I’m writing to you tonight as I sit on the couch and try to fight off a panic attack. It’s strange that I still have those, but they seem to be happening a lot lately. Some days are worse than others, but once they start, it’s hard to get control of them. When they find their way into my head and heart, I have an anxious feeling in my chest. You know…that feeling like you’ve been running outside in 20 degree weather. The one where your chest starts to burn. Once the burning starts, then the shaking begins. Sometimes it’s a noticeable shake, but more often than not, it feels as if my insides are trembling. It makes it difficult to function, because my trembling insides make me awkward and clumsy.
It’s true that the grief is never gone. It sits around the corner, waiting for the perfect opportunity to leap into your path. That’s happened to me quite a bit lately. You’re never prepared for it. For four years, I haven’t been able control or predict when it will happen or how intense it will be. What I’ve learned over the past 4 years, I’ve learned from attending the University of Grief. There are many that have attended that university with me, but the course we take varies from person to person. At different points in time, I have shared “classes” with others and sometimes I have attended “classes” alone. Those of us that walk through the hallways of this university share similarities in our stories. With some, I share nothing. There is, however, one thing we all have in common….we know loss…and not just loss…we know deep loss. We know the kind of loss that cuts to your soul. We know loss that leaves you empty…body, mind, and soul. Many times, my fellow grievers and I pass each other without saying a word. Most of the time, we don’t have to say anything, because our stories can be told through our eyes. I’ve learned a few things over the past four years, but I will continue to learn something new about grief each day, week, month, year. No, I’m not an expert, but I have learned a few things.
1. At times, you feel like you’re going crazy. When you have a deep loss, your emotions are all over the place. The magnitude and intensity of the emotions you feel are hard to understand, because you’ve never experienced that many intense emotions all at once. Our lack of experience leaves us with little to no coping skills…and we don’t know what to do with all of that crap. Grief, therefore, is not linear. You can feel rage, confusion, and sadness all at the same time. THAT makes you feel like you’re losing your mind.
2. No one can understand your pain. I have some wonderful friends who have lost their children, and many of them have lost their children to overdose. While we share a common experience, I didn’t know the person they lost and they didn’t know my loved ones. All of us are in pain, and we can relate and empathize with each other, but I can’t feel or understand their loss. One of the worst things we can do as fellow grievers is to compare our pain. I’ve had so many people say to me, “My loss is nothing compared to yours.” It took me some time to realize that loss is loss…no matter what. Who am I to judge if someone else’s loss isn’t or doesn’t hurt as much as mine just because they’ve lost a brother, sister, mom, dad, etc.? So, now when someone says that to me I tell them to stop….that loss is loss…there is no comparing, because we’ve both lost someone…no matter who it was. The way we experience grief is unique to each of us and the magnitude of that grief is dependent upon the relationship we had with the person we lost. Let’s respect each other’s losses. While we may feel that our loss is worse…the person sitting beside us feels that their loss is worse than anyone else could ever experience. Grief isn’t a competition…it’s an experience in which we should support each other.
3. You will more than likely ask why or wonder if there was something you could have done to change things. You will think, “If I just….If only…I should have”. It’s ok if you ask yourselves those questions, but there’s a fine balance between asking these questions and feeling these feelings and self destruction. These feelings, if you live and wallow in them, will consume you. You’ll have to make a conscious choice to not live in the why’s, the shame, and guilt. Don’t get me wrong, I felt those feelings and asked those questions, but, I had to make that conscious choice to pull myself out of the mire and muck. Mind you….I’m heading into my 4th year. So, this doesn’t happen overnight.
4. You will feel joy again…and it’s ok. I remember at times feeling guilty for feeling happy…for laughing…for having a good time. While we live in deep pain, we can still feel great joy. I’ve felt that numerous times while spending vacations with family and when learning that Taylor was going to have a baby. As a matter of fact, the joy I’ve experienced lately has been some of the greatest joy I’ve felt since Aaron passed. And I’ve come to understand that we are allowed to feel joy even if we’ve experienced a life-changing loss.
5. Coping looks different for everyone. Coping techniques also change as you walk through your grief. In the beginning, I did a lot of tie dying because Aaron loved tie dye. Then, I started painting. Now, I don’t do much of either and I haven’t really found anything else to help me cope. Writing was huge for me in the first couple of years, but now I find it hard to write. How you cope today will look much different than how you cope in the further.
6. Nothing….and I mean nothing….is permanent. After a monumental loss, it’s easy to see how fragile our lives really are and how quickly normalcy can be ripped from our lives.
7. Live in the moment. Love your family and friends. Cherish the time you spend with those you love most. You never know when you will last hear their voice or see their smiling face.
Number 6 and 7 are probably the two that I would stress most to you. Because nothing in this world is forever, make the most of every moment you have with those you love most. Be present and live in the moment because moments are fleeting and once they’re gone…they’re gone forever.