I have been feeling heavier than ever these past few weeks. My anxiety high and emotional fuse short. I knew this time of year would be hard – my first holiday in grief, but I had no idea just how much the heaviness would weigh me down.
My grief has manifested in an array of emotions. And, like most people, I find it 10,000 times easier to lean the other way rather into the hurt. I have spent much of this year leaning into work, family, busyness or color coding my cute planner…basically ANYTHING to distract me from the real pain and hurt.
My GaGa is not coming back. It has taken me almost a year to truly accept this. I have been waiting for the perfect signs. I peer slowly around corners in hopes to catch a sunflower in a sidewalk or the proverbial red bird sitting perfectly waiting to chirp directly at me.
The funny thing is that I have seen countless red birds and witnessed beautiful sunflowers, but none were ‘perfect’ enough. They weren’t her talking to me. I needed to lean into the hurt, but was afraid. I couldn’t muster the energy or find the support to do so.
In early November, I knew it was all starting to be too much. My anxiety was through the roof and I was isolating away from the people I love most. I needed support and had to take the brave steps to find it. Just like people can’t read your mind, the perfect therapist isn’t going to call and invite you to her couch. You have to go out and find them.
I drew on some inner strength (and Google) and did just that. My new therapist and I have been talking a lot about leaning in – leaning in to the grief rather than run from it with to do lists and busyness, carving out time to sit and ‘be’ (ugh! I hate ‘be’ing) with GaGa and my grief. As well as realizing ‘signs’ (like life) do not appear in perfect forms. GaGa is with me when I open her dining hutch that now sits in my dining room. GaGa is with me when I see my son holding the blanket she made him seven years ago. She is always with me AND it still hurts.
I cried (and cried…and cried) days leading up to my birthday. And on my day, I was at peace. I was okay.
As Christmas approached, I was met with the same heaviness, knowing it was a year ago that GaGa wasn’t just here on earth, but at my house. I renovated a bathroom just so she could come and in hopes she would come back for longer periods of time.
I had a funny feeling last year would be a year of lasts. I didn’t outwardly acknowledge it, but I felt it in my gut. That is why I impulsively flew from Delaware to Baton Rouge to surprise her for her 94th birthday. It is why I renovated a bathroom so she would come for Christmas.
And this year was a year of firsts: first Easter, Mother’s Day, kids’ birthdays, her birthday, my birthday, Christmas without her. I gained so much (emotional) weight this year trying to muddle through life without my best friend.
And finally on the 25th day of the last month of the year, I shed the weight. I leaned in. I leaned in all the damn way in and it hurt like hell.
So how did I do it? How did I finally lean in all the way?
Last year on Christmas day, everyone went to nap – everyone, except Gaga and me. We sat out on what was a bluebird perfect day and talked. That was GaGa and me, we could talk for HOURS on end. I would ask her to tell me about her days as a welder in WWII, how she left home to help for the war, how she raised three kids, and a million other questions.
As she recounted her life story, intuition knotted my stomach and told me to hit record on my camera. I clicked the red button on my phone and secretly filmed her telling me her life story.
I didn’t tell her because she would have killed me! But I knew in that moment that I wanted to capture it (and her) forever.
Nearly three weeks later she was gone.
I have watched the video from time to time over this year, never getting through its entirety. When I really missed her late at night, I would play it and go to sleep with her talking to me.
Christmas afternoon 2018 was eerily similar to 2017 – picture perfect sky and a quiet house. I stood over the kitchen sink cleaning. I felt exhausted and heavy. I decided to stop what I was doing. I poured a glass of GaGa and my favorite champagne, Verve Cliquot, and headed outside.
I wadded up on my outdoor couch and hit PLAY.
I cried. I hurt. I laughed. And I cried some more. But I smiled. I smiled as it felt like she was there with me, talking directly to me. I watched both videos, over thirty minutes, while sipping champagne and wiping my tears.
The video ended. I stood up, walked inside and resumed cleaning. I felt lighter and more at peace than I had this entire year.
I had finally lost the weight. I had leaned in, really leaned in and let go, knowing there will never be a ‘perfect’ sign and even worse, knowing she is not coming back, but also embracing that I will be okay.
I’ll never forget the morning of GaGa’s funeral. I put on my white coat and draped GaGa’s pearls around my neck. I looked in the mirror and felt beautiful and confident, as well as absolutely heartbroken. I felt grounded as I shared her eulogy because I knew GaGa and I said our good-bye without a single regret. I stood at her grave, sunflower in hand feeling both confident and about to crumble – such is the dichotomy of grief and life.
I am entering 2019 with those same feelings, especially with the one year anniversary of her death is just three weeks away. But this year I will continue to lean in, knowing I will be okay.
So you want to lose that extra baggage? Lean in to what scares you most. Embrace the hurt and the ugly.
We can either choose to push our hurt away, letting it affect our relationships and life or we can lean in. It took me a year and some really hard therapy sessions these last two months, but I’m doing the work and leaning in.
If life were up to me, GaGa would still be here. Unfortunately, life isn’t always up to me, but how I handle these moments are my choice.
I’m leaning in and losing the weight. Won’t you join me?
And PS…the day after Christmas (after I stopped searching for ‘the perfect’ sign) Jordan, the kids and I pulled up to the house and all together spotted a red bird sitting perfectly on the edge of the roof, staring straight at us. I had to laugh. I see you GaGa, and love you. Always.