There are certain words you hear or read that describe extreme emotions – things best represented on the movie screen, in novels or in some other grandiose interpretations of life, intentionally exaggerated for entertainment value or to coax a response from those in the audience. These are words like despair, agony and hopelessness. I was lucky for much of my life. These were just words. Words on a page, confined to the boundaries of ink on paper.
And then he died.
The pain came, unrelenting and unforgiving. These words, these emotions that were once ideas, overtook my entire being, the weight of them quite literally dropping me to my knees. I remember being on the shower floor, unable to get up. I was screaming and crying, somehow trying to release all of this from my body. I was in there until the hot water ran out and then just stayed there, bent over with my face in my hands, shivering under the assault of cold water and wishing it would wash it all away.
Everything felt heavier. Outside, the branches on the trees hung lower, the flowers did not stand as tall as they used to, and the birds were not flying as high. My whole world was in mourning and felt the crushing weight of my loss. It was devastating. It was suffocating. It was surreal. It was all-consuming. It made me doubt myself, it made me angry, and it destroyed me from the inside out. Death set me on a path to challenge everything I thought I understood about life.
I had so many questions, and I demanded answers from the universe. How could this happen? Why him? Why not me? Why couldn’t I save him? Why is this so unfair? This was not how things were supposed to happen. Why? Why? Why?
The universe answered me with deafening silence.
I share this with you because I want you to know that I understand. I understand the depth of your pain, your suffering, your anger, your guilt. I lived there once. I go back and visit sometimes, but I no longer stay there. It is a conscious choice and a choice I had to realize I had.
Life is a dance of duality – happiness and sadness, light and dark – neither existing without the other. They are opposing and conflicting but engaged in steps so intricate and graceful that the movements captivate us fully. We cannot run from them. We can only appreciate their necessity and beauty and allow ourselves to be swept away in the movement, regardless of which side is leading. Give in and let go. Give in to your sadness, give in to your joy, let go of expectations and live in the moment.
He died 1,179 days ago. The old me died that day too. My life fractured and broke into so many pieces that it was impossible to put it back together. But I no longer feel broken. I no longer need my old life back or the old “me” back. I have learned that you can emerge from the darkness if you choose. You can thrive where you are. A friend of mine lost his son several years ago. We have had many conversations about grief and loss. He said to me once, “Grief never really goes away. You just find a place to put it so you can live again.” And you can live again.
When I look in my backyard now, some days the tree branches still hang lower. But, the trees are still standing. Some days the flowers bloom brighter and fuller than the day before. Sometimes the birds fly low, and sometimes they soar. But, they are all still there. And so are you. Walk your path, take deep breaths, cry out your sadness and let yourself laugh until it hurts. Take a step, even if it’s a small one. Remember a happy moment and find something to look forward to tomorrow. If you can find gratitude in your past and find the even the smallest bit of hope for the future, joy and happiness will meet you where you are.
Anna-Lynn is a proud mother, a student of life, and lover of music and art who lost her husband to cancer in 2015.