The text came in the late evening of July 15th; my brother was in the process of dying. Within 90 minutes, I received another text that he was gone. While he had been fighting cancer for three years, the end came quickly and was a shock. My big brother lived 5 hours from me. We didn’t see each other much, but we texted daily.
This wasn’t my first experience of significant loss in my life. My parents are both gone, my dog Mika, and more recently, a nephew and a cousin’s husband that I was close to. I had a grandmother pass when I was little, but too young to truly understand. I’ve learned through grief as an adult that it’s all so very different. And that includes grieving a person or a situation that is living.
I want to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn through grief, finding gratitude, and growing forward.
May 23, 2006 – I received a call that my dad was gone. He, like my brother, had been dealing with cancer. He was diagnosed in March and died in May. It was a shock as he was doing good until he wasn’t. I was devasted. The week home was hard, full of tears, and just getting through. Honestly, that is all I grieved as I put it aside and moved forward. My biggest concern was for my mom, not myself, as I was good. I told myself, which I did believe, that now that he was out of his physical body, he could be closer to me in Chicago (we lived three hours apart). I returned to Chicago, immersed myself in positivity, and held positive events. Ultimately, Positive Focus was born. And early PF was just that – be happy; life is good. That meant ‘bury your feelings and pretend that life is good.’ Of course, this is reflective as, at the time, I didn’t think I was pretending at all. Years later, A psychic friend told me I started PF to deal with my dad’s death. My dad and I were close, although we disagreed on many things. And yet, he was my go-to person when something was hard; he knew there was a solution and saw it clearly without the high emotions I brought. Over the years, when I’ve faced a challenge, I’ve heard him calling my name – and hearing that reminds me it will be okay.
I learned it was okay to deal with death the way I needed to at that time.
December 14, 2018 – The night my mom went to the stars, I was there. She had dealt with health issues like a champ for many years. She didn’t complain; she just kept going. I was part of her healthcare team with my two sisters. Her last year was a rough one, but she was a trooper. While my dad was my go-to person for challenges, my mom was my everything. She was my biggest cheerleader and a safe place to land when I was sad. She was the first person I wanted to share the good news with and to call saying ‘That’s a winner’ when the Cardinals won, and then we’d discuss the game. There was no escaping grief when my mom passed. Nearly five years later, talking about her can still fill my eyes with tears.
I learned how precious life is and not to take it for granted.
September 23, 2019 – It was time to say goodbye to my Meeks, my little feisty pup who was 15 ½ and a shell of who she was. While I had other pets growing up, she was my heart dog. She also was another connection to my mom as they LOVED each other dearly. I truly didn’t think Meeks would last long after my mom, but she did another nine months as if to be there for me as I grieved.
I learned that making hard decisions was a sign of deep LOVE.
September 10, 2022 – One of my adult nephews took his life. He lived far away from me, and while we LOVED each other, our correspondence was infrequent – a text here and there. I had no idea he was in that state of mind, nor did my other family members. I’m a coach. I help people feel better about themselves; why didn’t he reach out? Those are typical guilt issues, and yet they are not helpful.
I learned that I could not control the outcome for others, even those I LOVE.
April 25, 2023 – One of my cousin’s husbands passed away. He and I knew each other well; he called me C, and I called him K. Their marriage was beautiful, and they had two great teenage boys. When they had their kids, they moved to the suburbs, and we weren’t ingrained into each others lives.
I learned to hold onto the many great memories rather than missing out on ones that could have been made.
That brings us to my brother’s passing, where I started this. A death of a sibling adds a new layer of mortality.
I learned that even with distance, to stay connected to those you LOVE – even with a simple good morning text.
While the above stories of grief are about LOVED ones dying, grief happens when relationships end, a job ends, or other endings that even if you wanted them to end, there is often still a grieving process. I have grieved friendships and romantic relationships that ended: some that I wanted to end and others I didn’t. I grieved when we sold my childhood home that I LOVINGLY call ‘the Homestead.’ I mourned the death of people I didn’t know, but they touched my life for various reasons. I DO NOT like goodbyes. I choose to say, so long.
Moving forward, my friends, here is what I've learned from grieving, and while it won't take your grief away, hopefully, it will lessen the pain. I've learned that...
Life is far more precious to me due to these losses, especially my mom. Everything felt more meaningful to me. I didn’t want to take anything for granted, thinking I might miss out on something beautiful. The birds outside her window that she and I would watch together became more special to me.
Grief now resides within me. It’s not something to get over, yet its grip on you lessens with time. I read that someone equated grief to like a ball in a box with a grief buzzer on one side. In the early stages of grief, the ball is the size of a basketball and can’t avoid hitting the grief buzzer. As time goes by, the ball shrinks and hits the grief buzzer less frequently, but still, there are times that it hits it, and the grief feels like it just happened. I am a different person than I was before losing my mom. Not better or worse, just different – grief changes you.
Deep grief means there was deep LOVE. Like above, where grief has made me realize how precious life is, I know that LOVING big comes with risks – but oh-so-worthy risks.
I want to live my life in honor of those now gone; I want them to be proud of me and celebrate with me as I take on the world without them physically here.
There is no timetable on how to grieve. While anniversaries and birthdays don’t bring deep sadness to me, it does for many people I know. Honor and acknowledge your feelings as they come up.
Talking to them helps. I speak to my LOVED ones in the stars ALL THE TIME. I often say good morning and goodnight. I talk to them about happy things and things I’m mad about. I ask (sometimes demand) that they fix this or that and make it easier. I talk to them about the Cardinals, and I tell them to come to visit me soon and often. Wayne Dyer used to say that death was like they were just in the next room – still there, but you couldn’t see them. That brings me comfort.
I’ve learned to focus on gratitude through it all. The good parts and the hard parts. I’m grateful for my time with them, what I learned from them, and our fun together. I’m thankful they are no longer in pain. Each person and experience that is now gone has played a part in the person I am today.
I will continue to grieve, I will continue to be grateful, and I will continue to grow forward, LOVING life as much as possible, even knowing that LOVING deeply includes more opportunities to grieve. It is so worth this crazy, beautiful, and messy ride.
Until next time, if you are grieving, be gentle with your tender heart.
You are LOVED,
I am doing my best with my current situation.
Words to LOVE by:
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – Dr. Seuess
How lucky am I to have that something that makes saying goodbye so hard. – Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. – Rumi
Sounds for YOUR Soul
These Tears – Andy Grammer
When I Get There – P!nk
Eyes Closed – Ed Sheeran