Last week when I wrote, I was discussing the “waiting room” and the practices of Christina Rasmussen, author of “Second Firsts”. I was very vulnerable admitting not only that I was taking a series of seminars with her called “Coffee with Christina” but also what I was uncovering in the process. This is not something I would have done in my past. While I tend to share a lot, I am also more guarded than most realize. Vulnerability is not my strong suit, however, I have become much better at it since Ed’s passing. Why not? What do I have to lose? The scariest thing in life has already happened to me – the evil cancer called Synovial Sarcoma that he went through and of course, ultimately losing him – and the pain that came along with it. The loss of my better half, the love of my life in this painful way – those are the things you don’t make up. It’s what nightmares are made of. It’s the one I am trying to leave behind.
In doing so, I have had to become more vulnerable and honest with myself. This is harder than you think, but the reality is, it is one of the most powerful and healing things one can do. So this week, in the “Coffee with Christina” program, we had to focus on a few things, but mostly on something called a “Grief Cleanse”. At first glance on this I thought, I have been really honest in my grieving the loss of Ed. I genuinely understand it, work with it and through it, and let myself feel how I want to feel about it at any given moment. It can’t be forgotten about or “moved on” from. I can move forward in life the best way I know how, but “moving on” is not something I will ever do. The “Grief Cleanse” however, is about going back to those “invisible losses” that seem smaller in nature. The ones that we might have dismissed as a “part of life”. Job losses, the ending of friendships, anything you can think of that might not have been properly acknowledged as loss. It’s amazing how we as a society do this, and I am thankful to be understanding this more and more, as I truly feel this is very important in forwarding my life in a happy and healthy way.
So right after I wrote about “the waiting room”, I had to go to Chicago for work. I was really leaving the waiting room for an entire week. I’ve travelled since Ed passed, certainly, but this time I was a bit more anxious about the trip. Skip had been sick and by this point was fine, but he gave me quite the scare – enough to have a lot of emotions from when Ed was sick come rushing back without my even realizing it (that is an entirely different blog post). Off I went to Chicago, and the week was fine – work hard, play hard as I jam pack my schedule to make sure I can see my family and friends, and I never get everyone in. Chicago is and always will be home – a source of comfort for me, but this trip felt different. And through my “grief cleanse” I think I’ve figured out why.
My first trip back to Chicago was a short four months after Ed passed away. I was still so numb, as everything about being alone was so new. I had to travel back because my 93 year old grandmother – “The Nana”- was not doing well. Frankly, she decided she had had enough and was ready to go. She stopped taking her medication. Stubborn as she was, she was going to go out on her own terms. As sad as it was to say goodbye, I understood and respected it. I cherished a few moments with her at the end, and shared them at her funeral, but her loss was so overshadowed with the loss of Ed that I never really grieved her death. I miss her, but she was 93 years old. She lived a long life seeing her children grow, her grandchildren grow, and her great grandchildren leading full lives. She went out on her terms. I miss her, but I know she is with Ed and he is taking good care of her. She adored him – absolutely adored him, and he adored her right back. I cannot help but to smile when I think of them together. But her passing is not where my grief cleanse comes into play.
Subsequent trips to Chicago (and other places) came several months later. This is now nine months post loss of Ed. Life has been moving along, each day I heal more, and I even get some glimpse of achievement and happiness. By this time, I have mastered my boat, mowing my lawn, purchasing the leaf blower that makes puts the neighborhood in envy, and am no longer squeamish when shoveling a dead bird or rabbit from the yard. When I travel, I am incredibly happy and here’s why – I am taking a vacation from my grief. I genuinely leave my waiting room and leave grief behind for a short time. And that’s always how it is. Great – I start to acknowledge it – honesty with myself.
But today, I was thinking about when I came home from this trip. I’m always happy to get here because “there’s no place like home”. My comforts, my dogs, just the niceties of home. But why did this trip feel different? Because I’m no longer taking a vacation from my acute grief. I’m now starting to uncover the other layers of invisible grief that I have not acknowledged. And I realized on of them today.
Every plane ride home from Chicago, I cry. When my grandmother passed away, I acknowledged this as the week of her loss on top of Ed’s loss just catching up to me. It had been a very long, emotional week going through this again so soon. And so I cried – a lot. Subsequent trips, I did the same thing, but not as intensely. And I just chalked that up to having such a wonderful time with my closest of family and friends, and how much I miss them that I was just sad to leave. Later, I realized I was sad to be returning to my grief, and even later, I realized, I’m living a sort of “second life” in Chicago. Not sure how healthy that is, but I understand it. After this last trip, I cried again on the plane ride back. But I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t feel like I was on vacation from my grief. I had actually told a friend of mine that I really didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin that week. When I looked into the mirror I didn’t recognize myself. I now understand why. I cry on the plane ride home because every time I return, I am grieving the loss of my old life. My life in Chicago. My old life before I met Ed, and of course the 10 years we lived life together as a family. Raising the kids. A life of happy memories of our family, building bonds with lifelong friends, creating holiday traditions and everything that life was supposed to be. It was not supposed to be cut short after only thirteen years together. He was not supposed to go at age 48. I have always recognized the loss of him, and the loss of “us” as a married couple. I have not acknowledged the loss of “me”. And now I do.
After Ed passed away, I was asked quite a bit (still asked), “Are you moving back”? My answer is always, “never say never, but no – I don’t think so”. After seven years in Seattle, I am quite content here. I’m not sure if Seattle will be forever for me. If I honestly had to respond I would say no. At some point, I have to figure out where life is best for me. Chicago will always be home as well Seattle, in two very different ways. Home is where the heart is, and for now and always, mine will reside in both places – any perhaps someplace else in the future.
With a clear head and a calm heart….XOXOXO,