My Grief Journey
Everyone’s grief journey is different… and the ability to emerge with your soul intact is dependent upon your willingness to do the excruciatingly difficult work that grieving requires. It is a long and lonely process, and no-one can accept the reality of YOUR loss for YOU… it is something that you must do for yourself. Even if you actively work at grieving it can still take years to move through the pain and sadness and be able to fully embrace life again.
One of the things I’ve learned on my journey is that love is a force so powerful that it transcends death.
My grief journey began as a love story when I fell in love with Andy at the end of my freshman year in college. I was immediately attracted to his keen intelligence, wickedly ‘punny’ sense of humor, and his deep, sonorous ‘radio-announcer’s’ voice. Our skill sets were complementary; I am a big-picture person while Andy was detail-oriented. He was inherently introverted and innately technical, while I am creative by nature. We shared a love of literature, musical theater and a dedication to making a difference in the world.
I am a greeting card designer by profession, and often think about specific people when I am writing card verses. The card below is one of many that I wrote for Andy through the years.
We were blessed to celebrate twenty-nine wedding anniversaries together. Here is our wedding photo– we were so young– the inset photo was taken at his cousin’s wedding in April, 2011, just a few months before he died.
In August, 2011, two days before our son’s twelfth birthday, nine days before our daughter turned seventeen, Andy had a heart attack and died in his sleep. In a very real sense my life ended when he died, because without him I couldn’t return to the life we shared. In the blink of an eye I lost my husband, best friend, business partner, IT and finance director and most devastatingly, my children’s father. Although I spent the entire first week thanking God that Andy didn’t suffer, and that he didn’t die on our son’s birthday, I was too shell-shocked to really understand the magnitude of what had happened. Despite being blessed and bolstered by family and community, I spent most of that first year functioning solely in ‘survival’ mode.
Profound loss– by which I mean the loss of a spouse, child or custodial parent–changes you: I call it ‘crossing the great divide.’ Once you have crossed, and have been forged in the fire of grief, your life is permanently changed in inexplicable ways. If you have ever lost someone, I know you ‘get it.’ If your loss is recent, please know that eventually the good days will outnumber the bad ones.
Grieving is like embarking upon a journey to an unknown destination, against your will, without any idea of how long it will take or what you will find once you get there. In the beginning it is a full time job, and can take every ounce of determination you can muster just to get through the day. At first you may just keep putting one foot in front of the other because you don’t know what else to do. After a while, as you start to regain your equilibrium and work through your grief, you discover an inner strength and resiliency that may surprise you.
My journey from grief to gratitude began in the fall of 2011, when I picked up a pen for the first time since Andy died, and started to journal. For many months thereafter I would awaken each day, write the same words in my journal “When you lose someone you love…” and then finish the sentence. These journals ultimately became what I refer to as “my little grief book,” When You Lose Someone You Love. I made 100 copies to give to friends and family on the first anniversary of Andy’s death… and so many people kept asking me for extra copies that I decided to self-publish the book. Over the next two years I reworked most of the pages to create a cohesive gift of comfort, and did a Kickstarter to raise the money to print it. I published the book on October 21, 2015, which would have been Andy’s 58th birthday.
Below are a couple of photos showing my journals (lying flat on the table) in front of the same pages in the finished books.
As the months passed and I became more grounded, my heart– and my journal pages– became more hopeful. When You Lose Someone You Love ends about a year into my grief journey, and as a sign of the hope I felt while writing it I decided to incorporate some pale color into the last section of the book when I printed it. I’ve been amazed at how many people have mentioned that the added color helps them make a visual connection to my changing feelings. Here are three spreads from the last section of the book.
Grief does not follow a linear timeframe… nor will it consent to be neatly folded up in a suitcase and gotten out when you feel like it. Especially early on in what I call ‘the grief journey,’ grief has a mind of its own, and can sneak up on you with incredible ferocity when you are least expecting it. My journey from grief to gratitude is ongoing. Even after six years there remain days when I am profoundly dysfunctional; the days that I feel overwhelmed by life’s events are when I most miss Andy. I savor the sweet memory of our life together, and am deeply grateful for the years we had, and how they impact and influence my life today.
In the past few years I have gotten involved in the grief world, both to help those who are grieving, and to try to change the culture of grief support by educating those who have not experienced loss themselves. I’ve developed a series of healing workshops and seminars for those who are grieving, as well as seminars for those who want to know how to support the bereaved. Helping others is my way of honoring Andy’s memory and keeping his legacy alive.
I hope these pieces bring you comfort on difficult days.