"When you suffer a deep wound, and your skin begins to scar, the tissue that grows over becomes stronger. You build your own testament to the pain that you were able to overcome."
November 9th, 2021, my sister called me at 8:40 am PST. She called to tell me that my dearest grandma had passed. She shared that, while she was falling in and out of sleep, she felt grandma's hand squeezing her leg next to the hospital bed. She shared a photo of grandma's hand, in hers. My grandma persisted, but soon she couldn't fight the fight any longer . . . and my sister heard her last breath at 3:25 am that day.
I like to imagine the thoughts that were running through my grandma's mind, as she lay there continuing to be the strong-headed woman that she always was. And I like to recall all the memories that I took part in, as they lay embedded in the velvet throw that lays across her in that hospital bed.
She was a graceful, dark haired beauty - a woman that taught me how to develop a backbone at an early age, when I thought I wouldn't understand, let alone find love when I had been in and out of abusive cycles with partners at the time. Our memaw was truly a blessing on this planet, and I know that every day I was away from her, 2,579.0 mi away, she was thinking how proud she was of me. And although she told me, the last time she was able to message me, "I just missed you, and going through all this sickness I have I'm used to doing for everyone, and I can't now, I am so proud of u," I need you to know you really were the "World's best Memaw!"
Grief really is a relentless storm of emotions. It is an overwhelming wave that washes over you when you ask yourself, "Why did you have to leave now?"
And even when this person you've lost has lived a long, loving life, it's hard to imagine what to do with the great deal of sadness and confusion you are left with at that time. And although there may be conversations that center on the length of grief being a set amount of time, it's truly important to understand that grief has no linear timeline.
As complex as it is, bereavement leaves you caught in the treacherous waters. At times, you're able to maneuver small waves, but slowly they grow larger, as you find yourself losing grip of the ship's wheel. When you finally get a grasp, you may face a tidal wave that blankets the deck and leaves you blinded by what's in front of you. Maybe in those moments that you feel eluded to the truth that lays in front of you, you're telling yourself, "it's going to be okay," and wait until the storm begins to die down.
Suddenly, you're faced with tough decisions, and there are only minutes to decide what you'll do next. In order to survive, you move from telling yourself, "it's going to be okay" to "what must I do next?" You're focused on surviving, but you feel lost. Each second you feel trapped in these thoughts, more waves make their way towards the vessel, and you begin to feel like you "might give up."
Hours turn into days, and days turn into night. When night comes, it seems the storm has come to an ease. There are now but droplets of water that lay before you, and you feel restless . . . but calm. Yes, you see the beacon shine from the lighthouse only a short distance from the bow. But, as you move closer to the bow, hopeful to see that you've almost made land, the fog begins to settle in.
As you've gained momentum through the storm, you build strength in yourself that "you will persist." "I got through the first wave, then the second, then the third. . . I lost grip, but then I found it again." You recognize that survival has meant that you've continued to fight the fight. You gain resilience.
Just like grief, you recognize you will follow your heart into the unknown and make space for the battle within you. The fog will settle, and although it blinds me again, like the waves that crashed before me, I will look out in front of me and recognize there is another side to every storm.
I leave you with this deep analogy, that gives you a view of the captain of a ship maneuvering a storm, because like grief, you cannot expect what is to come. Losing someone so close to you is its own form of trauma; you recognize that, what this person meant to you, is tied to various things, places, people in your life, and may be triggered around any corner or moment in your journey.
Although you will not know what triggers there might be at every moment in your life, you will see that in order to maneuver the storm, you must gain resilience. The momentum in your life comes with making space for the battle and processing the wound, as it seeps open when any trigger may bring back the pain within you. In that challenge, you will find refuge through others who will open their arms to your pain.
Like the captain of a ship, you have a map to guide you in the direction you might want to go, but you may face roadblocks and unexpected trials along the way. Grief is a vessel that can carry weighted cargo of depression, anxiety, overwhelming sadness, isolation, guilt, anger, physical pain, forgetfulness, and withdrawal. These are some of the many barrels that leave us deep beneath the surface of our loss. They weigh us down and make it rather difficult for us to gain a sense of how to process the storm with those who reach out and want to hold us in the pain.
However, if you take another risk . . . take that chance to reach out and share the hardest truths, the deepest wound around your loss, the grip of reality turns a corner to calm, comfort, and relief. In this transformative moment, you make space to feel held in your experience, to crawl outside of the eye of the storm, and let someone close to you hold you in the pain. In this way, you are not expected or conditioned to feel alone in the emotional turmoil of your grief.
My grandmother was strong because she knew how to maneuver challenges with resilience. Even when others needed her support, because she showed up for others with little resistance or struggle, she was there. My grandma was that lighthouse . . . that beacon of light that guided us through the challenging battles when we needed the support.
I am grateful that I get to share with you some insight into the first healing step of my journey through losing someone so supportive and comforting to me. I am grateful that, as I maneuver the storm from this day forward, I will recognize that holding onto the pain myself will drive me deeper beneath the surface of the water, and leave me drowning in the sorrow of the grief alone. I wish the same for you, that you may see a glimmer of light through the thick fog and resiliently make your way through the waters.
Grief, long-term, leaves us in a place where we must continually make space to build more security and comfort when we are triggered by long lost memories of our passing loved ones. Whether you're laying there in bed, having dreamed of that person showing up to be with you, or looking down at a photo of that particular person you've lost . . . maybe you're driving down a windy road, and you spot a particular place that appealed to that person, remember to challenge yourself to take that risk, to reach to someone other than yourself, and build the same resilience this person allowed you to feel when they were with you in the struggle too.
When you suffer a deep wound, and your skin begins to scar, the tissue that grows over becomes stronger. You build your own testament to the pain that you were able to overcome.