These thoughts, they are just a small insight into my inner world. I share them, in the hope that if you know a person who has suffered sudden loss, it may help give you a little insight into their inner world, also. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” has rolled around and around in my head many times over the last 18 months. The way a person looks on the outside is not always a true representation of what is happening deep inside of their soul. Taking some time to understand someone else’s human experience rather than making assumptions – there’s great richness in that. And I’m confident that your loved one would feel so loved, and seen, if you took the time to sit and listen to the depth of the experience they are living through.
In more recent years, I’ve thought a lot about living life with intention. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis? I’m not sure. But I strongly believed that I could choose actions and thoughts in order to create the life that my family and I desired. Consciously deciding what I wanted “The Story of My Life” to be. It’s a persuasive ideology in modern culture – that we have the power and control to create the life that we desire. Positive mind, positive attitude, “make it happen”. It makes us feel safe, and purposeful. And while I still see the value of some of these mindsets, the experience of having the life I was designing cruelly ripped away from me, has forced me to confront the question: how do I continue to live a life that I actually have very little control over??
When an unexpected, out of the normal loss occurs in your world, there are alot of secondary impacts that perhaps come as a surprise to those who haven’t had to live through this type of experience. Layers and layers of psychological changes and questions arrive that are often too complex to have answers. The analogy of “having the rug pulled out from underneath you” is pretty perfect. For me, Nathan’s sudden death eradicated all of the foundations of my life. My daily and weekly routines, the things I thought were secure, the love I’d leant on for 21 years and didn’t really know how to adult without, my co-parent, all that I thought I knew and believed about my faith, our friendship circles, the way we eat, and anything that I thought that was predictable, everything I had hoped for my future. All gone. Every single aspect of my life changed, literally in an instant. It’s very common for people who suffer an out of the ordinary death to struggle to desperately hold on to anything they feel they can control, when every other aspect of their life feels totally out of control.
I have been no exception to this rule. Grief is something that is its own beast and I have very little control over. It can rise like a tidal wave from skies that I think are clear and sunny, and take me out – for an hour, a day, a week, a few weeks – I’m rendered useless, while I’m fighting for my emotional wellbeing and surrendering to the pain. Planning any kind of event, coffee catch-ups with friends, ‘to do’ lists – they all repeatedly take second place when grief invades. I’ve become the queen of cancelling, and this goes against my very nature. But sudden death, and grief – they change you. The desire for control while existing in a life that feels totally out of control is evidenced is smaller, less noticeable ways – controlling the food I eat, how much I exercise, what I look like, and my poor little brain even tries to predict all the possible ways a conversation may play out, so that there are no surprises. Unknowns and vague plans are scary and uncomfortable, and low-grade anxiety has become a new and familiar companion.
I can no longer hide away from the confronting truth and reality of life - which is, actually, that the life I try to build can be sideswiped in a second. And so now, I can’t fool myself into believing that I won’t experience any other pain just because my husband suddenly died. I can’t deny that life is fragile. Motivational quotes and positive thoughts did not protect me from having my life turned inside out, without my choice – and nor will they, in the future. Over the last 18months, I have grappled with the question – how do I keep building a life, when it could all be taken from me all over again? If I was to choose the ‘Story of My Life’, this series of chapters I am currently within is not the plot line I would have chosen to write. And yet, I didn’t get to choose. And continuing to live to the fullest means somehow accepting what is mine to hold, and finding a way to move forward with it.
Over and over again, I’ve come back to this question: What can I really control? I’m realising, slowly, that all I really have power and control over is myself:
How I listen and pay attention to my feelings and emotional needs;
How I set boundaries;
How I advocate for myself without feeling guilty about how other people react;
My self care;
How I treat my body;
How I choose to spend the day and who I spend it with;
How I love and parent my daughters;
How I choose to view a situation;
Choosing to be in the moment, fully immersed in today, not the past or the tomorrows;
Choosing not to think about the “what ifs”;
Choosing to be grateful and thankful for the beauty that still remains in my life;
Honouring grief and all the terrifying feelings when they arrive and allowing myself to walk through them;
Choosing to keep a soft heart rather than becoming bitter;
Choosing to appreciate another day with breath in my lungs, because life truly is a gift.
It might not seem like much, but I’m realising that I (We) do get to write The Story of My (Our) Life, in the small details. And the small details – they really do matter. Like a puzzle, they build, over time, to create a picture and expression of the person that I am choosing to become, and the legacy that I want to leave. Despite not knowing what tomorrow has in store, I can hold tightly to the gift of being wholly and fully alive and in the present, in the beauty and terror of This Thing Called Life. I get to hold today, as a precious gift. And so do you. I don’t want to hold that lightly.