In spite of my trauma – good has occurred – not because of it….

IMG_8751No matter what becomes of our lives after someone we deeply loved dies, we will continually strive for a way to balance our grief with our wonderful. A huge, enormous and un-fillable void will always live in our heart. Period!!! Nothing that comes after will make it better, less painful, less hard, less traumatic, or less sad; my loved one is still dead! I will not see my person again or smell their unique scent. I can’t hear their laugh. I don’t get to see them age. As life moves forward, my heart will always bear the scar of this undoing I’ve survived. If I can still praise God in the wake of this unthinkable loss; if I can walk beside someone else and be an encouragement to them or if I move forward with my life, finding joy and have a deep-down, honest to goodness wonderful life. I still grieve. I still hurt, and no matter how many “good things” come after this debilitating loss, it’s still a forfeiture of a life I thought I would have, and nothing is able to reverse that.

It’s as if someone is insinuating that the good that follows the horrible somehow shaves what I’ll call, trauma points, off the pain I felt (and still feel). I realize that’s not what they mean, but that’s how it feels to me. I’ve heard this said so many times I can’t count them all. Whether it’s a widow who reaches out to another widow, or a sexual assault victim advocating for change in society. If it’s a person who becomes a doctor to heal a disease that took someone they loved – the good they do – doesn’t undo the pain that they carry. And it seems like society is on this eternal quest to make the ‘scales of our lives’ come out even. I understand this, we hate pain. We hate seeing people suffer, especially when we love them. But it’s been my experience that that kind of thinking actually intensifies the wound that never heals. The agony softens but it never goes away, and I think what those of us on this side of loss, of trauma and of a wounding that is not ever quashed, want people to know, is that what you meant  to help or encourage me, might actually hurt me more.

As I’ve shared in other posts, I can only speak to that which I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard from other people. So while I share the following, know, that not everyone will agree with me, but for the sake of those is does bother, I feel it deserves some attention, and if for no other reason, it might get people to talking – and even more importantly – listening to what those grieving DO need and want.

What I would rather here is something like this.

“Berkley, I’m so sorry for all you’ve lost and endured, and for the pain you still experience that I’m not even aware of. Yet, I’m so glad to see you using your pain to help others navigate their grief journey. I’m glad to see you take something that could have easily destroyed you, and to turn that anger, that fear and that dismantling of your heart, into something that helps others. I know nothing will ever change how you felt. Nothing will ever make Greg and Don’s death anything but sorrowful. I want you to know that I’m NOT saying that you moving forward, you being positive about your future, you reaching out – nothing you ever do or will be, will undo what was done to your heart when they died. And I hope you NEVER hear me say that those horrible events happened so that this new “good” thing could exist. What I want you to hear is that I’m proud of you for not letting this trauma be your undoing. That you have pressed on, you have leaned into God. You have taken your pain and used it to be a light in the midst of other’s darkness. But what happened – what has transpired – and what that has done to you and how it has forever changed you – will never ever be ok to me or to God. It will always be sad, horrible, untimely and wretched!”

I want people to know that my life and emotions aren’t morphed into a scale that can be balanced. If there is some sort of ‘life scale’, the side loss is placed on will always tip on the terrible side. Regardless of how many beautiful things occur in my life, and are placed on the other side of the scale, it won’t move that ‘death side’ off the floor.

In reality – life isn’t actually a set of scales, it’s a timeline. Events in our life happen. They simply “are”. They exist. They are occurrences that have become a part of the tapestry of my life, and that tapestry is woven together with the threads of my triumphs, my failures, my sorrows, my delights, and my traumas. Every joy and pain are interlaced and they overlap. And when something lovely occurs I do not remove the threads born of my pain and suffering. Instead, I simply continue weaving the threads of joy and hope in. They co-exist. ALL those threads make up the tapestry of me.

To borrow from Dolly Parton, let’s call this tapestry my coat of many colors, and it is sewn of pain, beauty, sorrow, disappointment, elation, tears of grief and tears of joy. Every moment of my life exists in this coat and I wear it everywhere I go. The good, the bad, the horrible and every exquisite thing that came before, and after the loss of my person, are the experiences that become the threads my coat are created with.

Every big life moment is absent of my lost loved ones physical presence – and that pain sears my heart – regardless of how long ago they passed away. It is still there the day my daughter gets married. It was there when I learned my son was having a baby, it was there the day she was born. It was there the day my daughter told me she was pregnant and it will be there when my second granddaughter enters the world. It’s there on every birthday my kids have. When my kids get a promotion or new job, their dad isn’t alive to share that joy with. When they have a problem, he would answer better than me, that reminder is there. And all the good things I’ve done, all the people I’ve helped, and all the smiles and laughter I’ve let cross my mouth, do not negate the heartache I feel in each of those life moments. Because in each of those moments, my kid’s dad is not there. The man I planned to enjoy all those moments with is gone. And there is a lamenting that mixes with the extreme jubilation I feel and it is truly the essence of bittersweet. These two conflicting emotions exist within my heart at the same time. They jockey for space and acknowledgment. But one doesn’t matter more than the other. They both belong. They are both a truth on those days. But NEVER, is one less important or more real than the other. And nothing will ever make my losses anything but terrible, wrong and totally shitty.

So, for anyone to try to lessen their impact on my life, is to minimize the great struggle I’ve overcome (and will continue to fight against for the entirety of my life on earth). Instead of trying to find the silver cloud, it means a great deal to me when another person understands and validates this painful truth in my life. Regardless of whether it make sense to them or not. Yes, life does go on and we will shine again. But no matter how brightly we sparkle; it will NEVER blot out the darkness that we experienced. And to try to insinuate that my “good” neutralizes or prevails over my trauma – is to not really understand me or what I’ve pushed through to get where I am today. Because, honestly, I’m where I am today BECAUSE of those traumas.

To bring this full circle, what I’m trying to say is that I appreciate you noticing that this enormous loss hasn’t left me continually broken to the naked eye, and I very much appreciate your encouragement and words of affirmation regarding the ways I’m trying to give back. But what I need you to understand is that for me – nothing good is coming ‘out’ of my loss. My truth is that something good is occurring IN SPITE of my great loss. I hope you see the difference.

Those of us wounded by death, know you don’t mean to be hurtful, but wouldn’t it be better if we could be learners of how to help those grieving, instead of tossing out verbal land mines that they must try to navigate around? I believe it’s time that society takes the initiative to learn what is helpful to those they encounter who have lived through the unthinkable, instead of expecting the grieving to carry one more burden – regardless of how well intentioned it was.

As I close, I’m praying this speaks as I’m hoping it does. My “passion” is to educate those who have not walked a grief journey (yet) as to how their well-intentioned words can actually pierce hearts instead of inflate them.

Of course, we all have the responsibility to be kind to others, so regardless of which side of the conversation you find yourself on, I pray you will be soft in your interactions. But also, be aware that there tends to be this deep anger that sits far below the surface for many of us on the side of loss, and often we don’t even know it’s there until someone says something that sets it ablaze. So, if you’ve gotten burned by a flash fire from one grieving, know they were probably as caught off guard as you were. (I’ll cover that subject in another blog post) Until then – be kind, love well and don’t be afraid to lovingly speak your truth to those around you. People aren’t mind readers and you are already carrying a huge burden, so why not help them help you – after all, that is what they are really trying to do.

From my broken and re-assembled heart to yours,

Berkley

Walking…. into widowhood – twice – and down the aisle again.

The journey from grief to joy and the cyclic way it’s impacted my life.

This is a brief synopsis of how my journey has lead me to where I am today. More details and the emotionality of this ride will be shared in separate blog posts.

I married Greg when I was twenty and he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. And as most brides do, I envisioned a long and full life together.

We started our marriage with a bang and had our first child, a son, two years into our marriage, and five plus years later we had our daughter. We were a typical middle class family. Busy with our kids activities, church and trying to learn how to balance it all. We were very much in love and committed to each other. I remember telling him that I never wanted to be married to anyone else – despite our challenges and times that were difficult, I always wanted it to be “us” as we grew old.

Greg was healthy and had no underlying medical conditions that would cause his sudden death. And yet – that didn’t matter. On May 29, 2007 I left home to show property to a client, and Greg was at home and fine – however, when I returned a few hours later – he was unconscious on our patio and our 18-year-old son was giving him CPR and our daughter was in bed asleep.  Greg never regained consciousness. He died suddenly and very unexpectedly from a form of arrhythmia.

Life felt like it had been turned upside down and that someone was constantly shaking the ground beneath our feet. And yet somehow, we learned to live without part of our hearts and overcome the shock of sudden death. My kids were 18 and 12 when they became fatherless, and at 40, I entered the widows club. I honestly thought my heart would ache as it did in those early days forever, but I am happy to say that while it will always hurt, my heart did grow and expand, and while I can’t explain it, was able to seek love and find love again.

Fast forward three years and in 2010 I married Don.

We had fun no matter what we were doing (just ask any of our FB friends because we have the selfies to prove it). We traveled, went to Cardinal games, co-wrote an online weekly bible study and laughed – A LOT!!! In October of 2014 Don began having issues with his speech and after six months of every test you can think of, it was determined that he had ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and is terminal. I can’t even tell you how devastating that was (but will attempt to do so in future blogs). The very thing you think won’t happen again now loomed in our future.

After being home for three days from a three-week long road trip, Don ended up in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia. He was intubated and we spent twelve days in the ICU. We made arrangements to have the tube removed and placed him on a non invasive form of ventilation. He was alert and doing well (by advanced ALS standards). On December 5, 2016 we came home on Hospice care, and sadly, he passed away far sooner than we expected late in the evening on December 6, 2016.

I was decimated and really thought my life had pretty much ended. I had the feeling that life would never be good again, and that all the things I wanted in my future were never going to get to be a part of my story. Unlike when Greg died, I didn’t have kids living at home. I was a 49 year old stay at home mom/wife, except now I had neither and life loomed before me like an expansive ocean that had no end and no one in sight. I felt overwhelming sorrow, heartache and loneliness like I have never known before.

There were several things that I clung to after Don’s passing. First, I knew God would never leave me nor forsake me. Second, I knew from experience, that a heart can expand and embrace new love, and third, that there can be joy after deep and bone aching grief.

I clung to those three truths and pushed forward as hard as I could. As part of that pushing on, I began writing about my journey in a more detailed manner than I had in my FB posts.

So – all of that (and more), led me to begin blogging. Since writing my first blog, I have become a grandmother and have another grand baby on the way in the Spring of 2020. I have given my daughter in marriage and have experienced all the mixed emotions that go with each major life event (and even some very uneventful days).  I began dating again and in January of 2018 I meet Jack. We went on what would be our last first date and were married on November 16, 2019.

There are books worth of stories I can tell, and who knows, maybe that’s what my near future will hold. But for now, I am taking some much needed rest and time to honestly reflect on all that has transpired since that horrible night in May, and it’s my hope to commit time each week to writing and to sharing those thoughts with those who wish to walk this journey with me.

Some of these posts will be reflective on the past and others will be more “now” focused. I don’t have a specific plan, other that to do what makes my heart happy and hopefully help others along the way.

As always,

Much Love,

Berkley