Grief. Where do I even start?
I’ve tried to sit down and write this post so many times, but the truth is, sitting down to write means reliving everything I’ve been through in the past two years. I want to start with a disclaimer: I am not a therapist, a doctor, or anyone claiming I know what is right. Instead, I’m just a girl who has been through some really hard shit. I’ve walked through it, I’ve lived with it, and today I’m finally ready to share my story.
Maybe you’ve never experienced anything like I have. I pray you haven’t. It’s not a fun club to be a member of, although, I know many of you are from talking to you. Maybe grief has looked different for you, and that’s ok.
In fact, that’s lesson number one. If there is one thing I can tell you, it’s that grief looks different for everyone.
We’re all human. We all feel things. We all have eyes, a nose, and a mouth, but we aren’t all exactly the same. We need different things, express love in various ways, and most of all handle grief in our own way.
Before we get into all that, let’s rewind. I’m going to be very honest, I never expected this. My entire life my family has been extremely close. I was blessed with two incredible parents who love/loved me without bounds, and a brother who has been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, no one is perfect but simply put, I was blessed in the family department and have always been very grateful for that.
Fast forward to 2-3 years ago when I was pregnant with Kinsley. My dad was one of the healthiest, happiest, most incredible people I knew. He ran a company, golfed 5 days a week, and used to consistently kick my ass in pretty much everything we did (although I rarely admitted it). For some context, Alex used to say he was a real renaissance man. He could pretty much do anything he set his mind to and not only do it, but do it well. My mother-in-law liked to joke that he was secretly the man from the Dos Equis “world’s most interesting man” commercials. He was the type of person that filled a room the minute he walked in. To sum it up, his charisma was tangible.
I still remember where I was when I got the call from my parents telling me that my dad had cancer. I was standing in the garage of our old house attempting to organize something long overdue. I got a call from my parents, both of them (which wasn’t normal). I could hear in their voices that something was wrong. I knew whatever it was, wasn’t good, but I could tell they didn’t want to upset me too much since I was roughly 6 months pregnant. My dad had cancer. Stage 3 they thought at the time. Cancer? What the fuck… Cancer was just a dirty word that I heard from friends of friends, or on TV while I cooked dinner. I felt like someone had sucker punched me in the gut. I didn’t understand half of what my parents said on that call after that, and the things I did understand, I didn’t want to.
I won’t get into everything that happened during the months in-between the day I found out and the day he passed. There are some things that I believe should stay personal, but just know it was brutal. Rip your heart out and throw it down the kitchen sink disposal kind of brutal.
My dad was not only one of the most successful and charming people I knew, but he was also the funniest. We liked to banter back and forth, teasing each other constantly. Our humor was probably a little dark for some people, but it was always how we rolled. I used to tease him, saying that he was never average, so why would his cancer be? To sum it up, his cancer was tough and fast and relentless, just like him.
I was there the day my dad passed. I will never forget that day. The dark and foggy day that I saw him for the last time. The trillions of emotions that coursed through my veins. He was my person.
But the story of grief is what happens next.
I spent the next week in a fog. I was a mom of a 6 month old baby at the time, so I woke up and went about my life, feeling like I was in a haze. I remember being so thankful for that squishy little face, the light in the darkest time of my life. In many ways, Kinsley was the best medicine for my broken heart. Without even knowing it really. Her innocence and joy brought the same out of my every day. That’s the thing. For me grief wasn’t really a constant state. Sometimes I was sad and in pain—the sitting on my bedroom floor can’t get up type of pain, and other moments I was so genuinely happy, filled with joy, laughing and living in the moment.
One of my very best friends that I’d known forever, drove from Dallas to Austin to be with us. She stayed with me for 3 days and we did whatever I felt like doing. I can’t tell you know much having her around meant to me. When I wanted to cry, she was there. When I needed to be distracted, we ran errands. And when I didn’t even know what I needed, just having her there added a layer of comfort that did all anyone could hope for in the moment. It just helped. I was so happy to see her at the time, but didn’t fully realize how impactful the act of her coming was until the fog of grief lifted, and I could see clearly enough to reflect back on that time. Hard times have a way of really illuminating the people in your life. I will forever be grateful for our drop everything friendship.
It taught me all about lesson number 2, I call this the ‘just be there’ lesson.
I get asked a lot about what to do to help a grieving friend or partner and my best advice (in my experience) is to just be there. Show up. Laugh, cry, hold them, talk about it if they want, don’t if they can’t, cry more, distract them, love them. The reality is that there is truly nothing you can do to fill the void, or soothe the pain they feel. There is nothing you can say to erase their hurt, but if you show up they will feel it, and even if they can’t articulate it at the time, I promise, it will help. Oh, and don’t worry about saying the right thing, there isn’t a right thing to say, just be there.
Back to the story. I’ve always talked to my mom about everything. My mom has always been my sounding board and is no doubt the strongest women I know. Her strength and perseverance has been nothing short of astounding. I pray I can one day be half the woman she is and the wife she was. But, like I said earlier, people grieve differently. I lost a dad, but she lost her husband, her partner for the past 30+ years, and I wanted to respect that and let her go through the process in her own way. The truth is, no matter how close you are with someone and no matter how much you normally lean on someone, when grief hits, you have the go through the process yourself.
If I could summarize my grief in one word, without trying to sugarcoat it, I think it would just be lonely.
I had (and still have) an astounding sense of peace knowing my dad was no longer in pain, that he was with God. I knew he was in heaven and that washed constant waves of warmth over the sometimes numbing feeling of loss. I’m not really sure why, but I was never mad at God, just kind of broken feeling. I think the best way to describe it is this: my dad is a big part of who I am today and I felt the void of his absence. I received several signs after my dad passed that he was watching down on me. I get chills just thinking about them. I still get the signs and they always make me smile and feel just how potently God’s love can cut through anything.
It’s time for the third major lesson that grief taught me – it’s not easy, but you can CHOOSE what happens next.
You can lay down and give up, succumb to the sad feelings and just coast on cruise control. Or you can fight and live and even thrive. I decided to thrive. I filled my time doing things I LOVE. Again, this looks different for everyone. For me that meant spending time with people I love (Alex, Kinsley, the rest of my family, friends). Doing things that I knew my dad loved (always makes me feel close to him), and honestly, working! I truly love what I do here. Some people probably didn’t understand how I could come on Instagram and story or post the week after but to me, it helped.
Why do people think they have a right to judge the way other people grieve?
I never understood that. Connecting with you guys and doing things I truly enjoy, helped me so much. The kind messages, comments, and prayers from you all helped me more than you know. I also got moving and did things like work out, get out of the house, and just keeping myself busy.
The hard truth is that there isn’t really anything that takes away the pain of loss, but time, just hours and days and years that will chip away at the sting. I often get asked if it ever gets “better”? I’m not sure better is really the right word, but ya, it does get easier. You learn to live inside the world of your new normal. I LOVE talking about my dad. I miss him everyday but I like talking about him and seeing photos or videos and sweet reminders of how lucky I was to have him for the years that I did. A friend once told me that even though Kinsley won’t really ever remember him, she will know him through all the parts of him that still live in me. We talk about him a lot. How he loved to fish and golf, and I tell her all the funny stories. She already knows him more than she realizes.
So, here comes lesson number four… grief isn’t linear. It’s up and down and all the fucking way around.
There are good days, bad days, and everything in between, but isn’t that life? It’s kind of this beautiful ball of yarn. All tangled and intertwined in itself. I can truly say that while I wish this wasn’t a fire I had to walk through, it has forged me into a stronger version of myself.
As many of you know, I got a little rainbow tattoo for my Dad. The same day I got my rainbow, I also got a tiny cursive “b”. I shared that I got it for someone but didn’t share why or what it meant because it was/is personal, but I’ve had hundreds of questions about my tiny “b” asking what it stands for. So here it is: In October we lost Alex’s little brother, Bryson. He was funny, goofy, kind, talented, creative, deep, stylish, and overall all one of my favorite people in the world. We had a special bond from day 1. Of course I didn’t know at the time, but losing my dad the year prior would go on to help me be there for Alex as he walked through the loss of a brother. I can’t say I would have been able to otherwise. To be 100% real with you guys, I haven’t really processed the loss of Bryson yet. My primary focus over the past few months has been making sure Alex is ok (he’s strong and doing as well as you can be). When you don’t see someone daily (he didn’t live near us), and you aren’t faced with the daily reminders that they are gone, it’s easy for it all to feel like a bad dream.
I like to think that my dad and Bryson are playing cards, or maybe my dad is teaching him to play the violin up in heaven (he always wanted to learn and would play with him during the holidays). I know both of them are safe and sound and we’ll see them again one day. I know that with every fiber of my being.
Lesson number 5, grief can give you perspective, if you let it.
The past two years have given me perspective and have also given me a strength to distance myself for anyone who isn’t a positive character in my life. We all have those people who we know don’t really wish us well or maybe aren’t the best friends, but they stay in our lives anyways. I no longer have time for that. Instead, I focus my energy on the relationships and things that add value and good to my life. Life is too short to surround yourself with the negative. Do what you love with who you love. Life is too short to do anything but live and do it well. Do it for the people who aren’t here to do it with you.
Don’t let the pain of their loss cripple you, let it drive you to be better, and live fully.
To me, grief feels like getting dropped in the middle of a stormy, choppy ocean. You’re trying to swim but each rush of waves pushes you deeper. You may go under for a minute, but you fight and come back up, gasping for air, breathing it all in as the rain hits your face. Sometimes you swim and struggle while your body burns and aches, and other times you just need to roll on your back and rest. Maybe you even see a beautiful dolphin swim by and you take a ride. One day after lots of swimming, you find a boat, you get out of the water and you can finally breathe again.
Then, you learn to drive the boat, navigate your new normal and you start to head to the shore. Every now and then a storm will come that blows you backwards a little, but you keep on going, following the light. You finally reach the shore that once seemed so far in the distance. You dust off all the sand and ring the salty water out of your hair, but there’s still sand left in places you can’t see and your hair is a little wet—the sand rubs in spots and the texture of your hair is different but you’re finally safe on shore. You’re OK.
The truth is, loss has changed me. I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t, but you see, sometimes change has a negative connotation and I don’t mean it that way. I love the person I am today. Instead I mean it in the truest sense of the word. I know I am a little different from I was before, but it’s part of me now. I hope a part of me that I can use as a gift to help anyone swimming in their ocean, even if in the smallest way.
What I’m trying to say is that I wrote this post for anyone who needs it today or one day, but I also wrote it for me. You are not alone. That’s what life is all about really, isn’t it? Loving others well and human connection. Whether you’re swimming through the stormy waters of grief, or trying to throw someone you love a lifeline, just know you’re not alone.