Featured

Welcome to from Grief to Gratitude

Google imageGoogle Images, 2018

Maybe Sisyphus never made it to the top of that mountain, but we sure as hell will!

~ Sherrie Cassel ~

 

Advertisements

Conflicting thoughts about anniversaries

Anniversary dates are difficult. Some people have attempted to soften the blow by calling them angelversaries. I admit, sometimes it helps me to call them that too. At any rate, my son’s angelversary is next Tuesday, January 22nd. Three years will have passed since the day he died. He didn’t leave me. It wasn’t God’s “will” that he died, i.e. God didn’t need another angel. He didn’t die because I am a bad person who needed to be punished. He died because of life choices and genetics. Knowing this helps me on some days, but truth be told, it doesn’t help me enough to not feel the anxiety that has begun to flow through my veins, making me cold with fear.

What am I afraid of? I’m afraid I will ache in the same way I did the night he died, and the entire year following his death. I was a wreck. I wept and wailed every single day for one entire year. My eyes were permanently puffy, and they’ve never really returned to the bright eyes of the optimist I once was.

Death has a way of making a person a realist.

Every 22nd of the month is difficult. 5:55 p.m. every day and every night is a time when the memory of my son’s death tugs at my heart, and I am painfully aware he is never coming home again. I will never be able to make him laugh again, hug him, tell him how awesome he is, make up for my imperfections as his mother, or learn from his brilliant mind and his eloquent speech.

How do you navigate an anniversary? One thing that comforts me, is an altar I set up on special days, i.e. birthdays, holidays, angelversaries. I have several candles he would have loved. One candle is a Dia de los Muertos candle, another is the Virgen Guadalupe, and others with symbols of his Mexican-American heritage of which he was so proud. I have his favorite ashtray I gave him, a nice heavy ceramic ashtray with skulls all along its perimeter. I have pictures of him, my favorite rosary, a rock that was special to him.

He loved smoking cigars, wine-flavored, wood-tipped. I have a box of them on the altar. When I am really hurting I’ll go in the backyard and take a few puffs to make me feel close to him. I’m not a smoker, and it makes no sense, really, to do it, but the inevitably of angelversaries leaves me feeling powerless to stop the day from coming, to stop the pain I know I’ll have to deal with. Something as simple as taking a few puffs of a cigar is not passive; it’s an action I take toward healing – in the moment, in the present moment.

In the three years he’s been gone, I haven’t been able to celebrate his liberation from his disease. Others tell me he is free now, no more suffering, no more sadness, no more of this world and all its dysfunction. Sometimes I am comforted by these thoughts. Sometimes I am jealous of his liberation. Life can be so very hard, and losing our loved ones is painful, so painful there are few words to describe our pain. I know. I’m a writer and I don’t know if I’ve ever adequately described grief-pain to another person.

We each must find a way to get through the anniversaries of the worst day of our lives, the day we said goodbye to the loves of our lives. Holidays and birthdays are difficult, certainly, but I’ve always been able to find a way to bring my son with me to our celebrations.

Once I had each member of the family share one beautiful memory about Rikki.  I stopped doing that because it wasn’t fair to the rest of the family. It comforted me, but it hurt them. We each carry our grief in our own way, and it is up to them how and when they want to share it. I’m learning that my grief process is individually my own. My grief can’t be fused into someone else’s grief. I can ask for hugs, space, Kleenex, but the bottom line is, I grieve in a place where I am the most alone I will ever be.

I’ve already booked myself for next Tuesday. Someone needs me more than I need to wallow in a sadness that produces nothing but more sorrow. I’d like to think I will find a way to be joyful about the life I have, allow the sun to shine on my face, allow the scent of healing eucalyptus to soothe my Soul, accept a soft touch from a loved one, find laughter, and gratitude for the 32 years I had with my beautiful son, ad infinitum.

But I’ve learned all about making plans. If you want to make the gods laugh, right?

We can do only our best. Tears, in darkened rooms in the fetal position, finding distractions with friends, books on grief and the afterlife, a rosary, lighting of a special candle, and maybe, if we’re veterans of this whole angelversary thing, a conscious moment of silence, a peaceful conversation with our loved one who is in Heaven, and a deliberate release back into our present moment will be the gifts we give to ourselves on that difficult day.

I will do my best.

Holiday Fade Out

So out with the old and in with the new! Holidays can be tough for many of us who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. I thought I was doing just fine. I was ready to spoil the grandkid and enjoy the sparkly holiday season. I fancy myself a strong person who delights in shiny things. What better season to bedazzle me than Christmas and New Year’s Eve, right? Riiight.

I was sitting on the floor wrapping our grandson’s gifts when I got this pang in my chest. After nearly three years of grieving, I knew it wasn’t a heart attack, just that familiar feeling when the absence of your loved one’s presence is felt so profoundly in the viscera of your soul that it feels physical. During my son’s illness and after his death, I found myself in the emergency room a few times because I thought I was having a heart attack, but it was stress and deep, deep grief. The doctors told me to get a grip or I would have a heart attack.

In that moment when the pang hit, surrounded by bows and wrapping paper, I curled up in a ball and wept. I couldn’t help thinking about my son during the holidays. He was 32 when he died, so not a child at the time of his death, but he was my child, my only child, and as a single mother whose “husband” bailed on our son at 11-months-old, I was it. I was the only parent he had, and we were very close. I lost my baby boy, my precious son, the love of my life. My worst fear had been realized.

I hadn’t cried in months. None of us knows what will trigger the overwhelm and the torrent of tears. When the trigger comes, it does so with the velocity of a speeding bullet. BOOM! And you’re out for the season. I had to pull myself together because our grandson was arriving the next day. He needed a happy grandma, one filled with joy, with a smile, someone who could mirror his enthusiasm about the holiday, and I had to be up to the task.

Yes, it’s okay to cry with a child after the loss of a loved one. I mean, you don’t want to terrify the kid, but you also want him or her to know it’s okay to grieve the loss of someone he or she held dear.

What do you do when you’re conflicted and torn apart between two polarities, sadness and the expectation of joy? I think it’s best to honor your sadness, of course, but then I think at some point we have to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and soldier on. I don’t think I faked it ‘til I made it, because I really did feel joy at my grandson’s arrival. I watched as he excitedly opened his presents. I sat in the dark with him as the lights on the tree twinkled, and…I thought of my son.

Louie, our grandson, is quite intuitive, and he asked, “You’re thinking about my dad, aren’t you?” I said, “Yes, Honey, I am. I just miss him so much and I’m thinking about all the Christmases we had together when he was a little boy. I’m so happy you’re here so we can enjoy each other and tell Daddy-stories.”

He hugged me and said he missed his daddy too. He’s a nine-year-old sage.

Maybe you don’t have a grandchild to warm your aching heart. Maybe you have no family members left and you feel as if your friends have their own lives. Those things are tough to deal with. I have chosen to be alone many times during the holidays, because I have a mad dysfunctional family, but being alone when you don’t want to be is hurtful, and well, lonely. I hope you are able to reach out and have your needs met, to reach out and ASK for what you need. It is we who must be responsible for getting our needs met. Healing is not a passive process.

Can I never enjoy Christmas again? The memories of him make me wistful. They hurt deep inside me. The loss is deep, and the absence will never be filled, not by my beautiful grandson, not by my husband, not by the perfect tree, or the most angelic Christmas hymn. Nothing will take away the longing that will permeate every single day for the rest of my life. I’d like to think he is in Heaven, but wherever he is, he is not here.

I wanted to feel alone during the holidays. I wanted to brood and weep through the entire season. I did; I really did. I think doing so would have assuaged the irrational guilt I have for wanting to enjoy myself, for allowing myself to get wrapped up in all the reasons for the season, and for celebrating … without my son.

One thing I’ve found helpful is making lists. They are great for getting things done.  They are also good for reorienting yourself. For example, gratitude is lost on us when we are not practicing good emotional hygiene. Being grateful is a discipline. Gratitude takes hard work. Certainly, there are times when good things fall into our laps and gratitude is easy, but that is not the norm. Gratitude is something for which we must dig deep.

Anything wonderful is worth working for. I was sad for a few minutes while I was sitting on the floor tangled up in Scotch tape and cutting crookedly the wrapping paper through watering eyes and with a knife in my chest. I feared I would not be able to be present for our grandson. My heart ached desperately for my son.

I was making the choice to separate myself from people who love me. Grief is necessary, but when we are in grief we can sometimes exclude and punish people who want to celebrate – because they can, and they should, and we should too.

When my son was dreadfully ill, I would make lists of things for which I was grateful. Sometimes I really had to reach for those things, i.e. “I’m grateful my coffee pot is working.” No, really. But the more things I listed, the more I realized how many blessings there were in my life. When my son was sick, I’d be grateful that he was still with me, and now that he’s gone, I try to be grateful that he is no longer suffering.

Our grief morphs from guts to glory in zero to 60 seconds every day. In grief, and perhaps at no other time, finding the blessing in the horror is vitally important. I allow for the pain, but I also hold out for the promise, the promise that I won’t always ache to the depths of my soul, but that as the intensity of the pain decreases, the possibility for enduring peace will take its place.

  1. I am grateful for my husband.
  2. I am grateful for our grandson.
  3. I am grateful for our home.
  4. I am grateful for my dysfunctional family (although I am also grateful that I have the ability to steer clear of them too).
  5. I am grateful for the years I had with my son.
  6. I am grateful he is no longer suffering.
  7. I am grateful that I am in a space where I can work toward my dreams, and…

I am grateful that I made it through the holidays with both laughter and tears because that is the stuff of life.

On Self-Forgiveness

By Sherrie Ann Cassel

When you lose a child to addiction and  in the chaos surrounding his or her death, there is so much unfinished business to contend with. I was fortunate that I got to tell my son some very important things before he died, but I still have regrets. I have regrets about things I said in anger and desperation. I have regrets about not being a better mother, for not being the mother he deserved. I have regrets about my judgment of his disease. And I have regrets about when I was less compassionate than I could have been.

I’m learning to let go. I read a lot of Ravi Zacharias. He may be a little to “Christian” for some of you, and sometimes he’s a little too much so for me, but most of the time his words comfort me, and I have found a greater understanding of the God I need to believe in. Ravi said that one cannot truly forgive others until one has adequately forgiven oneself. I’m sure others have said this very thing in other ways, but his words really spoke to me.

Ironically, I took a class at my former church, and the participants and I took a journey into how forgiveness plays out in our lives. When we went around the room for participants’ definitions of what forgiveness meant to them, one person said that to him, forgiveness is a “process” – one that is ongoing in our lives.

I related to that definition. I forgive. I take it back. I forgive. I take it back. It’s as cyclical as is grief, and in some ways, maybe it is a type of grief. Perhaps it is grief because we have to let go of the ideal person we want to be, and accept the imperfect person we are, the imperfect person who blew it with our kids, partners, siblings, co-workers, etc., from time to time.

Forgiveness has been a hard road for me, and I’m sure for some of you too. I wrestle with my “sins” or flubs, or fuck ups, whatever words you want to use for mistakes you’ve made that hurt someone else and now hurt you because there’s no way to make amends.

I’ve come to a place in my spirituality where I believe I will see my son again. When that happens, it won’t matter anymore what happened here; it will only matter that we are in total bliss together. He will welcome me into eternal joy and show me the ropes. I have to believe that. It keeps me sane and comforted.

I also, from time to time, come to the realization that to hold on to self-loathing for mistakes I made in total ignorance, or because I fall short, way short of perfection, takes me far away from the present moments with my living loved ones. That is a terrible price to pay for the unwillingness to forgive ourselves. Trust me, I know how easy it is to fall into that trap of self-blame and regret. I do it less than I used to, but I still get angry with myself, which sends me spiraling into the world of self-loathing.

People who have incurred recent losses are in enough pain already. I think it makes matters worse, as if they could be any worse, to hold on to things over which we no longer have any control. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, because I struggle with it too, but we have to find ways to release those negative and hurtful feelings to truly transform ourselves through heartbreak.

I think for me, there’s been enough pain already and if I am constantly beating myself up for things I can no longer do anything about, I hurt those who love me and need me to be present in their lives. I need to be present in my own life too.

Someone turned me on to the Akashic Records a couple of years ago. I tried it once; it wasn’t really something that worked for me. But I developed my own spiritual cleansing practice borrowing some things from the Akashic Records.

One of the steps in the 12-Step program is making amends with those you’ve hurt. What do you do when the person you hurt has passed on?

Well, I sit in silence for a few moments and I talk to my son. I ask him what he wants me to do. I tell him I’m sorry for not having been a perfect mother. I ask him to forgive me, and then I sit in the silence for a while longer and I wait for a response. I always get one. Maybe it’s just me comforting myself, but I really want to believe it’s my son loving me from the other side.

He loved me despite my imperfections. He knew he scared the hell out of me and even apologized for making me worry so much. He looked to me for guidance. He needed my approval to feel whole. He wanted the best for me – always. Two weeks before he died, he called Ben to tell him he was glad I had found him because now he didn’t have to worry about me anymore. He told Ben he was a good man who he had learned a lot from and who he respected and admired greatly. I truly believe he was saying goodbye that night. He was so ill from his congestive heart failure and his addiction.

But I digress…if Rikki, may baby, my angel, could love and forgive me despite the mess I was (and still am) – how could I not honor him by loving and forgiving myself? It’s a process. It’s not something that is easily maintained. We are constantly in flux and our own worst critics.

If you are having difficulty forgiving yourself, try talking it out with your loved one, either those who are still living or those who have passed on. You will feel better; I promise.

On Anger

By Sherrie Ann Cassel

Jacob wrestling with the angel

I think it’s your own choice if you turn from an angry young man to a bitter old bastard.”
~Billie Joe Armstrong~

At the dawning of grief, the earth continues to spin, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, babies are born, people go about their business, and no one waits for you to heal. You may want to lash out at those whose lives are going on without you because in the early days, you simply cannot participate in life, as a matter of fact, you can’t even force yourself to merge back into life.

After a time, you may become angry, and need something or someone to blame. If you were raised with a concept of a god who has been characterized as a healer, you may wonder why your god did not heal your child, and if that is the case, how can he/she heal you? I was angry at the god I had been conditioned to believe in. I yelled at him, told him exactly what was on my mind, even used expletives. I was hopping mad. If god was omnipotent, why, in the name of all that is holy, did he/she not work a miracle in my child’s life?

I think once you’ve been through the loss of a child, you develop a different concept of God. God, for you may become more prevalent in your healing process, and he/she may morph into what you need to move toward peace and acceptance. And for some, god becomes a myth. Your healing process is yours alone, and whatever you choose to be your rock is deeply personal.

I think it’s easier to blame an externality than it is to hold our children accountable for the choices they made. I contend, however, at some point those who struggle with addiction no longer have choices. Their bodies are prisoners to the disease, and they are irretrievably lost. A miracle, the one God didn’t work in your child’s life, did not happen, and it is the only thing that could have saved them; there was, however, the initial choice to use. I can’t blame the god of my understanding for that.

One of the most difficult, in my opinion, but necessary components of the healing process is to put some of the responsibility for your child’s death on him or her. To do this does not mean you don’t love them, or you have no empathy for their struggle with addiction that led to their death; it means you are willing to relinquish some of the blame you assign to yourself, and thus work toward your own healing.

I think being angry at ourselves, at God, at our child’s dealers, friends, your spouse, or society is so much easier than being mad at your child who has died from addiction. I know on the death certificates the cause of death is listed as “accidental”, and that is an accurate call, in my opinion. Did they mean to die? No, they did not. Their minds were so locked into using, not using was scarier than dying. I guess it is human nature to want someone to blame for when things go painfully wrong. I have blamed myself for nearly three years; perhaps it is time to accept that my son had some choice in the manner in which he died.

I have been angry with my son off and on for nearly the entirety of his departure from my life. He left behind a six-year-old son who will now grow up without a father, no male role model to teach him the ropes of life. I am angry about that. I am angry he left me to mourn his loss and to grieve for the rest of my natural life. I am angry because he had mad potential to be anything he wanted to be, but he died in his disease before he could bring his dreams to fruition. I am truly and honestly angry about that. He was beautiful and needs to be here with all of us who love him; but he is not.

Anger is not a place you want to stay, however. I think it’s healthy to allow anger toward your child to awaken you to the liberating truth that you are not wholly responsible for your son or daughter’s choice to use . As parents, it is natural to blame ourselves for not being able to save our children. But what it boils down to, in my opinion, is that we are angry with ourselves because we allowed our children to go out into the big, bad world without us holding their hands and leading them to safety. We think, “I had one job, to take care of my child, and I let him [her] down.” He or she is gone because we failed as parents, right? Nope.

Every grieving parent experiences the gamut of emotions differently, from rage to peace, and those emotions are unmercifully unpredictable. I’ve raged at the God of my understanding, because I didn’t want to be angry with my son. I raised my son up after his death to the status of a demigod, or at the very least, an angel. He was the love of my life, my only child. How could I possibly be angry with him? The painful reality is that he was human. He was beautiful, my shining star, but he was imperfect. He was moody, sometimes grumpy, often rude. He did not have the fortitude to say no to drugs. He was unkind during the eye of his storm. I was the reason he chose to use, he would say, and while I do assume some of the blame, it was he who chose to destroy himself with drugs and alcohol. Yes, of course, I have allowed my anger to be directed toward my demigod, my angel, my perfectly imperfect son, and that hurts, but if I am to heal, I must make absolutely certain that I not assume one-hundred percent of the blame.

I guess at some point we all have a choice to make. Do I want to be at peace with my child’s memory or do I want to stay angry and grow bitter? Bitterness is a choice, and I know we can do better than that. I have bursts of anger toward my son, and I have bursts of idealism about him. I love him to the ends of the earth, but to not assign him some of the blame is to not allow myself the relief of letting go of the blame I hold for myself, and it will only serve to stifle my ability to grow from the death of my child.

I have made myself sick by taking on all the blame. There is nothing good about being, and in particular, staying angry with yourself. I suggest that we let go of the anger as often as we can. When we become angry with our children, do it quickly and then – let it go. Don’t worry if you find yourself doing this several times over the course of your life; it’s a natural part of the grieving process. The important thing is to acknowledge our emotions, examine them, ask ourselves if they are helpful or hurtful, and if the latter, release them. We will catapult our healing process; I guarantee it.

The Gift of Grief

~True Faith~

I think grief is a gift we give to ourselves; it’s a time of deep reflection and for strategizing how we will emerge stronger, more insightful, and loving people.

I would be lying if I said I no longer have those grueling days of grief; I do. I don’t stay there as long as I used to, but I still have them. The holidays are difficult when a vital part of your celebration is no longer with you. How do you honor him or her when there is an empty chair at the holiday table? How does your heart handle it when, perhaps, the head of your table is no longer there to light the candles, carve the turkey, or pass out the presents underneath the tree? How does your heart feel when you are painfully aware that your child is no longer here to add to the laughter with his joyful presence?

It’s difficult, to say the least.

I have been in a funk for two days. My husband and I went out to buy our Christmas tree and wrapping paper for our grandson’s gifts. I was so happy when we set out on our holiday shopping trip. I am anxiously anticipating our grandson’s visit. He is the child of my son who passed away nearly three years ago. He looks like my son. He acts like my son. He is a piece of my son.

Christmas was a very special season for Rikki. He loved buying thoughtful gifts for everyone. He was very generous, and he was more excited about giving than he was about receiving. He loved making the holiday turkey which was always perfect. I got to celebrate the holidays with him for 32 years. I haven’t really had time to grieve properly during the holidays, and I think that grieving during this time is necessary. I’ve heard about people setting a place at the table for their deceased loved one. I’ve heard about creating new practices, some wildly different from the traditional ones they had spent with them.

I have a grandchild who is only nine years old. He was six when my son died. I have made the holidays special for our grandson, and I shed a few tears after he has gone to bed.  I had nearly one year to prepare myself for the first Christmas without my son. He died in January of 2016. I have asked each member of my family to say one good memory about my son on the major holidays, and on his birthday. I no longer choose to do anything on the anniversary date of his passing; I choose to remember the beautiful memories instead, and I work hard to keep myself busy on that day. I may break down at some point during the day, and I never know how I’m going to respond in that 24-hour period. One minute at a time…

The three-year mark is coming up on January 22nd. I find it very difficult on some days to believe three years have gone by, and I don’t tick away the days on the calendar, punctuated by the worst day of my life. I sometimes can comfort myself with the perspective of the liberation of his Soul from the oftentimes pain, drudgery, heartbreak, and illnesses in this world.

The grief process is lifelong, I suppose; mourning does not have to be. I have triggers that knock the wind out of me from time to time, but they don’t have to keep me breathless and defeated. Staying down is a choice we make. Grief surges and recedes without warning. Often, I hear a few notes of a song, and they pierce my heart and I clutch my chest and wait for the pang to subside. I always recover, thankfully.

Life is one long fluctuation of sadness and joy, and best-case scenario, an occasion of homeostasis, a time of supreme balance, a gift from your Higher Power, however you define that.  I am limping toward the Light today, but I feel it on the horizon of my heart. In my world, healing takes work, and I want healing; I demand healing.

I know the metamorphosis analogy is a tired, old metaphor, as is the Phoenix rising, but rekindle them in your life, through the lens of a person who has been through the fire of rebirth, emerging from the rubble and the soot with a refined heart and a mind that is courageous with clarity. Sometimes those moments of clarity are flashes, and sometimes, after a tremendous amount of grief work, they are sustainable for longer periods of time. I want that clarity as often as I can bring it to the surface.

It’s a new day, and the sun is shining, warming the cool desert air. Tonight, we are expecting weather that is slightly below freezing, and for Californians, San Diegans in particular, that is brutal weather. But I will be inside my warm house, remembering my son and looking at pictures of him that make me happy, and having a soothing time of self-care and a hot cup of tea, embraced by the gift of a  love that lasts forever.

From Trauma to Transformation

Fr. Richard Rohr

In the early to mid-eighties there was a counselor, educator, and motivational speaker named John Bradshaw. He wrote books that made claims which would later turn out to be quite controversial. I read, Healing the Shame the Binds You, when I was in my mid-twenties. To be honest, I never really got caught up in the controversy. Bradshaw’s words for me were acknowledgment that my childhood was rife with domestic violence. His words affirmed for me that I wasn’t crazy or that I was to blame for the abuses.

I will forever be grateful for his books,and  in particular, that one. Later, around the same time, Melody Beattie’s books about codependency came out; Susan Forward wrote a book called, Toxic Parenting, and Ellen Bass wrote a book called, Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse. I was hoppin’ mad, and I was fully armed.

In light of my newfound knowledge, I was very angry for a very long time. I was cynical and had an extremely caustic tongue. I chased potential suitors away because I was “tired of taking shit” — and “no one would ever hurt me again.” I was avenging my childhood and I was, even though I didn’t realize it until much later, in grief, and that grief would last many years; it lasted until I was ready to let go of the anger enough to move forward and away from the pain.

How is this analogous to the grief when you lose a loved one? I lost the child I was supposed to be at the time I was supposed to be her. I have gaps in my memory, especially the good ones I hear about from my siblings. “Do you remember…?” is a painfully difficult question to answer, because the answer is almost always, “No.”

I remember the abuse, but I don’t remember the laughter, the tender moments, the adventures, bonding in a healthy way with my parents. I never got to be a child, and as a result, the joy of “acting like a kid again” is not a finely tuned social skill I developed.

How do you grieve an apparition? I am a strong proponent of therapy. As a psychology major and person who has spent a significant number of years  in therapy, I am hyper-aware of its benefits.

Spirituality, not religion, has helped guide me through my grief process. There’s a still small voice in each of us that has only our best interests at heart. Listen to it. Call it God or Spirit, or whatever name summons the Sacred in your life. Give it the opportunity to help you heal. I have vacillated all 56 years of my life about God/No God/Maybe a God. I have a fair amount of agnosticism, but I do believe there is something holy that animates each of us.  Is it the need to survive? I wouldn’t argue against that point.

Walter Bradford Cannon brilliantly named the process of survival modes during stress: fight, flight, or freeze. I am working toward my B.S. degree, and I have one class left before it will be conferred upon me, so what I’ve learned is rudimentary, at best,  and I learned it in undergraduate psych classes and from books for which I have a voracious appetite. The best insight I have is into myself , borne of the various and painful experiences that have brought me to this very moment.

My current hypothesis is this: Although with each advance we make in the behavioral sciences, change is certainly a given, but perhaps grief is the freeze part of the triad that keeps us safe until we are able to deal with the loss of a loved one, even if the loved one is you.  The freeze mode is a time when we are unable to move because of deep emotional distress. We are in stasis until such a time as we find our way back to life again. In essence, we are lost to ourselves, to others, and to life.

There are all kinds of ways to be lost, however, lost in a marriage, lost in motherhood, lost in your work, losing a part of your body. When I had my hysterectomy years ago, I couldn’t even look at dolls in department stores afterward, because the loss of being able to have another baby was difficult to adapt to in my utter grief.

Grief is not specific to one type of loss, and whether it is because you lost a loved one, or a very important part of your life, grief is there, in my opinion,  and in my experience, to hold you in a safe place until you can move forward. Losing a person, an ideal, one’s reputation, a body part, ad infinitum makes it difficult to move forward. You have lost an aspect of yourself  you believe was what gave you your identity, and how do you go on without that person or thing that you believe made you who you are?

When the convulsive sobs subside, when the social isolation is no longer necessary, you can choose to plunge into life, find interests that help you to rebuild your identity, to enhance your former self, and to embrace the new one.

I don’t adhere to the “fake it ’til you make it” approach. I think you do what scares you even if it hurts. Life waits for no one, and in between the willful need to hold on to your anger, pain, grief, and your inevitable wild transformation, is stagnation. Stagnating is not how I want to spend the rest of my life.

I am 56 years old and I spent the first 39 years of my life enraged about the abuse, about the loss of my childhood, about all of the ways I had allowed myself to remain a victim. I walked out of that calloused shell of a human being and allowed my radiant light to shine in me, through me, and toward others.

To sum up this post, there is no answer for why shit happens or to whom it happens. In my experience, it is just the luck of the draw. I was not and am not a victim. I was not at the whim of a punitive god. None of us is. We live in a rough and tumble world, and bad things happen, and once you are fortunate enough to have that epiphany, you get tired of every little thing being a trigger that holds you prisoner to the past. It is we who control our thoughts; they don’t control us. Once I discovered that I am the only one who can change me, I softened a bit. My mind opened up and I have been filling it with edifying things ever since.

I have learned to love my little girl self. She kept me safe and locked herself away until I got healthy enough to bring her into the sunlight. I love the angry teenager and woman who kept me safe as I learned to allow transformation to take place. Anger at life, and not taking shit from anyone is not equal to courage; it serves only to mummify our spirits as they rot in the layers of hypervigilance.

I want to live. I want to thrive. I want to work though the stages of transformation, even when it hurts. I want to get to the other side of my grief, and be the kind of person who loves with my whole heart and helps others find his or her purpose — just as I have found mine.