When you are deep in your process, it’s hard to see your progress. As the minutes slowly tick by and the days are carried away in warp speed, we reach the next. . . month. . . year. . . decade.
Where did you begin and where are you now? What has been integrated?
I began this decade as a newly initiated stay at home Mom to my one year old son. We celebrated his birthday a month early that year because my husband was moving to Kosovo for the next six months and would miss the real birthday.
I had also just finished a year of witnessing my Mom’s journey with leukemia. My months old son, the breast pump, and myself accrued many frequent flier miles throughout that year of her treatment and recovery.
And then once my Mom was declared to be in remission toward the end of the year, her Dad died. My Grandpa Bud was 92 and lived life well. I think of him when I need a reminder to stop and enjoy the moment. You could often find him in the back room of their home dancing to jazz music or riding his exercise bike while eating ice cream. Just enjoying the moment.
As I consoled my Mom through her cancer journey and then as I witnessed her clean out her childhood home when Grandpa died, I felt so much…grief. I recall many prayers for peace and health as the new year approached.
A teacher of mine recently shared this quote about grief.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” – Jamie Anderson
As I started this new decade imbued in grief, I was also figuring out how to operate as a full-time Mom rather than a full-time grief counselor. Go figure.
As a hospice social worker in the metro Washington D.C. area, I carried a caseload of 30-35 terminally ill patients. My time was spent visiting 4-5 patients each day. Some were babies, occasionally a young child, far too many young adults with brain cancer or melanoma, older adults with organ failure or chronic illnesses, and several retired military Colonels. I attended many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
I began to realize, even before my Grandpa died, that my own grief was a full-time participant in my process because I could no longer feel joy when I was with my son. Working in hospice and watching my Mom face cancer transformed normal preoccupations with illness and death into a really big, all-consuming fear that my son was soon going to die and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was obviously time for a career change. And self-care. It was time to focus on living rather than dying.
I left the hospice job. Joined a Mom’s group. Found a yoga studio with childcare. Developed a new routine that involved more self-care. I knew that if this didn’t help me work through the crippling anxiety, that I needed to begin therapy.
The change of environment worked. The yoga studio of course worked. My new friends and new daily routine all worked. The serenity prayer worked.
And more time passed and things changed.
We moved to Indiana, had two more children, started a new career, and grew new relationships with people and places that have become integral pieces of my process.
This decade has brought a lot of life when it began with an overwhelming fear of death.
I’m pretty sure I will end up back in hospice work someday, even if I just volunteer to hold someone’s hand as a visitor. But learning how to sit with grief takes time, especially when it’s your own.
While the end of this decade has placed me in different circumstances than the beginning, each day is still a process of working through it all. Grief is always there and will forever be. We will lose people and experiences that we love. We will be let down. We will let others down. We can count on many bumps along the way. Understanding this truth is helpful.
I was having dinner last week with a few yoga therapists and one of them said she’s ready to drop everything and put her effort into stand-up comedy. “Everybody just takes life way too seriously!” she said. I have to agree with her.
But how do we do this when we are imbued in our suffering? Well, my spiritual guides say to stay involved in the process. Don’t run from the pain, but breathe into it and acknowledge it. When our hearts are broken from the love we can’t give, we are deepening our capacity to feel more compassion and joy as well.
Integration. Gratitude. Joy.
As this decade ends, I am discovering these gems.
“Finally I saw that my worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.” – Mary Oliver