Words completely failed me and they still do. My mind seems to be doing fine then a reminder of Rebecca’s favorite food or memory will come and I’m back to square one of debilitating, utterly miserable grief. So many questions of “what if” or “why God,” numb from the pain, the anger that she didn’t deserve this miserable ending. I was shocked that morbidity was so near, and had kidnapped the best friend I stayed up all night laughing with most of my life. A positive, shining light in my life was gone. Forever. I never imagined I’d be at my oldest friend’s memorial service the year she turned 30. May brought her one-year anniversary of her death and here are a few things I have learned this year:
- Life is so short and we really do need to make the best out of it. Do what brings you joy and those you love happiness. Rebecca was seriously the most fun and hilarious person I knew. I have my wedding video to show proof of her awesome dance skills and zest for life. Even with her terminal illness, she still took a last minute trip to Spain with her sister, Hannah. She traveled, drank prosecco, and lived her best life as much as she could till the very end. When I want to sit and wallow in this all-consuming grief, I remind myself of her courage and strength and if she could be here, what would she do. Certainly not being this pathetic. So I have a prep talk inside of myself to get up, stop being so blah, say “YES” to that glass of wine, and have fun with the people who surround me.
- Grieving in motherhood is hard because you still have so much responsibility to carry on. Lean on your village. Many times, us women keep it together- managing kids’ schedules, their current and future needs, meals, home needs, and work deadlines, for the whole family. It has meant everything to have a village help out so I could have some time to myself to grieve. My mother-in-law watched my girls for a few days and I was so grateful. I was able to be the mother that they needed and deserved when they came home from their fun time at Tita’s house. My husband took the responsibility of dinner and getting kids ready for bed for a while. My Abuela did my laundry and let me cry in bed one day. My sister came over frequently to check in on me. My brother who called me just to cry with me and check in. My friend took my daughter to school the morning I couldn’t drive from nonstop crying. My hairstylist who let me cry on her shoulder. These are my people.
- Sprinkle patience and kindness everywhere you go. You never know what type of losses people are suffering, whether it has to do with divorce, infertility, the stress of making ends meet, loss, depression or anxiety, or the nightmare of a diagnosis. I remember I was at Publix ordering my daughters birthday cake when I found out. God bless that young girl who helped me order that cake. What should’ve been an easy task took me probably 25 minutes of not thinking straight, forgetting how many guests were attending, trying my best not to be a hysterical mess, all the while my body having a physical response: shaking, feeling lightheaded, knots in my stomach. I was so upset, I could not even verbalize what news I had just received. This Godsend of an employee – walked me through the entire process and even filled out the little sheet for me. I signed my name and walked out feeling like the world crashed, this impending doom has arrived. My whole world had fallen apart and yet I still had a birthday party for my daughter’s that was happening the next day. After this experience, showing grace and kindness to others has daily life has been a game changer. We live in a time where when someone does something wrong, it’s a normal reaction to film and have it go viral on social media or give them a piece of what they are lacking. Recently, I went to a restaurant and displayed my new view of patience and kindness – the girl told me that it was her first day on the job and she was scared of people being rude to her. What a revelation.
- If someone you know is grieving a loss, don’t wait to tell them the “right words.” I know some of my own family members obsessed over what were the right words to say, when just knowing someone is there to hug, hold, and be there for me simply meant the world. Those first few weeks were quite a blur but I knew exactly who was there: my husband, my supportive family, Rebecca’s family, and my girl squad. Some friends were late to the game and confessed that they just didn’t know what to say. Totally understandable but I can’t tell you the difference between a text and a heartfelt story– no matter what, the whole situation sucked and I appreciated the support.
- You may not be the same person again and that is okay. Grief changes people. It really does. It shakes up our world as we know it. It may feel like a whole part of your life is over. For me, it felt like my whole childhood went crashing, the best moments of my life I had experienced with Rebecca. And honestly, they did. What are inside jokes when the person you had the most with is gone forever from this world? Life gives us these life changing experiences and we will change along with it.The sooner you accept this, the better. You may not be the most fun person anymore, you may find yourself doing things you said never to (like I seriously want a tattoo now), you might just burst out crying at a commercial on tv, or have a new worry that everyone you love will pass or even worry about your own morbidity… and that’s okay. Your people will STILL love you, even this new version of you.
- It’s okay to use medication to cope. Grief literally throws your brain off the rails- it affects your immune system, nervous system, increases inflammation and can even put you at risk for a heart attack. Our body goes into a “stress overdrive.” If you notice yourself unable to function or continue with your families normal routines after a long period of time, please ask for help. If you don’t have the energy to complete menial tasks or the emotional energy to be a mom, spouse, and daughter, etc. Please reach out to your medical provider. One of the best decisions I ever made was making an appointment with my doctor and telling her exactly how I felt mentally and physically. Months after the shock and adrenaline wore off, I found myself experiencing panic attacks in the middle of the night worrying about my children, extreme fatigue from the moment I woke up, a nonexistent sleep cycle, and migraines almost daily. Finding the right medication can take a while but I am telling you, the benefits to the way I feel and my relationship with my children and husband are worth it. Therapy and medication can give you an extra push and lift you up to carry on. Life is tough but you don’t have to go through this alone.
- There is no handbook on grief. We read all about it in textbooks, the 7 stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. What nobody tells you is how long you will be in each stage or how you can feel many of these stages at once or if numbness can just take over. What one person experiences, another person may not for a long period of time. Grief really does come in waves.The definition of grief is “deep sorrow.” Nothing I have read has rung truer to me than this quote I read, “Where there is great grief, there was great love.” We grieve because we love and that is an act of love. Focus on the love.
- Just because someone you love passes away, your relationship does not die with them, too. This is a newer revelation for me. Rebecca will always be a best friend to me. Even to the end, we were cracking jokes and saying I love you amidst the horrific circumstances. I will share memories with my daughters, as if she would tell them. While it hurts, I know if she were here today, the same would be done. I will keep in touch with her family and continue to make Morton and Dowling memories together, as we have since 1996. We will honor her memory and the amazing daughter, sister, cousin, niece, friend, co-worker, fighter she was.
If you hear from your church Moms group, your kids school, work, etc. that a fellow Mom is grieving – give her some grace, patience and kindness her way. You never know how much your kindness help someone make it through the day. So give a shout out to your oldest best friend, the friends you’ve lost touch with, your mom friends who hold you together, and always, always, always say yes to a glass of bubbly prosecco. Remember to live your life the best that you can for you, your children, your spouse/significant other, and your family. Life is about those belly laughs, pivotal moments that shape you into the person you are, and the tribe that supports you and carries you through these rough times. Just remember that when times are rough, there are cracks in the desert with a single flower. I will keep telling myself I will learn to blossom again because Rebecca wouldn’t want any less.