Healing in so many ways is a solitary journey. Even when we are surrounded by loving communities, we walk alone with our inner pain and our own attempts to release and heal our woundedness. No one, even those who have experienced loss with us, can truly understand our unique journey. Heck, sometimes I barely understand my journey and I’m in my head and heart all of the time. How could someone else truly know another’s journey. We each bring our own stories with us. The multifaceted threads of our life change our grieving and our healing.
If the first year of grieving is mainly about surviving and sifting through the shock of loss, I believe the second year is one of picking up the pieces and beginning to create something new. As the shock finally begins to wear off, the firsts have been lived through, and the rest of my life stretches before me I am beginning to rediscover who I am and what I want my life to be.
As I moved through the final days of my first year without Russell and gingerly stepped into the second, I felt myself struggling to figure out why it all felt even worse than it did in the very beginning. The pain was so raw and powerful that I would either curl up in a ball or lash out whenever someone tried to gently lead me back towards the light. “Leave me alone. Let me stay here. It can’t get any better so why try” – all of these came flying out of my mouth many times. I knew somewhere in my head that the second year would and could be different, possibly even easier, but my heart just kept screaming “it hurts, I can’t do this, what if this is all that is left?”
Somewhere within that transitional time, a couple of things flashed on me. First, there is a clear framework, as clear as there can be in mourning, for the first year after losing someone. It’s about getting through the firsts. One event after the other it’s figuring out how to get through the first without them. Second, the framework for the second year, and all the rest to follow, isn’t quite as clear. I don’t feel the same sense of tracking month by month the anniversary dates as I did in the first year. So now what do I do? Creating a new, unique to each person framework for moving through life is necessary. But how do I get there? Which led me to the third insight – there’s got to be a bridge to move from survival mode to renewal mode.
For awhile I was stuck in trying to figure out what the bridge could be. I was so deep into my feelings of sadness and loss that I could only catch glimpses of possible bridges from living in the ashes to stepping forth into new life. I would have moments of realizing things that could help me bridge that gap. I wrote in my journal about new dreams, more activity, clearing out the rest of Russell’s things from my room, spending more time with friends and family outside of my house, new projects and more. I clearly had a sense that these would help me but finding the energy or the desire to do any of them was simply not something I could tap into.
Searching for the bridge felt a little bit like fishing. I would throw lines out into the pond of possibility and see what would bit. More often than not, things would nibble at the line teasing me with hope of renewed energy. I could feel the hook get grabbed and would feel a surge that maybe here I would finally be able to get out of the dark place. But then the line would go slack again and I would reel in an empty hook. Nothing – not even the things that used to give me great joy – would sink the hook deep enough in to be able to reeled all the way home. I felt so deeply immersed in the muckity muck of my grieving that nothing could get through. However would I be able to move forward if I couldn’t get unstuck?
Then through a series of interactions I came to some big epiphanies that helped me begin to create my own bridge. Part of the grieving I was feeling so deeply at the end of the first year was more than missing Russell. It was also missing knowing who I had been when he was alive. The first year after his death dissolved me so down to my barest self that I had no idea who I was anymore. Everything had shifted so much that things that used to come easily to me were now completely foreign. I still have a hard time remembering things long enough to actually get it done and that was rarely a problem before. Teaching and facilitating groups has been a strength and passion of mine for years. Yet now, I find myself almost without words at times so I feel like these are very hard to do. So there is a grieving of me that’s been happening without a real awareness on my part that was a strong piece of my journey. I believe I was so afraid I would never feel like myself again that I became almost stuck in stone.
“Who am I?” was the question that needed to be asked. And me saying “I don’t know if I know anymore.” was the important key I needed to begin to unlock my heart. Instead of wanting to run away from the pain of feeling unable to do or be what I thought I was, I stopped to listen to my authentic self. When I started to ask the question and seek the answers I felt my heart start to open and the dark stranglehold of grief ease its’ grip. As I allowed myself to just breathe, resting in the question itself I felt new life begin to sprout inside of me. It was as if the bridge I had been seeking outside of myself started to grow from inside.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote in my journal. With each new sprouting of life, energy, and desire my bridge began to grow. I wrote of all that was swirling around inside of me, the dark places and the light. I wrote of what brings me great joy to do setting these things as intentions for the core activities of my day. I wrote giving myself permission once again to say no, without explanation to myself or others, to the things that just don’t feel right. I wrote whatever wanted to pour forth from me.
As my awareness of the fact that the bridge I need to step from survival to renewal is within myself and not something anyone else can give to me, my desire to take back a focus on life has increased every single day. My bridge is one of energy, new beginnings, picturing who I want to be and then taking daily steps towards that vision, and saying yes to loving life again. Instead of running from myself in fear, I am loving myself with patience and understanding. My heart is opening and my soul feels ready to soar.
I have no doubt I will continue to have moments that feel shaky and I will want to crawl under the blankets to hide away from the world. But my bridge to renewing and rebuilding my life is getting stronger everyday. It is being anchored with the love I have for myself and the love I abundantly receive from the people in my life. I am relearning who I am and making choices about who I want to be.
The rest will unfold when it is time. For now I give myself permission to let go and just breathe and be.