What comes next?

I have been thinking about the concept of “ending” – how we grieve the things we lose. We grieve so many different types of endings in our lives. The end of an educational milestone, the end of a friendship/relationship, the end of a TV show/Movie/Book series, the end of a job, and the end of a life. All of these life milestones change us somehow. We grow up, meet new friends, establish relationships, define our life goals, gain experience, and become inspired. We are constantly taking those cherished moments and moving forward with them. Every loss becomes a memory. Every memory becomes a safe haven in our hearts and minds.

But the truth is, loss hurts. It takes time to come to a place of peace and acceptance. We experience a rollercoaster of emotions before we truly comprehend the importance of that thing, person, or moment we have lost. It takes an incredible amount of strength to move forward without constantly grieving the past.

The concept and the feelings associated with grief…. Well, to be honest, I never fully understood the power of loss until recently. I cried when I left high school, university, college, my summer job, and my lost friendships / relationships… I guess I always had the comfort of the future, of a new beginning. While I grieved the past, I became excited for the future. I was inspired and ready to move forward.

But the loss of a life? That was new to me. Within the last two years, I have lost two out of the three people who I considered my direct family. I even created this photo about 7 years ago to illustrate the three people who held the most meaning in my life. The loss of my grandmother two years ago (almost to this day) hit me hard. She was my hero, my inspiration. There was goodness in her that was so genuine. Coming to a place of acceptance came naturally as she lived a full life (95 years!), she was ready to die, and I only had good memories of her.  It still hurts me, knowing that I’ll never hear her voice again, see her face, give her a hug, or play a game of euchre with her, but she held such a special place in my heart, and she always will. It took time, but I felt like the grieving process made sense. I was sad, I missed her constantly, I regretted the moments I missed with her when I was away at school, but I was able to look forward while I cherished my time with her.

Now, I fast forward to almost 5 months ago – the day my dad died. I almost feel like I am unprepared to truly write about this grief because I am not yet at a place of acceptance. I am still in a place of incredible pain. I can’t offer words of wisdom. I can’t promise that there is light at the end of the tunnel (although I am told there is). Every loss is grieved differently. I can talk about the theories behind handling the loss a parent, but we grieve based on our experiences. The process is different for all of us. Although there are many similarities in a loss, the struggle that we go through, the aspects of the loss that bother us/challenge us are different.

I will say that it’s not a linear process. I didn’t start at the bottom when he died and have been getting better as the days go by. For me, I was actually stronger and more determined to move forward the first month or two after his death. I guess the shock got me through the summer. I cried daily, but I had hope that every day I would get a little bit stronger and I’d come to accept the reality. It’d be like in the movies or TV shows when the story arc ended and it no longer seemed to bother the character.

I was completely wrong…

The shock finally wore off and reality set in when I was on vacation – the one magical week that was supposed to cure all of my sadness. I was in a store, and I saw a shot glass with his name on it. And then I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t going to buy him a gift. I wasn’t going to go home to him. And that’s when a pain that I didn’t know existed hit me. My dad was dead, and I was never going to see him again. I wasn’t going to go home and tell him all about my vacation. This trip that was supposed to be the happiest week of the summer lost its spark. I found a place to cry alone as I watched a slideshow I made of him for his wake. I cried myself to sleep for a couple of nights. It was hard to be away from home, but the idea of going back was even worse.

And now I feel like Haley from One Tree Hill before she jumped in the pool after losing her mom – just wanting to feel something. There’s an emptiness that comes with loss. Even flying to Wilmington and experiencing an Evening with One Tree Hill (my safer version of jumping in the pool) was a fleeting moment of happiness.

My life has changed. I have changed. The weight on my heart is scary, but I don’t know how to move forward. It’s put me on one of the most arduous journeys of my adult life thus far.

My advice to anyone who is reading this… Grief is not a linear process. One day you’ll feel like the old you ready to tackle the day and the next you’ll feel broken and scared. Sometimes you’ll feel all of that in the span of 5 minutes. The emotions are so unpredictable – at least they have been for me. The smallest things can set me off. Gosh, just today a telemarketer called my house for the second time this week asking for my dad. It’s the second time I told this person my dad died. My reaction: I put on that slideshow I made and sobbed into my pillow.

And here’s something no one ever warned me about – talking about the person you’ve lost in the past tense. The memories are uncontrollable, and you will want to talk about the person you lost. The first time I talked about my dad in the past tense was a couple of weeks after he died at a brand workshop for work. It came out without even a little bit of thought and as soon as I realized it, I had to pretend like it never happened so that I didn’t fall apart in a room filled with coworkers and clients.

Grief is a funny and unpredictable process that completely changes us. It shakes up our world, and it tests us in ways we’d never expect. Like those other milestones in my life, I hope to grow from this cherishing the memories I have. I hope that I’ll be able to become a stronger person as I come out of this dark place and see the light again.

And I know a LARGE part of getting me to see that light is being a part of this movement, being a love warrior, and working with all of you to make a positive change in the world. My commitment to this campaign came a year after my grandmother’s death, and I used her inheritance money for the mention campaign last year. Her, along with Bethany Joy, were my inspirations for working so hard on this. I hope I can, in one year, find the strength to do something equally special inspired by the life of my dad.

I know this is not the most inspiring life journey, but it’s a truthful one. Maybe I’ll update you all in a year from now when I finally see the light, but having an understanding for the darkness and knowing that the pain that comes with loss is natural helps to fuel the healing process.