The Story of Grief

(a non-house related post to talk about some hard life things)

Grief is such a weird thing, it’s something that very few people want to talk about or acknowledge, yet it is something that most have had to deal with at least once in their life. It’s like having a piece of your heart just ripped out and thrown away. How do you continue on without the missing piece of your heart? Can you even be vulnerable and let another person or opportunity in, without the fear of yet another loss? But that’s what grief is, a way for us to be vulnerable and rely on the Lord, our family, our friends, our people. A way to remember the love we had for that person and hopefully start to repair the gaping hole that has formed in our hearts. I don’t think it is something that ever gets easier or that our grief or loss is something that we ever forget. It’s more like playing in the ocean and trying to navigate the waves- a big wave hits you and you feel like the current has pulled you under and you’re drowning, until you remember how to swim and it passes… then maybe you’re able to manage a little better, until the next wave hits, that is.

I was 11 years old when my first big wave hit me, before I even experienced the loss itself. I remember sitting on the stairs to the basement of my grandparents’ house, crying so hard I could barely breathe and screaming because I wasn’t yet ready to say goodbye to my grandpa. We all knew the day was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. I truly never did say goodbye. A few days later I walked home after school to their house, and found that the inevitable had happened- I lost my childhood best friend to the cancer that had taken over his body. And that moment I have carried with me everyday since.  And from the moment of that trauma and loss, it changed me. It’s the reason I push people away, it is why I hate funerals and open caskets, and why there is no doubt that I will bawl like a baby for every 21 Gun Salute. April of 2005 was the start of me learning how to swim when the waves seemed too big to even fathom. 

That loss led the way for a lot of the insecurities with trusting others and the inability to open up to people.  Accompanied with all the loss that a normal teenager goes through with friend drama and boys- it felt like a never ending cycle of just trying to swim through yet another wave. One loss after another, but all a different kind of loss, nonetheless. It’s something you always carry with you, along with the guilt of slowly forgetting bits and pieces of the good parts of your life, and carrying with you the trauma of the bad. The waves eventually start to calm down but with that so do those memories- you slowly forget the sound of their voice and the things that you used to do together. But something you never forget is the pain of those losses, and with each new loss comes the pain and remembrance of all the previous losses before it. 

I didn’t realize how true this was until l experienced my next big wave, and the wave that almost drug me out to sea… March of 2019. I went home to Michigan, from Kentucky, for my birthday, like any normal year. I spent time with my family, but things were off as my grandma didn’t join us for much. We knew she wasn’t feeling well and when I went to say goodbye that Monday, I knew something wasn’t right. Something in my gut was telling me I should stay, but I still decided to drive back to Kentucky that day anyways. The guilt I carry with me for deciding to leave that day is still so heavy on my heart, two and a half years later. My grandma ended up in the ER that afternoon, and by the next morning I had gotten a call from my dad telling me to get back home, she wasn’t going to make it much longer… My gut was right, and I should’ve listened to it. 

Little did I know that she was already gone. She had signed a DNR that morning, and the infection she had, had taken over her body. She was gone- my best friend, the woman who helped raise me, who helped grow me into who I am today, just gone. And I was pulled under by the wave of grief, loss, and guilt. I don’t think I really even cried or felt the sadness of losing my grandma during the funeral or the first few weeks after. It just felt like my heart broke and a piece of it just dissolved, I really just felt numb. The funeral was hard but going back to Kentucky and getting back to “real life” was even harder. 

They say when you lose someone you love, you also go through a series of other losses. Just like how the waves of the ocean get crazier after a storm. You get that surge and everything is stronger, just like the feeling of grief and everything that accompanied it. The few months after losing my grandma, and trying to “be cautious” around people to not make them uncomfortable when talking about my loss, felt like everything else slowly started slipping away. I didn’t know how to cope or get through losing my best friend, but my life started falling apart too. I became angry, I pushed people away, I was depressed, I was drinking too much on the weekends, I lost my job due to my grant running out, I lost the people I called my best friends. Honestly, how do you go back to pretending that everything is okay, and living a “normal life”, when everything has slowly fallen apart and your heart aches? A few months later I lost the place I called home for 5 years, as I moved across the country.. 

I honestly thought that picking up my life in Kentucky and “running away” to South Carolina for a new job was going to solve everything. Little did I know that what I had just endured was only the beginning and things were about to get harder – the grief now had to be dealt with and accepted. But what came with that grief was also anger and a wave of depression like I have never fallen into before- the next big wave that I had to swim through. 

Being in a new city and trying to navigate the loss of the last six months was something I don’t think I could have ever prepared myself for, but the Lord knew what He was doing, He was changing my heart, changing my life.. I had started a relationship almost immediately after moving to SC, and tried to find my people in one of the fastest growing cities in the US. I started to tell myself that things were going great and that life couldn’t get better, I thought maybe I would start to believe it, but it was all a lie. My relationship was not healthy on either end- we were not each other’s people. The group of friends that I had found were not my people either. My depression, which I’ve struggled with for all my life, was the worst it had ever been, and I finally got the wake up call that I was needing. 

January of 2020 was the hardest and most crucial time of growth in my life. This was the breaking point. I had just experienced the first Christmas without my grandma, and returned home to SC, alone and sad. My relationship was falling apart, but really, it felt like everything was falling apart. Trying to glue a relationship together with a bunch of shattered pieces doesn’t go very well- and the relationship had finally ended. With that though, I lost it. I had my first ever panic attack, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think straight, and I just felt like my world was spiraling out of control. I said a lot of things that I did not mean- not wanting to be alive, which is where I was, and wanting to kill yourself- it’s a very fine line to walk. And that very fine line that got me sent to the hospital on suicide watch. I was discharged later that night, but it was a wake up call that I never knew I needed- it was time to deal with the pain of this loss, of all the loss, time to learn how to navigate the waves. 

Two days later, my aunt, another one of my grandma’s sisters, passed away. I got home from work that night and just sat on the couch and bawled. Another piece of my grandma was gone, and I was still dealing with the trauma of being sent to the hospital. I went home to Michigan for the funeral, and it was one of the hardest weekends of my life. It was filled with crying, and opening up and sharing that I was struggling. There’s so many points in life where you may think that people would be better off without you, like you’re a burden- but people really do care. You can’t let grief pull you out to sea and drown you, you have to accept the help that you don’t think you deserve. Life is hard, but you’re not alone and you can certainly get through it, it just takes time and love. 

In the following months, COVID hit, and that gave me the ability to learn how to swim and endure the waves. So much time to sit and accept all the things that had happened, not only in that year prior, but everything that I had suppressed for my whole life. I had so much time to accept and feel my feelings. I found ways to channel my grief into crafts and projects. I got to accept help, I took control of my mental health after years of struggling, and I learned that people care. You don’t have to do the hard things alone- PEOPLE LOVE YOU, but you can’t drown your feelings of grief and sadness or they’ll drown you. 

Since then, I have found my people, the people who are there for me in not just the good times, but also the terrible. They have helped me grow and learn that it’s okay to be vulnerable and rely on those around you, and that the Lord will carry you through. I am allowed to be sad and grieve, I don’t have to just “get over it”, and it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes you need other people to show you different ways to swim through the waves, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the people that were placed in my life to teach me that. The grief never goes away, but it’s okay to accept that loss, sit in it, and talk about it- talk about the people you’ve lost, share the stories, the happy memories, all of it. Because at the end of the day, that’s what is going to get you through. And that is how you learn to swim through the waves of grief.

Thank you for reading and much love,

Heather

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