I do not like my new companion. He stalks me daily, but I didn't have a choice in the matter of letting him into my home. I looked up one day and before I realized what was happening he was here, marking his territory like a stray dog. We have actually gotten much closer since the quarantine started. See, before the order to stay in our homes I was able to avoid dealing with him. I could distract myself from his nagging presence. But now I'm back stuck inside these 4 walls with him. He made it quite clear that he isn't going anywhere. He couldn't leave even if he wanted to. We are stuck in this quarantine together...stuck in this life together. I am learning to live with him... but living with Grief is something I will never get used to.
Healing is Hard Work. It takes time and intentional effort. It's a daily process of getting up and having to do it all over again. There is no finish line. There is no point that we will look back and say "I'm healed." It is a constant process of healing and then regressing and then healing some more. It's not like a physical ailment where we can see when the scab has fallen off and the scar appears. The scar being the visible sign of healing. Well, what do we do when the scab and scars are invisible? Invisible but a thousand times more painful than any physical ailment. They give you special parking decals and accommodations to help you live with permanent physical scars like paralysis or amputations. What happens when it's a piece of your heart that's paralyzed and a part of your soul that's been amputated? Since our scar isn't visible to the naked eye we are expected to bounce back to normal with little to no support.
I spent most of the first year working on my healing process...alone. After the first few weeks my only friend was the abusive voice in my head blaming me for our current situation. I decided not to return to my job as a teacher and coach in an effort to truly dive deep into my connection with God and my search for meaning. The burning questions for me were Why did God take my son? What did I do to deserve this? And now that he's gone why do I have to stay? I laid in bed a lot longer than what made most friends comfortable. They wanted me to go back to being who I always was... but I wasn't her anymore. She died when my child did. I have undergone a metamorphosis and have lost a lot of friends who haven't cared to get to know the new me.
This whole Corona Virus quarantine has complicated the grief process for a lot of us. I felt like I was doing pretty good then bam- just like that I'm knocked back to my knees. Sitting in the house with our child's empty room is causing heightened anxiety for some grieving parents. We were learning to get through our days and to quiet the voice in our heads constantly asking why. We were learning to manage...to hide our pain even from ourselves. Some of us were back working or had routines that kept us busy. Whenever people used to ask how I was doing my reply was "ok, just keeping busy." And every single time their reply would be "busy is good." But now I'm learning that busy is not always good. When the quarantine first started my busy-ness stopped and I had to deal with that voice in my head once again. Then it was just me and that voice and we were extra busy...busy crying, busy thinking, busy replaying scenarios in my head. What if I hadn't been coaching? Maybe I would've been home when it happened and could've saved him? What if I had answered the phone instead of texting him- maybe I would've noticed something wasn't right?
These thoughts are not helping me. I thought I had gotten past this phase. But the isolating effect of the quarantine has a way of invading our minds. The solitude. The loneliness. It feels like we're starting all over again...from ground zero. Being trapped inside is not good for an anxious mind. No support groups. No gatherings to honor birth-dates and angel-dates. No funerals for new deaths. And just way too much time to think. Let's not forget to mention all the "normal" parents complaining about their kids being home and having to home-school them. Do you know what we would give to have our kids home?! Or the complaints about prom being cancelled or graduation being postponed or missing the vacation they paid for in full. I will never get to vacation with my child again! There are children who are losing their parents as we speak. And parents losing their children this very moment. Consider yourself lucky that your biggest complaint is losing money for a vacation or not getting to take pictures of your child posing in a limo for prom.
In January I started back coaching- something I thought I would never do again. But it was the only thing that could get me out the house and something I could do to take my mind off my pain. It also allowed me to follow a part of my healing plan which was serving others. I decided to coach not because it helped me but because it helped the team. Just as I started getting settled into my new role, the season was cancelled suddenly...the distraction that was helping keep me busy was suddenly gone....but I actually felt a sense of peace. I had continued praying and meditating daily and though this changed my routine again it was not enough to shake me. I don't think anything could ever shake me the way losing a child does.
For a lot of us grieving parents, we are stuck in the house, constantly reminded of all the memories we made and of those we will never get to make. Our daily lives were as normal as we could get and served as a needed distraction from the gut-wrenching pain. But perhaps the distraction wasn't the best thing for our healing process. We were masking the pain rather than dealing with it. Keeping busy felt better... but was it actually better? Now my busy is much more intentional. It's not an attempt to distract myself from the pain but an intentional lean into the pain in order to continue to truly deal with it. Because I realize that even if I distract myself from it its still there. And eventually I'm going to have to deal with it. So now I've been busy praying, busy meditating, busy saying affirmations, busy practicing gratitude, busy helping others. So in essence, I've been busy healing. But sometimes I just don't want to do the work. Sometimes the pain is just too much and I just need to lay in bed and that's ok too. I give myself a day to let the pain win...but it wins the day not the war. I made myself a promise to not give in to the pain 2 days in a row. I can bounce back from one day of darkness, but on the one year anniversary I relapsed for a whole week and I almost didn't make it back into the light. The darkness almost won.
The word normal will never exist in our vocabulary again. There is no back to normal and no such thing as a new normal. This is our new life but there's nothing normal about it. Our new life is filled with pain but it can also be filled with purpose. The pain isn't going away...so the question is...what are we going to do with it? I want to believe that I can live a life full of purpose in honor of my son and all the purpose he held within him. I strive to serve others, impacting them is such a way that Damani's name and his Legacy lives on forever.
The quarantine is forcing us to drive deep into our grief and actually find our way through it. As the chaos ensued around me, I felt a sense of calm in the middle of the storm that is hard to describe. People panicked to get hunkered down and I was completely un-bothered. Suddenly the dysfunction that was my reality was penetrating everyone's lives. I was not happy about it, but it was a reminder to me that bad things don't just happen to bad people. And that death will knock on every one of our doors, we do not know when or where, but it is inevitable. God allows pain into our lives indiscriminately. He doesn't send death to visit any of us as a punishment and He doesn't bless other people with long lives as a reward. I actually believe that our reward comes in the next life and the way we respond to pain in this life has a lot to do with the reward that awaits us.
I am trying to stop searching for answers to my questions as I realize that no answer will ever bring me peace. The only way to truly find peace is to let go of my need to understand the past and just stay connected to the present. Staying grounded in the here and now. I surrender. Surrendering is such a powerful thing. Surrendering is the only true way to peace. Peace is not a destination that I can say I have arrived at and ever be done searching for. It is a constant process of surrendering and searching because even if I feel that I have arrived it is fluid and in constant motion. As soon as I feel that I have arrived the waves carry it away to another location.
The way this pandemic has shaken everyone's reality made me feel like less of a misfit. It actually helped me realize how qualified I am to help others. Before all of this I felt very isolated in my grief. But now it is so widespread like in the old days where life expectancy was not so long and it wasn't taboo to talk about losing a child. The nightly prayers people taught their children asked the Lord to take their souls if they "die before they wake." This is a wake up call to all humanity that we have gotten too comfortable and had better live every day like its our last and to focus on what's truly important.
Healing Tip: Gratitude
Make a list of the things in your life that you are grateful for. Focus on these things daily. Question to ponder: If you had to choose between keeping all the memories you had with your child but also keeping the pain or losing all the memories but also ridding yourself of the pain...which would you choose? I would choose to keep the memories and the pain. I am eternally grateful for every moment with my child no matter how much losing him hurts. I can't imagine my life without having ever had him. He was a beautiful gift.
I am so glad that I got to be his mom and feel his love for 17 wonderful years.
I thank God for my living son and the beautiful bond we share.
I am grateful that we have a home and are safe.
I appreciate the new friends I have made who understand this journey.