The one thing you can predict when it comes to the journey of grief is that it will be unpredictable. The most random and smallest sound, smell, or sight can push you emotionally. It’s typically when you least expect it. This is when you realize that you have memories—some that you forgot about—that are attached to specific songs, activities, locations, or a silly candy bar. You could be fine, focusing on something, and then one of those things shows up and your mind goes back in time while you’re trying to stay present. It takes your breath away and freezes you.
One day in Oklahoma, during mine and my husband’s dating days, we had just had some delicious lunch. We had tried out a vegetarian restaurant—not his thing, but completely up my alley. I ordered a Reuben sandwich, because it was one of my mom’s favorites and I hadn’t had one in a long time. She used to always order one from a vegetarian café in the valley back home. It was so delicious, and while driving away from the restaurant, for a split second, I had the urge to pick up the phone and call my mom. I was going to tell her about this yummy vegetarian spot I found in Oklahoma! I caught myself mentally, and then kind of laughed it off out loud.
I jokingly picked up my cell phone and told Kyle, “I just had this weird and random thought to call my mom and say, ‘Hey, Mom, just ate a Reuben sandwich that I think you would love.’” I pretended to say that on the phone, and when I “hung up,” I froze and the tears just came flowing. I buried my head in my hands, embarrassed, because I wasn’t expecting a fake phone call to my mom and a vegetarian sandwich to turn into a miss-her moment.
This was one of the instants when I knew Kyle was extraordinary. He literally pulled over without even thinking, parked the truck, and just hugged me. Sometimes grief blindsides you.
I grew up going to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. Roller coasters were the highlight of my teen years; I was into the scariest, the biggest, and the wildest ones. Come at me, coaster—my awesome and sassy youngster motto.
Since many years were spent riding roller coasters, I naturally think they are fitting for describing the healing journey and grief. I know typically roller coasters are used to define female mood swings. Totally valid, I get it. But we are going to use them to understand the swings of grief. Let’s say you are strapped into a massive roller coaster. There’s no way you’re getting off of it because once it’s going, well, it’s going. Once you’re a couple hundred feet up in the air, no one can see your raised-up flapping hand, because you need to puke or you are having a panic attack. Then comes the intense, tight, and sharp turns where you think you’re going to fall out of your seat. Your whole life just flashed right before your eyes, because you were certain that the gravity-defying flip you just endured was going to throw you off the track. But then there are some laughs; after you survived the flip, you regain your strength and reassure yourself. Right when you thought you had the ride figured out, it suddenly starts going backward and does it all over again. In other words, the last six years of my life and anyone’s grief journey.
Whatever set you on your healing journey, the event has happened, it’s done, and you can’t go back to change things. It is life as you now know it, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to acknowledge the roller-coaster track you are on. Maybe that is too up front or too honest for some. But I truly believe you let healing in when you open the door to acceptance.
At times on the healing roller coaster, the sharp turns are things like grief, numbness, or uncertainty. Those emotions make you want to quit. There are times when you allow yourself to laugh and relax, but it doesn’t last long because something like a holiday, birthday, or anniversary makes you tense again. Right when you think you’ve figured out the roller coaster’s path and know what is coming next, a wave of emotion comes that you weren’t expecting. The biggest thing is when you decided you were done healing and that you’ve grieved, talked, reflected, and cried all you thought you needed to and realize the process is not over! The truth is: the healing process is never over. It is a lifelong journey.
One of the hardest parts for me during the ups and downs over the past six years was giving myself grace. At times, I really thought I conquered and went through all the healing there was to go through. I would beat myself up if I couldn’t hold it together through another birthday, trip to the beach, or while playing guitar. Haven’t I healed already? Didn’t I just go through this last year? I’m still sitting here missing her. I was looking for something black and white, and overnight. Grief just doesn’t play that way. It helped having people in my life who would wake me up to the realization that I wasn’t going to get over something that I’ve had for the last eighteen years of my life.
Let yourself rest, let yourself grieve, and give yourself grace.