I have been posting a series of “Truisms About Grief” that I received from fellow grieving dad and friend, Charlie Schmidtke. I met Charlie as part of this grieving dads project. Please share your thoughts or stories regarding this subject.
Grieving is a time to give yourself permission to follow your heart and accept the reprioritizing of your life. My wife has been working very hard at getting me to reorient my attitude in life away from living by all the “shoulds” that seem to control what, when, and how I “ought to” behave. It’s okay to cry; it’s okay to relax: it’s okay to do that chore tomorrow; it’s okay to do nothing. It’s okay to have this attitude! It’s also okay to deeply feel that anxiety that attends to the unknown. We really do not have all the answers about who our children are now becoming and what their transformed life is all about. These issues will remain a mystery for us, even as we develop theories, beliefs and explanations to try and help assuage our anxieties. It is okay to have some level of anxiety; just prevent it from becoming an overpowering dread that consumes and destroys your capacity for continuing to live and have meaning in your life.
This is something I struggled with early in my grief. Giving myself permission or a “pass” to adjust things in my life didn’t seem acceptable. I had always been driven, and had always kept 2-3 separate to do lists; one for work, one for home and one for my personal life goals. I had things to do and enjoyed crossing things off my list. It gave me satisfaction to know that I was getting things accomplished.
Prior to my losses, I would put a lot of pressure on myself to perform to the highest level. I had gotten to the point where I would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks and even found myself in the hospital on one occasion because I thought I was having a heart attack. I was caught up in the rat race of life and my priorities were way out of line.
After the loss of my daughter Katie, my first loss, I thought I could go back to the person I was prior to her death. I tried suppressing the pain and was successful at it for about a year before anger and depression started to take over. A few months later, I lost my son Noah. These two losses forced me to reevaluate my life and how I approached it.
During my grief I met a lady which became a very dear friend. I was looking to hire her to do some real estate consulting for my small business. She had invited me to her home office for the meeting. During our meeting our conversation turned to my recent losses. She then shared with me that her hair was a wig and she was currently going through her third battle with breast cancer. We sat there for 3 hours crying and telling each other our stories. It was a gift that we had given each other. After our meeting she sent me an email saying that our meeting that day was not by accident and that she believed we were supposed to meet that day for a reason, to provide comfort to each other when we both needed it. She would continue to check in on me over the next several months, when I needed it most. On one occasion I told her that I was feeling depressed because I didn’t have the drive or desire to go back to the person I was before. Her response to me was “Kelly, there are no “should’s” in your life right now unless you put them there. Allow yourself to grieve and allow your wounds time to heal”. Her words really hit home with me. I started to reflect on my life up until this point. I realized I had been chasing things in life that really didn’t matter. What really mattered was the love I have for my wife and my children. At the end of the day and when you look back on your life, no one will remember all of the tasks that were checked off the “to do” list that was completed or the deadlines you were able to meet for work because you worked all weekend to get it done.
The message I took from this truism is: Give yourself permission to reevaluate your life and make the necessary adjustments in order to cope with what you have been through. You will never be the same person you were before the loss. To be honest with you, after I spent the much needed time reflecting, I realized that I didn’t want to be the same person I was before the loss. It was a hectic and empty life filled with deadlines and unrealistic expectations I placed on myself. I wasn’t living, I was surviving. Allow yourself to learn to live again.
My dear friend has since lost her battle with breast cancer but her words and wisdom will always stay with me. Thank you Lynda for being there for me and for being my dear friend.