Navigating a Life Changed

There seem to be a lot of deaths lately. Murders. Suicides. Death by disease. Death brought on by the aging process. And I think of all the people left to grieve the loss of a loved one. Life changes for those left behind and they try to navigate a new world

The death of Robin Williams and the thought of his wife and kids learning to live in a world without him has consumed my thoughts, and has caused me to reread parts of the journal I wrote as I roller coastered through the grieving process.

I wrote an entry in May 2007. At the same time families and friends were contemplating whether they would attend the Virginia Tech graduation. Their loved ones were killed in a senseless on campus murder and they were invited to receive their honorary degree. Walking through a normal graduation in an abnormal way. I grieved for them and me.

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Everything is new. Everything is foreign. Everything is kind of just not right. So emotions take over. Should I go out tonight; should I stay home. Should I join something; or should I stay home. Should I work late; or should I go home. It’s kind of all about filling the moments or being brave enough to sit quietly in them alone, in the same place you shared with the person you lost.

I was thinking this evening that I don’t have a life. But really, that’s not true. It’s just this new life is full of aloneness if I allow myself to go there. And when I make that choice to go there and sit within the moments, without company, I eventually learn that I am okay with myself, I am okay with the choice. It’s just that sometimes it takes a while to see that, many moments of sitting alone with my thoughts.

But that’s all part of working through grief. I read an article in my More magazine about a woman who lost her husband to cancer. She attended a support group but that wasn’t for her. Instead she went on a hiking trip to the Galapagos. She wasn’t athletic. She wasn’t even prepared. But she made it through the trip, met people, accomplished things, saw sea creatures and other new sites. And during that trip she realized she could move on, she could live without her husband.

I don’t know if you need to go on a long trip, or accomplish any physical fete, but sometimes I do think you need to do something different, something you wouldn’t do with your spouse. And sometimes that’s nothing more than leaving the house knowing you want something to eat, changing your mind a dozen times on the trip there, and finally getting what you want.

Getting what you want. Doing what you want. I wrote a little while ago about being an abnormal person walking through a normal world. Well, maybe part of becoming normal is doing what you want, is having experiences by yourself. And they don’t have to be alone, but they need to be your chosen experience. And, if after you make the choice you find it wasn’t the right one, you get the opportunity to do it over again taking the other road, at least most of the time.

Back to the commencement at Virginia Tech. I can’t imagine losing a child and going to the ceremony, hearing their name called to receive a posthumous degree. A degree given because they died and didn’t get the chance to earn it. I can’t imagine watching others get their degrees by completing the program and watching them walk across the stage with opportunities your child will never have. So, to go, to make the choice to sit through all that, to sit quietly through that moment, is more than receiving a piece of paper. It’s more about paying tribute to a life that might have been. It’s about truly feeling the loss. And it’s also about talking to others that feel the same pain; who really understand.

And to not go is to miss something, and in this case it is to miss something you will never get another opportunity to experience. And more than those who are apprehensive about going, who are emotional as they get in their cars or other form of transportation and make the trip, that person who doesn’t go suffers alone as they receive the insert with their son/daughter’s picture and writeup and honorary degree in the mail. They miss the moment and they miss the togetherness and the chance to talk with people who are walking through the grieving process, not necessarily in the same way, but grieving for a love lost.

The choices we make as we go through the grieving process. They are part of who we become without the person we loved. They are what we are becoming as we try to become a little less abnormal in a normal world.

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I made it through the passages of grief, and have discovered joy and new talents on the other side. I am happily married to a wonderful guy and we are truly living the dream in Southwest Florida. We love our life and adore each other. However, it took every moment in grief to get me where I am today. If you’ve lost someone, don’t short-change yourself by running away from the pain of grief. Live with it. Live through it. Talk to a friend, professional. Join a support group. Discover who you are. Learn to live and be open to joy in a life forever changed.

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