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How I Turned Painful Grief Into My Defining Moment

What’s your defining moment?

They say that a defining moment is one that is life-changing. It is said to happen in the blink of an eye.  It’s a pivotal moment filled with critical choices. For many, they struggle to discover that moment when they engage their passions, rise above the crowd and grasp their shining star. And for some, you are handed a gift of opportunity and what you do with it from that moment on is your defining moment. I didn't manage to do it that gracefully.  I did it by falling down so hard that I almost destroyed my family.

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I almost didn’t recognize my moment.  In fact, it was one of the darkest times of my life. That happens, your moment sneaks up on you and if you aren’t ready, it can often take you down a road that you weren’t expecting. Sometimes that path leads you far into the dark woods and in my case, this time I started seeing what was happening before I was truly lost. I woke up every morning in physical pain due to Lyme Disease and Fibromyalgia, dreaded putting my feet on the ground.  I dragged myself to Starbucks for liquid happiness. I had fake friends, a fake smile, a fake life and I wasn’t proud of much in my life.

I write a lot about grief, about the death of my best friend, Lance, and how I moved through that process of discovering life without him. I used my writing as a way of healing, dealing with the sudden silence his death left me with. He was so loud in life, but when he died it was the silence that threatened to drown me. I always had him somewhere in my life, loudly expressing his opinions, guiding me in his wisdom, cheering me on. After that day, I wandered around for a while struggling with trying to make sense of my thoughts without him giving commentary on them.  I hated it. I even hated him for leaving me.

I was a bored housewife that needed a purpose

That time in my life was very complicated before he died. I was busy but bored and I had settled into a rut in my life both emotionally and in most of my relationships. There was an ugly routine to the roller coasters I would ride with some people in my life.  We would get along, I’d try to believe that the good times could last and we had turned a corner and were headed for a good stretch, then down we would go and plunge into another battle of twists and turns.  I was sick of the ride, I wanted to get off. In fact, I was so sick of the way that a lot of my friendships and family relationships had gone that I dreamed often of just getting into my car and driving away.

My husband and I weren’t friends for a while. I was so frustrated with everything. I took a lot of my anger and depression out on him. I didn’t like him much and I know he didn’t like me either. Our marriage left a sour taste in my mouth and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. The angrier I was with him, the farther we grew apart. I know it was me. We both struggled to be decent to each other, the only thing holding us together was our children. We were badly bruised in our relationship, going through the motions just so we didn't have to deal with what could be next.

I was fighting depression and didn't know it.

I was unhappy with seeing myself grow older and not having anything I felt that I could claim as a successful avenue. I was a stay-at-home mother, but my children were all headed off to college, moving away, and even the baby wasn't a baby anymore and was so independent that I felt like she didn’t need me at all. I would look around at what I thought were successful women who had the perfect lives, homes, and families and ask myself where I failed to have that. My relationship with my kids was difficult and  I felt like soon I wouldn’t even have Motherhood to claim as my identity. Everything was so stagnated and I hated the routines of life. I didn’t clean as much as I should, my house fell into clutter and felt dirty. I made dinner but didn’t care what it was or if anyone bothered to eat it. I knew I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure how to stop.

When Lance died, I was ready to just give in. Crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. Grief and shock took a heavy toll on my health and I started really losing my battle with Lyme disease. And really, I didn’t care if I did.  I was so done with everything. I was exhausted from fighting an invisible disease that few even knew I was fighting and often forgot just as quickly as they knew. I considered letting go, diving under the waters of my disease, and becoming another statistic in a life of statistics.  Everything was bullshit. 

Self-help books don't work if you don't do the work.

For a year after Lance died, I wandered around trying to feel something more than grief. I read everything I could get my hands on about moving through the stages of grief.  All were pointing me in the direction of finding a way to get back to normal. But as I saw it, my normal was a dead end.  I needed something new.

My moment was an epic meltdown that I had in a hotel in Chicago. The details of why I was so upset have settled down, and are almost unrelated to the outcome. I was angry with everything like I was most days.  I didn’t want to be in Chicago, a city that Lance called home, and everything there reminded me of the fact that my best friend, my brother was dead and everyone had forgotten all about that except for me. I think I was just at the end of my limits of how much I could take with the life I had been leading up until that moment.  I sat in my hotel bed and cried so hard, sobbed for the life that was truly over. And when my husband came in from his work outing smelling like cigars and beer, I told him how much I hated him and the life that we were living.  I wanted to die. I wanted to be done.  I was finished with it all.  And he fought back, exhausted from his own battles with not only his crazy wife but his own emotional life sucking. He screamed back angry, hate-filled, violent words and I soaked up every one of them. They fed my anger and let the dark pissed off monster that I had become take the lead.  I had a choice… divorce, death, or get the hell over it and find a better place.  When my daughter came into the room and demanded it all stop and begged us to get a divorce so she could at least have a “normal” childhood like many of her friends with divorcing parents.

I hated what I’d done to her.  Who she saw me as.  I was weak, sobbing, and a mess.  I needed help and I wanted to find a way out of the hell that I created.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.

I hurt my family with my anger and grief

From that moment on, I took the steps to move away from that dark place.  I started going to meet with a therapist to talk about my grief, my anger, and really to just vent about everything.  I started writing more, looking for ways to take my writing and do something more than just keep a diary. But the best thing that happened was I took a good long look at the people that were in my life and made some hard choices of who to let go of and who to hold on to.  Every day I woke up with a to-do list filled with choices about who I wanted to be and how I was going to get there.

SHOPEven addressing that my marriage was badly damaged and if I actually wanted to repair it or start fresh without it.   We had so many negative things surrounding us, the only way we were going to be able to let that go was to actually leave it behind. As a couple, then as a family, we made the choice to leave the area and start fresh somewhere new. We needed to leave everything behind and move forward together. I wasn’t sure even that was going to save us.  But I needed to point my compass in the direction of a happier and healthier me.

This morning I woke up, grabbed a cup of coffee from the pot and headed out into my garden. I flicked slugs off my lettuce as I soaked up the simplicity of my life now. In an hour, I’d drive my daughter to school and we’d talk about the day ahead and the plans we were making for the weekend. I answered texts from my friends who actually stuck with me through my Ugly Phase, trust me, that list wasn’t long. Then I headed to work, a job that allows me to be creative and flexible. My routines are different now. No more going from day to day just existing and hating time.  Now I got to bed exhausted from the full day we are allowed to have filled with good moments. My health is better than it has ever been. Getting rid of toxic people helped to make way for people who are rich with amazing personalities and truly good souls. Now I remember what it was to be happy, the kind of deep-down happiness that radiates.

There is a stone in my garden dedicated to my Lance with this quote by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled

Two roads lay ahead of me, and it took heartbreak and a meltdown to help me see which one was the one I needed to travel.  My defining moment wasn’t beautiful or inspiring.  But I am nonetheless thankful for it, for now, I am who I wanted to be. 

So, have you found your defining moment?  What was it?

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