As we wrap up what has been, by all accounts the most challenging year of my life, I’m forced to reflect on what I’ve learned about life, death, love, and grief.  

1.We all grieve for different things throughout our lives…lost loves, lost innocence, lost opportunities, even election results. None of life’s previous losses prepared me for losing Dan and Dad. I quickly learned that grief doesn’t just make you sad.  It can be an overwhelming pain that affects you on an all encompassing level: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and financial. If you would have cleaved me in two, I don’t think it could have hurt more than the pain I’ve endured. For the first time in my life I had no answers, no plan, and no solutions.  I couldn’t fix it. All I could do was keep breathing…and that was harder than it sounds.

Grief also seems to come to the party with anxiety. This was a surprise, but it is pretty common even for those that never struggled with anxiety before their loss. I’ve decided that it’s the pressure (unintentional, of course) by others to be back to normal (not an option), have a good time, perform on the job, etc. that makes the anxiety so much worse. You wouldn’t believe the amount of energy it take to smile or hold back tears. I think as women we are taught to focus on others so much, that even in our worst pain we don’t want our grief to make others uncomfortable.  So it’s just easier to hide.

Screw that! When your W doesn’t want to go out, leave the house, or do anything but live on the couch, support her in that. Unless you’ve been through it, keep your advice to yourself. (On that note, every single W I’ve talked to encourages couch surfing as a survival tactic). If her grief makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should take time to reevaluate what kind of a friend you are, because it’s not about you buddy!

2. In the darkest depths of despair, there are so many shining lights of hope.  So many lovely people stepped up to surround us with love and light and support. The meals, the angels who showed up to rake the fall leaves, the friends who never gave up on checking on me, even when I withdrew, all shining examples of the good in the world.  As Dumbledore wisely said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Sometimes we just need someone else to help flip that switch.

3. You can’t do it alone, but being alone is okay.  I continue to survive with the help and guidance of my grief team: which includes my BFFs, family, grief counselor, financial advisor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, reiki master and others. I’ve also had my fellow W’s surround me in a ring of love and acceptance and support. Their unique understanding was something no one else could provide. 

But being alone was also a key component to my survival. After spending years in caregiver mode, giving myself permission to take care of myself was the best gift I could have ever received. And while nothing will ever replace my perfect travel partner, I’m looking forward to finishing out our bucket list as a solo traveler.  There is something therapeutic about being alone…it counters the anxiety/pressure of being with others.  

So many great memories to treasure. Take that vacation. Live now.

4. Grief isn’t linear.  It gets better.  And it gets worse.  And it’s different for everyone. On some days it’s hour to hour, or even minute to minute. So you shouldn’t beat yourself up about having a backslide because there is no forward and back. There is only now.

The circle of life goes on. Our sweet nephew has been my joy since losing Dan.

5. “There’s our old Lisa,” was one of the most painful things (even worse than the first time someone referred to me as a widow) someone said to me AD (after Dan).  I wanted to scream. The Lisa you used to know died that July 10th morning, half a second after Dan took his last breath.  And FYI she won’t be back.  I think that’s one reason the pain is so excruciating…you are really grieving for two.  In addition to learning to live without your love, you are mourning who you used to be.  And that’s not all that died that day.  Your hopes and dreams for the future were also snuffed out. So you grieve for all of you. And that is almost freaking impossible to shoulder. 

So as most people enter the new year with new goals, new dreams, and new hopes, those of us drowning in grief just focus on continuing to keep breathing. And you know what, that’s damned good enough if you ask me.