My eyes opened well before the sun rose, knowing what today was. My heart ached that same ache I have been experiencing for the last 365 days. A distinct void that will never be filled.
I lie in bed and suddenly felt the need to see the sunrise. I threw on my clothes and drove the three minutes to the beach.
As I walked passed the dunes and saw the expansive beach unfold before my eyes, I laughed. It was cloudy. Only a small pink sliver of light could be seen where the ocean meets the sky.
Sigh. So much for the perfect sunrise I pictured in my head, I thought. But in more ways than not, today’s cloudy non-existent sunrise was the perfect finale to my first year in grief.
At this exact moment one year ago, I learned that my best friend, my grandmother, had passed. It was a shock to my system and my soul. At 36-years old, I had never experienced such a close loss. Losing GaGa was the equivalent of someone losing a parent and/or best friend.
After the whirlwind of writing her obituary, eulogy and funeral, grief settled in my heart weeks later. Some days the gut wrenching loneliness and physical pain felt more than I could bear. Unable to get out of bed and with no desire to in sight.
But, alas, I kept waking up and trying to put one foot in front of the other. Learning, little by little and day by day, the hard ropes of grief.
1. Grief is POORLY TIMED & MESSY.
It is not what you see in the movies. Grief is not a scene out of Beaches with “Wind Beneath My Wings” playing gently in the background while you cry watching the (perfect, non-cloudy) sunset.
Grief is ugly crying into a hotel pillow, letting all the feels out because you have to get on stage and speak in an hour.
Grief is sobbing in the carpool line, knowing you have ten minutes before you have to pull it together to pick up your kids, but also knowing you just need to cry.
Life goes on, whether you want it to or not. Most days this year, I wanted to skip out on life and wallow in grief. I finally learned that I had to schedule my time to grieve, giving myself the permission and space to put aside the to do list and making grief my first priority.
2. Grief is LONG & CONSTANT.
There isn’t a timeline. I learned this early on with my recovery journey, mourning memories and life lost to my eating disorder.
My lifelong best friend lost her brother in 2010. In 2011, I went to see her on the one year anniversary of his death. I expected her to be so upset and having a tough day.
Lauren stood in her parents’ kitchen as graceful as ever. I asked her how she was doing. She softly replied,
“It is just another day without him. My heart hurts the same as it did yesterday and it will still hurt tomorrow.”
I have thought of this day on repeat lately. Little did I realize years ago how much her simple words would teach me that grief is constant. Sure, some days hurt more than others. But the void is (and will always be) there, we just learn to manage life around it.
3. Grief is EXHAUSTING.
I am tired. It has been an exhausting year. Grief brain is real. I have forgotten phone calls, meetings and mom duties left and right. But after the 45,987 dropped ball, I finally learned to give myself some grace. One foot in front of the other.
4. Grief is IMPERFECT.
For most my life, the word ‘grief’ was synonymous with the ‘5 stages of grief’ (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). My other go to thought was red birds and ‘signs’ from our loved ones.
I kept waiting to tick off each stage, moving forward in the perfect order while waiting for a pretty red bird to come sit on my lap.
Yeah, those things did not happen.
I paid zero attention to the ‘stages’ because what the hell does it matter. They all hurt. I moved (and continue to move) through grief in my own imperfect and poorly timed way. I have dropped balls, forgotten to call friends, sunk away in my grief hole and then rose back up out of it. I have done (and continue to work on) what I need to do to navigate life without my best friend.
5. Grief is BEAUTIFUL.
How can it not be?
Between connecting with family and friends who loved GaGa to having followers send me cards and notes of love, this journey has been incredible.
While I have not the quintessential red bird sit on my lap, I have had countless small experiences that signify her presence. From appearing in my dreams to discovering something small in her furniture that now resides in my house, she is with me.
365 days gone and a lifetime of lessons later, this past year has been a count up. Now that the one year mark is here, I will stop the clock.
I thought today would bring a hot mess of emotions, but like Lauren, I am calm. I type this while looking at my favorite picture of her that sits on my desk. She is smiling her big GaGa grin, with a glass of her favorite chardonnay wearing her matron of honor dress she made for my wedding.
The photo makes me smile. Today, I will cry and I will smile knowing she is with me. Always.