Wednesday, May 9, 2018

10 Things I Have Learned About Grief

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Hello, friends.  These last 10 days have been something else. Not the good something else either.  Monday was the sixth anniversary of the night my sister was killed by a drunk driver (you can read more about that here) and it set up a week of trying to keep it together in front of the world.  My husband was out of town with work and tried to check in when he could but I needed more emotional support than that, I suppose, because by Friday night I locked myself in the bathroom and sat in the floor and cried. The emotions surprised me a bit because last year I felt like I made it through the week fairly unscathed.  I reminisced and laughed and I felt sad but I felt like there was an acceptance there that signaled that I had turned a corner.  365 days later and I'm the walking embodiment of the phrase "hot mess express".
I've lost people before, of course.  My great-grandmother, who anyone will tell you was my best friend in the whole world, died 13 years ago.  That was horrible for me, but it was expected. She was 93 years old and her health had drastically declined in the year preceding her death.  My sister was the first person I'd been close to that I lost suddenly and that was very young.  I had just talked to her a few days before.  And the next thing I know, she's gone.  And I think that's been the hardest thing.  She was just gone. No goodbyes, no I'm sorrys, no I love yous.  Just gone.
I feel like I've learned a lot in those six years.  I learned a lot about myself, about other people, about society, and about life.  This list is not comprehensive, of course, and I'm no mental health professional.  Your story might be very different, everyone's is.  And grief doesn't necessarily apply to death.  This is just what I've observed.  If this is your season to grieve, know that you aren't alone.

10 Things I've Learned About Grief

1.  Grief is MESSY.  That might be the understatement of the year.  There is no messier season of life than a grief season.  It's emotionally messy.  It's physically messy.  And the mess is exhausting.  The house is a disaster.  You're a disaster.  Watching the world continue to turn when you can't even manage to get out of bed is heart-wrenching.  And then you feel bad because you feel bad.  I hear you.  I see you.  And you know what?  It's okay.  Some days, you channel Dory and "just keep swimming".  Some days, you just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.  And some days, you just need to remember to breathe.  Just know that the mess is real and you're not alone in that.

2.  Grief is NON-LINEAR.  There is this thing called the Kubler-Ross Model which lists 5 stages of grief.  Many people interpret this to mean that these stages exist in a predictable pattern of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Hear me when I tell you this.  IT IS NOT TRUE.  Kubler-Ross herself even regretted presenting the stages in a way that suggested they would exist in this pattern. They don't.  Not even close.  So when you find yourself bouncing from denial to depression to bargaining to anger and you wonder why you can't just grieve appropriately, remember that there is no appropriate way to grieve.  You're doing the best you can.

3. There is NO EXPIRATION DATE.  I'm probably about to step on some toes here.  At least once in our lives, we've looked at someone going through a difficult season in their life and thought, "She's not past that yet?"  I'll admit it.  I've done it.  Here's the thing though.  We grieve as long as we grieve.  And that's going to look different for every person and every situation.  But don't ever let someone make you feel like your grief is wrong because it doesn't fit into their pre-conceived notions of how long it should take.  It's your story, not theirs.

4.  It doesn't get EASIER.  Fun fact, my number one pet peeve, is when someone tells someone who is grieving that it gets easier.  No.  No it doesn't.  Your heart will always have this wound there.  And, yes, over time, the edges of that wound scar over and you fill your heart with things that make you cope better, but mourning a loss doesn't get easier.  You just get better at dealing with it.

5.  You will LOSE FRIENDS.  This is a tough one.  There are people, especially those who have no real grief story, who will not understand what you're going through.  Reference #1.  Grief is messy.  And that messy grief makes people uncomfortable.  Reference #2.  You're fine one day and a blubbering pile of human the next and people don't understand. Reference #3.  Some people will wonder why you aren't over it yet and you're not fun anymore or can't be present for them.  The flip side of that is that you will learn exactly who is in your corner.  And those people are beautiful.  They love you in your mess and your unpredictability.  Hang on to those people.  That's your tribe.

6.  You will become an EXPERT LIAR.  I can still remember the first time I felt like I couldn't grieve in front of people anymore.  I had posted a song on Facebook (scroll down to watch the lyric video).  Honestly, there were days that I didn't feel I could put into words what I was feeling and that song said it all.  Not long after I posted it, a "friend" posted an update about people milking sympathy.  Now, I can't say for sure that it was meant for me but the timing was telling.  In fact, mutual acquaintances even messaged me wondering if it was meant for me.  I knew then that in order to conduct myself with other people, I'd have to lie about how I was feeling.  Should I have been made to feel like that?  Absolutely not!  Should she have come to me if she had a problem with me instead of Vaguebooking?  You bet.  And I got really good at lying.  Really, really good.  I'm not saying you're not going to have to do the same.  The world turns and at some point you are going to have to go where people are and, honestly, not everyone cares about you (ouch!) and you're not going to feel up to telling them how you really feel (fact).  And you'll smile and say you're fine, which, coincidentally, is the biggest lie in the world.  Just know that it's okay to not be okay.  Just don't lie to yourself.

7.  You will RESENT PEOPLE.  There.  I said it.  You will resent people.  The world will continue to turn and life will go on and it will piss you off.  How dare they act like I'm not on the verge of collapse over here?  I nearly caused a rift in the friend pool when a friend started complaining about her sister for some petty infraction.  I wished my sister was here to complain about and I let that be known. Loudly.  With tears.  It wasn't pretty.  The thing is, not everyone has experienced what you're going through and we see the world through our own lenses.  Robert Frost said, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life:  it goes on."  And it does.  And it's fine if that occasionally makes you want to lose it.

8.  You will have to find a NEW NORMAL.  You won't ever be the person you were before your loss.  That version of you is gone.  You will be a different person, a little banged up, a little worse for wear, but hopefully with a little more compassion for the hurting.  Like a phoenix, the old you will burn and a new you will arise from those ashes.  (Side note for those who have ever wondered about my phoenix tattoo, now you know the rest of the story.)

9.  ACCEPTANCE is not the end.  Much like grief being non-linear, acceptance may not necessarily be the end of your grief.  I have accepted that my sister is gone.  That doesn't mean I don't grieve for her or for anyone else I've lost.  I would argue that the real acceptance is in acknowledging your loss and allowing yourself the grace to realize you will still need to grieve.  That's real acceptance.

10.  You won't be stuck FOREVER.  If you're in a spot right now where you feel like you may never get out of the hole you're in, stop reading now and ask for help.  The best thing I ever did was seek grief counseling.  There are amazing low-cost or free options out there.  A qualified therapist can help you work through your grief and any issues that arise from your trauma.  For me, I started having panic attacks after my sister died and the grief counselor helped me work through that.  Regardless of whether or not you feel the need to seek help, just know that you won't be stuck forever.  It's okay to ask for help.

Mother's Day is quickly approaching and I hope that you will remember those who are without their mothers on this day and those mothers who are without their children.  Holidays like these and other important dates can wreak havoc on them.  Give them some grace this weekend.

Choosing Joy,

P.S.  Linking The Hurt and the Healer here.  The song is by Mercy Me.  Enjoy.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

I Did a Thing: A Post on (Hopefully) Aging Gracefully

I'm turning 40 in a few months. I know, I know. I'm actually really okay with it, much more okay than I was with turning 30. I feel like I'm at a place in my life where I know myself. I like myself. I'm comfortable in my own skin.
So maybe what happened yesterday should come as no surprise.
I've had short hair for the better part of 20 years. Occasionally, I'll get the bug to have long, luscious locks, which results in me spending a year growing out my hair only to discover that A) I don't have luscious locks and B) I don't like hair. Oh well. Back to the salon I go, have a years worth of growth sheared off, sport some short looks for a few years, lather, rinse, repeat. But this isn't really about that.
I started coloring my hair the night before my high school graduation and except for the times I've been pregnant, I have consistently colored since. And mostly, I enjoyed it. I've been every normal color...and a few not found in nature and it was fun. But my end game was to always stop coloring and go gray naturally. Of course, I didn't expect to start going gray at 27. At that time, the magic age was 50. Then it was 45. And now, here I am on the cusp of the big 4-0 and I said, "Maybe the time is now."
And then I second guessed and third guessed it and fourth guessed it because chronic overthinker in the house.
I asked my husband his opinion. And then my 17 year old son. And my mom. And my best friend. And then I over thought it some more. And then I just made an appointment. I figured if I hated it, I'd color it and no one ever needed to know.
Since I'm not afraid of short hair (and honestly, I don't know why anyone is, it's literally just hair), I decided to cut out all the old color and just embrace the gray.

And from that shot, you're probably like, "Ummm.." because from far away, it doesn't look like I had a whole lot of grey to worry about, but let's take a closer look.

Those aren't highlights and my natural hair has never been that ashen or light before. There are just a whole lot of grays sprinkled around.
The verdict? So far, I love it. It's different and fun and I feel, I don't know, free, maybe? I haven't done any crazy hair colors in a while, so I plan to just keep changing up the cut while I accumulate more gray hair. It's only been about 24 hours, do I plan to update this in three months. And since I know someone will ask, my husband loves it. As soon as I brought it up, he was 100% behind the idea. He's my biggest cheerleader.
In the end, the decision wasn't really about bucking any beauty standards or challenging the system that says women shouldn't show their age. It was more about putting less of my time, energy, and money into the things that are going to make me look young and more of those resources into the things that will actually make me feel young.
Going gray at this age is not right for everyone and I don't expect kudos for doing it. The whole reason for writing this post is because I couldn't find any info on graying at 40 and I don't want anyone who is considering this to feel alone. I'm doing what is right for my life right now and if you are reading this and you get anything from this post, please get that point. Do what is right for your life right now. Freely. Unapologetically. But the shoes, eat the cake, say no to the things you don't want to do. You only die once, but you live everyday. Isn't it time to make your own rules?

Choosing Joy,