This past summer I lost a dear friend and her 11 year old daughter in a tragic accident. The details surrounding their deaths were horrible and seemingly senseless. They were taken tragically, in a place they love, in front of all their family, including my friend’s husband and young son. Upon hearing of their deaths, I was overcome with grief. There was a gut wrenching emptiness that seemed to go on forever. It didn’t seem possible. Or fair. My mind went back to the last time we were together. A new layer of grief and guilt was added to my already broken heart. I hadn’t been present with her. I was in the same room and talking with her, but my mind was somewhere else. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to forgive myself.
This week it would have been my sweet friend’s daughter’s 12th birthday. As the day of her birthday came, I felt a new sense of grief I wasn’t really prepared for. As the feelings started to come, my first instinct was to push them away. This was the way I lived most of my life. I blocked out any negative or uncomfortable feeling I had. It’s how I survived. I’m learning to push through this survival instinct and allow the feelings to come, however hard this process might be.
One of the beautiful gifts of recovery for me is the ability to grieve. I started grieving for the things that I lost when I entered recovery. I started grieving for my children’s loss of innocence, the loss of my character, the loss of a relationship I wanted but couldn’t have. I learned that there were many “deaths” I had to grieve. Once I could start grieving these losses, it was as if every thing I had ever lost in my life came back to me. All the feelings of loss and grief I had stored up for 39 years was coming back. Patrick Carnes calls recovery a program of dealing with losses. I find this so incredibly true in my life. The more i grieve, the more I understand how much more grieving I still have to do. Sometimes this grief is overwhelming, like in the case of a death of a dear friend. Sometimes this grief seems more insignificant. I have learned that I grieve big and small losses often.
If I can’t grieve, I can’t fully accept what is going on in my life.
In order to fully accept that my friend and her sweet daughter were tragically taken much too quickly, I have to grieve this. Over and over again. I grieved when I heard of the news. I grieved when I thought back to the last time we were together. I grieved when I saw them snuggled up in the same casket together at the viewing. I grieved at the funeral as I heard members of their family pay tribute to them. I continue grieve when I think of her brokenhearted husband and son who grieve in their own way. I grieve on special days like Christmas and birthdays. I grieve when I see a young girl riding a horse and when I look at my children’s American girl dolls, both of which were things her daughter loved. I grieve a little bit each time I see the color pink and when I drink a Diet Coke in my friend’s honor.
What I’ve learned in each of these experiences is that grief looks a little different. I might shed a few tears in one moment of grief and I might feel emptiness in another.
Grief forever changes me. I become a new person through grief.
Part of my grieving process includes taking time to get to know this new person. This new me. This new me who is undeniably changed through grief.
Giving myself permission to grieve has been one of the most incredible gifts of recovery. Giving myself permission to grieve as long and as often as needed has opened me up to a new level of acceptance. Acceptance of myself. Acceptance of my feelings. Acceptance of my experiences. Acceptance of the experiences of others. Acceptance of the process. Acceptance of reality.
Grief is an acceptance process. For me to grieve my friend’s death, it’s accepting reality. For me to grieve the loss of time spent in addiction, is accepting reality. For me to grieve that I have hurt my own children through addiction, is accepting reality. Acceptance doesn’t make it easy. In fact, grief is anything but easy. Grief brings acceptance and acceptance brings peace. There was a time in my life that I chose easy. I’m not choosing that any more. I’m choosing peace.
So today, the day after my sweet friend’s birthday, I’m grateful, I’m grateful that I have the ability to grieve. I’m grateful that I loved someone enough that this grief is hard. I’m grateful for recovery and for teaching me that grief is not only good, but necessary for healing. I’m grateful to be able to celebrate a life that was cut way too short. I’m choosing to grieve in order to live.
Happy Birthday Princess!