Oh, grief. I have pondered over this word more in the past year than ever before in my life. On April 14, 2017 I lost my mother to suicide. Grief, well, it’s not been what I expected it to be.
We have this idea of what things will be like that pass our minds in fleeting moments as we imagine the course of our life, at least I always have. Becoming a mother, owning a home, big career moves, marriage – we just have these ideas and pictures in our minds of what things will be like, what they’ll feel like, how we will react.
I’m not sure that losing a parent is on that list for most people, but it’s been on mine my entire life, ever since I can remember. I have known what suicide is since before I owned a Polly Pocket or realized boys didn’t actually have germs (or at least the kind you think they have in kindergarten). In a lot of ways, as messed up as I realize this is as I type it, I have been preparing myself for losing my mom in this way since I was a child.
Yet, just like those first few months of motherhood, I could never be truly prepared for what this is really like.
For me, grief has been broken up into moments, starting with that night standing in the street, staring at yellow tape. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking clearly in my head, “You are going to be okay, this is going to be really freaking hard, and I have no idea how, but you WILL be okay.”
Because that is what I do. I handle things. I fix them. I manage them. I see a problem and I get busy taking care of it.
So from that moment on, I busied myself.
That next week was a blur of going through her stuff, making cremation and service arrangements, family, fruit baskets and flowers.
The week after that, brief moments of tears wiped away as I tried to get back into work and “normal life”, yet realizing normal would always be different now.
Fully functioning through a busy day of toddlers and working, cooking and laundry followed by a 5-minute breakdown to my husband after the kids went to bed was about the extent of how much I would let myself “go there”.
Month after month I shot down the flashing images in my mind, the little punches in the gut I would feel at random times, by checking off the next thing on my to-do list and mentally congratulating myself for another day of “being okay”.
I am a mom of 2 kids under 5 (or was at the time of writing this, now I have an 8 yr old, 6 yr old, and 3 yr old) who works full-time from home, so staying preoccupied has not been hard to do.
I would sometimes read about grief, even sometimes write about my own grief on this blog. In those early days, kind people would offer to babysit my kids so I could “grieve” and I would think to myself, “What does that mean? I can’t pencil it into my calendar or check it off my to-do list, so I’m not sure a babysitter would help.”
At the same time I was aware that everything I was pushing down would eventually have to surface, I also haven’t known how to allow it to. Or, if I’m being honest, I haven’t felt like it was the “right time” to allow it to. Because ya know…kids, work, laundry, they all need me to be functioning. I am not the person to put on my oxygen mask first. I am more like the hypocrite who preaches that to friends whilst gasping for air myself.
Fast forward to the beginning of this month, the one year anniversary. So many moments of my life were consumed with thoughts, the not knowing what I would feel like, be like, on “the day”. Unfortunately, I feel like there are now two weird days. April 14, 2017 was Good Friday. Yet Good Friday kindly falls on a different day every year, yay.
I spent the days leading up to Good Friday fearing I was going to fall apart that day, trying to convince myself it was just another day and it really didn’t change anything.
The day came, I spent it with family, and it was fine. It was actually a good day.
I thought, I’ve got this. I knew I would be okay. Mental sigh of relief.
I got through Good Friday, just one more hurdle to cross: the actual one-year “anniversary”. (We have got to think of a better way to word that.)
So, I doubled-down on my to-do list, including taxes that I have never in my life been so late filing.
And then, while searching my email for something tax-related late one night, I accidentally came across an email from my mom, the last one she sent to me.
I shut my laptop and burst into tears. My husband started to comfort me with tax advice, because he thought I was overwhelmed by the immense amount of work that comes with the dreaded home-business owner taxes.
I went inside, got under the covers in my bed, and ugly cried. The uncontrollable, painful, wailing that only happened one other time before that – the moment I drove up to my parents’ house that night after my dad called and saw the police officers, the tape, my dad, and they wouldn’t let me past, and I knew it was real.
I awoke the next morning with one of those post-cry headaches you only know about if you’ve had a really, really good cry.
I thought to myself, okay good, we got that out, carry on.
Except, I couldn’t. Day after day, I cried. Everything I did, I cried. Everywhere I went, I cried. I could barely do my work, I could barely talk to anyone. If you follow me on Instagram stories, you might have thought I myself died.
I got a huge, urgent request from a client and sat for four and half hours on my patio, typing away without being able to fully see the screen through uncontrollable tears.
I told my husband I thought I was officially losing my mind, because I had never been so out of control of my own emotions before.
Whatever was in was coming out whether I checked off my to-do list or not.
For the better part of a week, I spent half my days crying and the other half with a pressure-filled headache and tired eyes from crying.
And then, I got up that Friday morning and I went for a run. I ran, and I ran, and I ran. I felt human again. The next day was “the day”, and I literally had no more tears left in my body to cry, probably dehydration at that point, just sayin’.
I was fine. I felt okay. I went about my day, watched my son play soccer, cooked, cleaned, played with my kids.
Here I am about 2 weeks later, and I have tried to write this post about 6 times and never gotten past the subject line until tonight. I am a sharer, I share things to process myself, I share things to help other people process, and I share things because I think we are all more alike than we tend to believe we are.
Yet, I have not been able to share this until now. I haven’t had the words. I still don’t have them all.
I do know that grief, whatever it is, is not over for me.
I know that grief looks different for everyone, partly because every situation is different but also because every person is different. We process things differently, we heal differently, we try to bandage ourselves differently, our circumstances are different.
I know that in my life, there was a me before this and there is a me after this. The me before this, she is gone. And that makes me sad, because I really liked her for the first time in my life.
I know now, that I can’t fix this. I can’t manage it, re-organize it, or mark it off my to-do list.
But, I also know that as hard as it is sometimes, I still get to choose. The me after this is never going to be the same, but I get to choose who she is nonetheless. I get to choose if she shatters or stands. I get to choose if she stands back up every time she falls down. I get to choose if she uses this tragedy to try to help other people, or stays quiet. I get to choose if she speaks about something so many are afraid to speak about.
I choose to stand. I choose to speak. I choose to share. And I choose to be happy, because life is so amazing, and beautiful, and so worth living, really living.
Does choosing to be happy mean there’s no pain? My gosh no. It just means I am choosing to feel it and still be thankful for all that is still good.
For you, my friend (cause let’s face it if you read all this you are probably my friend), I hope you always know that you can choose too. I hope that you know that it’s always okay to fall down, to breakdown, but please always choose to stand back up.
The Lifeline is available 24/7/365 for anyone struggling with difficult emotions, you do not need to be thinking about suicide to call! Reach out: dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Hi, I’m Jessica! I am wife to Chris, and mom to Kaiper, Alana and Koa. I am a graphic designer, website developer and aspiring author. In this space, I share about everything from parenting, working from home, food we cook, and lots of things for kids! Learn more about me here.