In a room filled with family and friends, I felt so alone.  Actually, I felt completely invisible.

For me to not only be aware and then to actually articulate this feeling is such a big step in my grief journey.  I have experienced anticipatory grief for months leading up to this day.  I knew this day would be filled with emotion.  This landmark is a monumental passage for all mothers.

The day our children graduate!

The day we watch our children transition into the “world” and release them from the grasps of our clenching hearts.  Children are our hearts beating outside our bodies and regardless of what people may say, watching them grow up is a bittersweet journey.  Of course we want them to blossom, spread their wings and fly.  That doesn’t mean it is easy and done without some unbridled passion and a temper tantrum or two.

A temper tantrum from mom, maybe we don’t share it out loud, but this mom wants to curl up in a corner, kick her feet and scream…. “I don’t want you to grow up, I don’t want you to get hurt, make mistakes or trip and fall.  I want you to stay right here where I can protect you, nurture you and feel like I have some control over your safety and yet, I also can’t wait to watch you fly.  I trust you but I am scared!”

Do not stand between a mother and her child…

A caged wild animal is the only description that comes close to describing how a mother feels towards her children and the world.  So if I live in a world full of mothers who’ve walked this journey of releasing their children to the big world on graduation day, why do I feel so alone?

For me, it is graduation day without my late husband.  The father of my graduating son.  So today, as in so many other days filled with confusing emotions, I will do a grief cleanse.

One of the many tools I’ve learned to use in the Life Reentry Model is the grief cleanse.  It is not always pretty and I don’t like “leaning into” the pain as I’ve written before.  Who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves “today I will joyfully welcome my grief pain and learn from its lessons!”

In Life Reentry, we do!  Maybe not joyfully but we do lean into the grief.  We have learned that it is worth the discomfort.  It can become our lifeline into creating new life after loss.

It is uncomfortable and scary to sit with grief pain.  But time after time, my grief journal has become a constant companion filled with streams of unfiltered words, raw emotions and many things I wouldn’t necessarily want to say out loud in front of others.  Quite frankly, they are often not nice words.  And then, following the steps of a grief cleanse, it always ends up with a simple sentence birthing the honest truth of my heart wisdom.  Nothing to prove, argue or question.  Just the heart truth.

I begin with asking myself the question:

Why do I feel so alone and invisible to the large group of family and friends that surround us on this day?

Because what I would like to really do is stand in the middle of everyone and scream the following but instead, I write the words.  I just let them flow. I throw a temper tantrum with my words, pen and journal.

“I miss my best friend.  I want him to be standing next to me today.  This is our child.  I feel so incredibly alone.  I walked through Hell to get here today and made it without him.  My son walked through Hell.  He did it without his father.  Doesn’t anyone see how much pain fills our bodies on this celebration day?  Do you see how much my son misses his father and despite the horrible despair that lives within his heart, he has chosen to continue?

Does anyone see how hard it has been to reach this milestone?  To wake up each day and say yes, I will do my best today even though I would prefer to quit?  WE did it minus one, our fourth wheel.  When we didn’t want to wake up, we did.  We’ve fought so f**king hard to just breathe every single day for the last 5 ½ years. 

Oh and while I am being brutally honest, I want to lash out at all the people who said they would be there for me and the boys, yet never were.  Who pointed fingers and said it was too early for this or why don’t you do this or it’s too hard to come to your house or see you without him etc.  I want to let them know that they don’t really deserve to be celebrating this day with us because they haven’t been with us through the rough times. Where were you during the deafening darkness only to be celebrating here in the light?  If it was too hard for you to be around us during the uncomfortable, ugly, painstaking days where we stumbled to stand, you don’t deserve to be with us on the day we begin to run.” 

There, I said it. The truth of my emotions and broken heart.  Not so pretty is it?  It’s probably not very nice either.  It truly is how my tender and angry heart feels right now in this moment.  It is raw and unfiltered.  The voice or anger and pain.  Love and loss.  Hopelessness and hope.  Despair and fortitude.

The grief cleanse.

No one or thing will ever satiate the pain or fix the loneliness of grief.  It isn’t anyone’s job to make our journey any less or more than it is.  No one else can teach us how to breathe again or how to crawl, stand or walk.

But when I speak my emotions out loud, when I write them down to be seen and validated, it gives my grief a voice.  Validating the emotions releases the tension and invisibility of grief.  Those emotions are now acknowledged, witnessed and honored.  It is my story…spoken out loud.  From this, my lessons and wisdom nuggets of grief are born.

I am seen.  Not by anyone else.  By ME.

And then with tenderness and validation I can write the simplified truth:

I feel alone.  I miss my late husband.  It is hard to watch my son grow up without his father.  It has been hard to raise him by myself.  I am still living here today without him AND I still love him. 

Simple truth.  I’m not blaming or shaming and there is nothing to fix.  It feels so much better just getting the words out on paper.  It is such a release.

Working through our grief takes diligent work.  I now understand that if I suppress my grief voice, it only builds up into an angry dagger-like desire to point the finger at everyone else in my life and blame them for the pain. Why didn’t you do this, why weren’t you here for that.  WHY do I experience this pain? I make it the responsibility of others instead of myself.

I get it now.  I didn’t before.

My grief journey has been similar to peeling back the layers of an onion.  Over time and with daily conscious effort, I have learned so many deep truths of not only myself, but the collective human experience with grief.  At the center of grief, we are engulfed with the trauma and deep scaring of our hearts from the loss of a loved one.  This place is such a tender, raw and vulnerable place.  We’ve been attacked by the reality of life – our loved ones will die.  We will all die. There is nothing anyone can say that helps the pain during this time.  NOTHING brings them back.

Although, everyone has something to say right?  We want to make each other feel better and fix the pain.  The list of what to say or not to say to the grieving is a whole other story and lesson….for another day.

What I can say today is this:

We see pain through our lenses of reality.  It is hard to even acknowledge our own pain most days so trying to see beyond that and find empathy for others has taken a lot of study, work and practice for me.  I haven’t always been able to.  Of course we feel so alone in our pain because grief is such a personal journey.  It can’t be compared.  EVER.

One of the important steps of creating empathy for others is to begin with giving empathy to ourselves.

We can do this through a grief cleanse.  This means giving a voice to grief emotions.  As I begin to let the grief within my story speak, I can witness and validate my inner journey through my voice, my reality and understanding.  With witnessing and validation came empathy for myself.  I am seen!

With empathy for myself, I can begin to find empathy for others.  Not an easy task.  But I am choosing to do it with a lot of conscious practice.  That means a lot of grief cleanses.

THEN, I begin to not feel so alone.  At least in my pain as a human.  Yes, my grief story is mine.  My pain is unique to me and my story.  YES!

But what if all the people around me in this moment were experiencing their own pain?  What if their story is just as valid as mine?

They are.  And it is.

During the graduation ceremony, the school gave a beautiful tribute to their classmate who died from cancer during freshman year.  Her parents were there to receive the honorary diploma. Their daughter was not.

It hurts to feel others pain. Grief plays circus tricks on our hearts.  I want to be able to have awareness of others grief story.  Therefore, I have to grief cleanse, witness and validate my own story first.  This process allows me to give compassion to myself first so that it can flow to others.  Growing and cultivating new skills from the grief experience is an ongoing process every single day.  It is something I choose to do.

I want to now.  I didn’t before.

Now, because I give voice to my tender heart and speak my truth, I can breathe space into the pain story.  I know that we are all doing our best to navigate life, our trials, success, celebrations, new beginnings, deaths and births.

I am not so alone after all.  My pain has a voice.  I trust this now. 

My pain is not my identity.

The truth is, I am grateful that my son had so many people here to honor and witness his hard work.  He was celebrated for this milestone and surrounded in love by old faces and many new faces.  Although we won’t ever understand the hard work it takes for each of us to make it through the day, we still need all the love and support we can muster to give each other as we begin new journeys.

The truth is that I also wish my late husband was here to see the graduation.  I miss him every day.  I wish he could see the young man he has become despite his death.  And yes, of course his father is/would be proud.  But his father not being here to physically see him graduate is different.  It is not the same.

The truth is that I am also learning to love the new reality I am creating in this life after losing my late husband.  I am grateful for the new relationships that color my world.

Both are true.  The duality of loss hold both truths.

My son has not only learned to stand, he is now beginning to fly.  To come from a place of devastation, hopelessness and despair, he is finding new purpose using the tools he has created during his walk with losing his father at the age of 12.  His story.  Rising from the depths of his grief, he is a demonstration for so many on how to keep living after losing your father and best friend.  His story is his own and he is writing it oh so well!  That means it scares the shit out of me and makes me extremely proud at the same moment.  In a very beautiful, tenderly fierce way.

In closing, through the births and the deaths, let your grief and joy speak out loud, give it a voice, either written or spoken. While we may stand alone in our personal story, we can also reach out our hand realizing the tender pain and joy that lives within us all.  Within the story of a grief cleanse, there is a truth that only we can reveal.  Let the wisdom birth through the pain of grief.  Let the wisdom then guide us to the next step.

I see you.


Since the death of her husband, Marni Henderson has navigated the world of grief, choosing to pick up the pieces and recreate herself in a life with renewed, joyful purpose. Now, her passion lies with rediscovering life after loss and its’ relationship to our health. As a certified Life Reentry Practitioner and Licensed Health Education Specialist, Marni is honored to work alongside her clients to create a “whole picture” plan that includes the tools needed to navigate their unique journey.  Join her on a Discover Your Life Again retreat using the Life Reentry Method!  Contact Marni here or follow her blog!

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One Comment

  • Nancy Manaska says:

    Hi Marni, I too lost my soul-mate (husband) approximately 1 year ago. I was in a great deal of pain for the first 6 months, but one day I realized that this is not what he would have wanted for me. He had been sick for almost 10 years and I knew the what the outcome of his illness was going to be. This still did not prepare me for the intense grief I felt after he passed on. I have come such a long way, I cannot believe it myself. I am happy to hear that you assist people to move forward after a great loss. I read about 12 books on grief, have a great church family and a good family, and have some very good friends that I believe helped me through this most difficult time of my life. I did attend a support group for the loss of a spouse in Ohio where I live. That too was very helpful and I have made some wonderful friends from that group. Thank you for sharing your story.

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