Grief and gratitude and survival on any given Sunday
Cancer took the life of my husband. Not only did I survive that devastating loss, I am truly grateful for the gifts that have come from my grief journey.
It was any given Sunday.
Except on this particular Sunday, I was starting my day as a guest on a podcast, specifically asked to speak about grief and loss.
It’s been a long and arduous journey from “there is no way I will live through this pain” to being described as an “insightful expert.” I am very much in awe that I have made it this far, learned so much and survived the un-survivable. If I am fortunate, my story might lift, support, and validate someone else’s grief journey. It is an absolute gift from my deepest loss.
I survived. So can anyone.
Coincidentally, my thoughts then turned to a friend of mine to whom hadn’t spoken in a while, so I called her. I was floored when she told me, in a broken voice I hardly recognized, that her 30-something daughter (a wife and mother of three herself) had just been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. They had said, my friend told me, that there was nothing they could do.
Knowing I’ve lived through this, my friend said, “if you have any great advice, I’ll take it.”
I said, “I don’t know if it’s great but I can give you advice.” (My first suggestion to her is to do whatever she can to support herself to get through this.)
All of my knowledge and wisdom won’t change what she is going to have to endure, but maybe I am not powerless to make a difference in her experience. I am grateful for that possibility.
If I survived, so can she.
The opportunity then arose to stop by a neighbor’s house who was 105 days into navigating life after the loss of his beloved wife. (If you’re wondering why I provided the exact number of days, well, that’s how some of us track life after losing a spouse.) I had something to give him, I told him. I hobbled over there as quickly as I could on my sprained ankle to deliver it.
This book, given to me as a gift shortly after Dan died, became the foundation of my grief-stricken mornings. Paying it forward to others by gifting this gem is the least I can do, and if the recipient finds meaning in it as I did, even better. This little book made a big difference for me, and I’m so thankful that Bill didn’t hesitate to send it, despite us being mere acquaintances.
Bill survived the death of his wife, Judy. So can I, I thought, when I read (and re-read) his note which I keep tucked into the book to this day.
That I was experiencing an unusual sequence of grief reminders, on this particular Sunday, was becoming apparent.
So it was not surprising when memories flooded back to me, of different Sundays during the first year after Dan died. The Sundays of that year were my toughest day of the week, torturous, in fact. It’s hard to describe the deep queasy pit in my stomach as the day loomed, the dread I felt, the awfulness of the actual day on a weekly basis. Every single Sunday brought pain that was even more intense, sadness that was even more overwhelming, and more tears than I ever thought possible in a lifetime, let alone a day. I was helpless to escape, no matter what I did or didn’t do, nor was there any respite.
Yet sitting there with my neighbor, it dawned on me that I had not thought about those terrible Sundays for years. My mind and heart had let that pain go, to the extent that I completely forgot. Our capacity as humans to endure and move forward is absolutely amazing. I had no way of knowing then of how that gift would carry me through until the comparison rose up again. I’m so grateful for the perspective I gained.
Finally, as I marveled at this particular Sunday that brought so many reminders and remembrances around grief and loss, Amy’s mom called me to catch up.
Have you ever had someone’s parents (whom you had never met) take your piece of writing and use it in the Celebration of Life program for their daughter (whom you hardly knew)? Me neither, until Amy’s parents did so a few years ago. That I felt honored is an understatement.
What if I told you that if I never wrote another word, I would feel like I had fulfilled a tremendous purpose in life? And the connection forged between myself and Amy’s mom is, well, let’s just say that if I never wrote another word, I would be so grateful I wrote these about Amy?
This is that column: A ray of sunshine, gone.
On the cusp of her August 13th birthday, it feels appropriate to remind the world of the light that Amy was.
And Amy’s parents? They are surviving.
I can’t believe how so very far I’ve traveled down the strange and terrible path of grief, and the gifts that have come from my journey. Most especially, I have become the writer I am and hope to become, only because I lost Dan. I couldn’t have one without the other, and since it was not my destiny to have the one, I’m grateful to have the other.
My grief counselor had made it very clear in the beginning:
“You’re not the same person that you were. You will never be that person again.”
I most certainly am not. Especially on any given Sunday.
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