LISTEN ON SPOTIFY TODAY | APPLE, GOOGLE, STITCHER (COMING 5/10)
Grief is like that one houseguest who shows up uninvited, out of the blue, and can’t take the hint that they have overstayed their welcome. She shows up unannounced like an enormous wrecking ball that bulldozes all semblance of your former life.
It is understandable that this may seem dramatic to those lucky folks who have been fortunate enough to make it through life unscathed…so far. But the truth is, death is universal. Every single one of us experiences the loss of a loved one and ultimately, our own passing.
In this episode, I give listeners a glimpse into my journey with the grieving process following the untimely death of my sweet mom to breast cancer and the tragic and sudden loss of my brother to a cardiac incident. This episode aids you in understanding the toll that grief takes on mental health as well as how it can evolve into a sense of purpose and passion.
I hope this episode leaves you feeling more hopeful than when you woke up today.
MY GRIEF JOURNEY BEGINS
My mom, Judi, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50 in 2014. She had found a lump in her breast during a routine monthly self-exam. The first year or so was really hard as she was given dangerous advice by homeopathic “doctors” and she put off aggressive treatment for quite some time.
I started dating my now-husband, Mike, in that first year. We knew as soon as we met that we were going to be “it” for each other. He had two boys from his previous marriage and we both agreed that we wanted to build a family together. I knew when my mom got sick that there was a chance that she wouldn’t be around forever. I really wanted her to know my children with whatever time she had left – whether it be 1 year, 5 years, 20 years. Mike and I ultimately decided to play it fast and loose with the good old birth control and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, we got pregnant immediately.
Mom started aggressive chemo right away upon the news of her grandbaby on the way. She was thrilled to be a Mimi and the time during my pregnancy spent with her will always be such a fond memory. When you are pregnant, you just need your mom. In the next year, she finished chemo, rang the bell, and was declared cancer-free. She was “healthy” for a long while – prior to, during, and after I had my daughter, Everly Rose, especially. Few things made her as happy as her little “Rosebud” and being a Mimi.
She made it until November 2017- three short months after our daughter turned one. She had a very aggressive, hormonal type of cancer that metastasized throughout her whole body, including her brain which was the last nail in the coffin, so to speak. She was on hospice for three days, enough time for her closest loved ones to be there and say goodbye. It was a painful and slow decline but she passed on 11/6/2017.
A few months later, my husband proposed to me on Memorial Day weekend. Through the next year, we planned a whole wedding which came with its own set of emotional challenges being without my mom. There are so many exciting things about being a bride that is shared with your mom. I am blessed to have a wonderful circle of women who helped fill that gap while respecting the reverence it deserved.
We were married on 6/22/19 in front of our friends, family and our children. It was the most perfect day with the most perfect weather. It was a long time coming and I was so thrilled to be this man’s wife. It is all I wanted. I knew that my mom wouldn’t want me to spend that day in sadness so I truly think she pulled some strings in giving me some extra strength that day.
Six short weeks after my wedding, I got a phone call that changed the entire trajectory of my life in the worst way. My dad called me in the middle of a rainy afternoon to tell me that my big brother was on his way to the emergency room because he felt unwell and he died instantly of cardiac arrest upon entrance of the parking lot. He could not be revived.
This was by far the worst moment of my life. I firmly believe that there is a difference between losing someone to an illness versus losing someone in a sudden tragic way. Not that one is worse than the other but the way you are prepared, or not as the case may be in the latter option, has a serious impact on how you go about moving forward. I said goodbye to my mom. I have nothing but memories that weren’t supposed to be the last when it comes to my brother.
To say I dealt with my grief would be a complete lie. To be honest, I shut down. I drank. A lot. To the point where I was throwing up in between school drop-offs and pick-ups from the hangovers. I went through the motions of my daily life until I was so depressed that it felt almost impossible to pick myself up out of bed to move to the couch, let alone be an active participant in my own life. It was then that I knew I needed to get medical intervention so I got myself to the doc, cried a whole lot and started anti-depressants immediately.
Man, looking back – I was in really rough shape. It is because of my kids, and only my kids, that I made that doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t keep going like I was. Every single step felt like I was carrying a boulder. I couldn’t live like that and I am thankful that I had enough experience recognizing problem symptoms in myself through years of depression and anxiety disorder to get the help I knew I needed. Some people aren’t in that same situation.
I started to heal as much as the medication would allow but I also started to notice some major red flag manifestations of my anxieties surrounding my grief. I ignored the “stages of grief,” which are total bullshit by the way, and it came out sideways. I lived in paralyzing fear that my husband would leave the house and I would never see him again. I was afraid to go anywhere because I couldn’t control the environment. I attempted to control every aspect of my life and home which just made everyone miserable. I still live in agonizing fear of my dad dying or something happening to my kids.
For a long time, I didn’t know what I needed. Hindsight shows I needed to give myself the time and space to heal but how do you do that when you don’t know you need that? There is not a space in our culture for death, dying and grieving. The “grieving process” and “stages of grief” give the false implication that this is something we get through and after enough time, we will be better. But its not a problem to be fixed. There is no fix. Putting people on a timeline to grieve is so harmful, yet people don’t realize they do it.
Death makes people super uncomfortable. They don’t like to sit with sadness. No one wants to upset the equilibrium of the façade we all carry around. We don’t teach each other how to handle death, dying, grieving or how to support someone who is experiencing these things. This doesn’t make any sense because as I said before, death is universal.
So I started to go to therapy. I advocated for myself and changed my medications. I am still taking each day as its own. I am trying all kinds of things to start coping with this grief in a way that propels me forward instead of keeping me where I am. I am learning to set boundaries and coping skills for high anxiety moments. I am learning how to love myself again and do things to bring this new person that I am post-loss to the surface so I can get to know her and love her.
HOW MY GRIEF LED ME TO THIS PODCAST
Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that the typical adult life wasn’t for me. I knew in my heart I wanted to make an impact of some sort but also wanted to raise a family. I wanted to build this amazing life and achieve the ever mystical notion of balance. I knew I couldn’t exist in the 9-5 bubble. I have always been an incredibly emotive human. I am an empath to the extreme so I feel everything ten-fold.
I have tried to find so many things that could translate to achieving the above goals. I have pursued several opportunities that would make me money but none that felt authentic. I couldn’t figure out why this wasn’t working. Why didn’t this feel right? I designed and made graphic tees. I opened an online boutique. I tried copywriting. But nothing felt like it fulfilled me. For a long time, normalizing the reality of motherhood was my passion but after these two huge losses, that wasn’t important to me anymore. I was a new person now.
So what made her happy? What motivated her? What lit her fire?
It was then that I decided to take a pause, get on them prayin’ knees and open my heart to whatever was sent my way. I decided to start accepting and owning my story. I was never going to be a mom who influenced other moms to buy skincare. Why? Because these things happened to me and irrevocably changed who I am from the foundation outward. I couldn’t ignore that. I had to own it and use it. I had to face it.
Many many moments of desperate prayer and voila – here we are. I can confidently say that while these horrible things feel like a burden, they can also be a blessing to someone else. My story can help others feel less alone. My story can create a space for people to grieve. My story can help people find purpose through their own pain.
And so, we start with a podcast.
For more about the Heavy Hearts Club podcast, head over to www.theheavyhearts.com/podcast
Click here for our FREE daily grief affirmations.
If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.