time. So slow and quiet.
If I had to go to Church, or just “be”…my mind would wander to my Dad-gone.
Then, I would feel trapped back in that darn glass room with the grief monster!
Nowhere to hide.
“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.
With ALS, I learned Mom would become 100% paralyzed within months or a few years.
Mom would eventually only be able to communicate with her eyes… then die.
My God…where are you?
So, at age 30, I quit my job to be with her. To care for her.
My husband and I rallied a care team to help my sisters and I manage the ALS.
We had no ALS in our family history.
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.
My long road to healing.
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.
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.
“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.”
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 find a mentor. A community of support. And follow your passion…do 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.
Reaching out would make me way to vulnerable.
So I put the pain of losing Mom in that box with Dad.
Will “deal” with the hurt later.
It took me 6 more years to realize I had to stop running away.
Time to grow. Time to deal. Time to let go.
For my own little family.
I had kept the grief monster in a box for 20 years!
We all know long term grief and stress is not good for mind or body.
I made healing a priority.
I was going to finally figure out how to deal with the grief.
It was scary.
You see, sometimes grief is the only thing to hold on to. You can feel it intensely.
So I guess I held on tight.
I could not move on alone (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 and her stand?
Hey you! Want to heal your grief? Stop here like Charlie Brown does for some advice.
So, I did some research online.
I found a resource out west and 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 changing. 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, laughed and cried.
We worked out together, ate clean meals, talked, thought, and built friendships.
Relationships that I still have today, years later.
In this circle of trust we learned we were not alone. That fact alone can change lives.
This is what I learned works to heal old wounds.
8 Tips to Take Action on Your Grief Today.
1. Grab a Hall Pass
This is big. Give yourself a freaking break. Forgive yourself for holding on. You loved!
Reach out. As soon as you are able. Raise the white flag. You cannot do this alone.
Whether a loss just happened, or it has been chasing you for a lifetime, connect with others. Loneliness is not a long term option if you want to heal.
You have to be proactive. Be your own advocate.
Find a community you can relate to. Then go check it out. Bring a friend for your first visit if you need motivation. This community might be found within a church, a religious center, a local respite center, local veterans group, art or music therapy group, outdoor fitness group, local college, fitness club, alumni group, senior center, AA, ALANON, etc. So many options.
Cant find one? Create your own tribe. This community should be both online and offline for max connectivity and accountability.
Often the hardest part. Forgive those people who have hurt you.
Release them from hurting you and owning space in your brain.
If someone says: “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 know how.
If they keep judging you.
As my pastoral counselor Jim once said, “Just fuck ’em.” Yes, he said that.
4. Sweat it out & Get outside
Exercise is some of 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.
Running, walking, working out at a gym, outdoor bootcamp, yoga, golf, tennis, swimming, biking, whatever works for you. Just get out there and do it. One step at a time. Sweat.
5. Do what you love
What brings you joy? What are your passions? What gets you in the flow?
6. Know you are not alone
This is key.
We are no so alone in our crazy ways.
Everybody Hurts Sometimes (1st saw REM sing this in Athens, GA)
My thought after all these years is it isn not Gods fault. He hurts with us. Why can’t his people on earth figure out disease? If are too shy to reach out ask him to walk with you. Really. Try it. You will learn you are never alone.
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 may set you free and…light the way for others.
8. Pay it forward
When you finally begin to heal. Help others.
We are our bothers and sisters keepers, right?
Shoulder to shoulder. Arm in arm. Onward.
There you have it.
8 ways to find your invincible summer.
Fin. ARP Nov. 2014
* I do not claim any rites REM, Warner Brothers, this video or music.