How Grief Gave Me My Life Back

by , | Oct 19, 2020

Do you also have life lessons that keep showing up? Perhaps the same message, but a different day? 

One of the recurring messages in my life is that grief is a pathway to healing.

Actually, let me rephrase that.

My recent experience of fall-on-my-knees grief revealed, once again, that grief is a pathway to living and loving fully.

We Got to Hold Hands for the First Time in Seven Months

Last week, dressed in full PPE, Dad and I visited Mom for the first time in seven months. Dad, who also has Alzheimer’s disease but still resides in the family home with the essential assistance of a live-in caregiver, thinks my Mom (his wife) is his Mom. Whomever she is to him, he loves and misses her deeply. For six years, he visited his wife every day and fed her lunch. 

My heart ached to think that, hour, after hour, after hour, my Mom’s been living her days without anyone gazing into her eyes, caressing her face, massaging her hands and radiating a lifetime of love and gratitude. 

During our visit, I was flooded with thoughts (notice I had thoughts, not emotions) about all the losses associated with Mom’s illness. The loss of connection with her grandchildren, a thwarted elderhood with her husband and my own dashed romantic notions of parenting with the support of my mother – to name just a few.

This is How Grief Works: Being With One Loss Creates Opportunity to Revisit Previous Losses

Thinking about my Mom’s end-of-life care leads me to connect to the losses I’m experiencing right now as the adult daughter of two parents living with dementia. This involves  trying my best to navigate my parents’ end-of-life care with my brother, coordinate caregivers, liaise withl the pharmacy, check in with the doctors, the nursing home, the adult-day program, the neighbours, the insurance company, the extended family members and so on.

Yet even as I’m caring for a dying parent, unpacking the overwhelming emotion and sense of loss end-of-life care brings, there’s my life to consider, too.

What about my husband and daughter, I think.

What about my business, my friends, my hopes and dreams?

What about ME?

In the midst of death and dying, grief and caring for a loved one, these are the whispers of questions that live silently in my heart.

My Flat Response to Great News Set Off the Alarm Bell

The day after visiting Mom, I was editing a document when Reena texted, her excitement palpable. “We got the loan!!!” the screen read.  I glanced at the text and kept working away. The loan represents a breakthrough for our company, and is what we need to take Willow to the next level.

Eventually I called Reena and opened up about how flat and numb I felt. No joy, no excitement, no nothing. Her kindness, compassion and her presence gave me what I needed to allow my tears to flow and my mind to begin to navigate the different stages of grief.

Two days later, I participated in a grief and loss support session for dementia caregivers. I spent almost all of the 45 minutes sobbing and articulating the sheer loss connected to my own experiences and circumstances, as well as those that are simply a part of living a shared human existence. 

The weeping, wailing and naming I was able to do at the grief and loss support session gave me the deep cleanse I needed to clear the way for feelings of joy, excitement, and vitality. Allowing the grieving process to take hold moved me from flat and numb to living and loving fully.

There are overwhelming feelings of loss, yes. There is the pain that comes with end-of-life care, the anticipated death of a loved one and the overall reality of death and dying. But meeting grief also allows us a certain freedom to accept loss  and  welcome the beauty of life. 

What about you? 

What life lessons keep showing up for you?

What gifts have come your way via grief?

PS: We’re offering a new free tool in our shop, A Brief on Grief and Mourning.

“Unmask your mortality and you will unleash love.”
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  • Michelle, what a great story! I myself have been caring for an ex husband with Altzheimers and went through a lot of grief (many complex layers) of that decision to step up and help him. As an ex, there is also no recognition for that particular “position” in life. It is a commitment of love and compassion for the person with no reward.
    It has led me further to develop grief workshops for single moms, a bit of a different sort of grief, but still the same container. Thank you for your story, and I love all your resources! I am the Tarot reader friend of Don Grayston, we met a long time ago. I am SO HAPPY to see how wonderfully your company has grown! You are both doing such amazing work <3

    • Dear Kathryn, I remember you well and I’m going to relisten to the recording of your reading! Thank you for your cheers of support and for this wee glimpse into your caregiving and grieving story. The disenfranchised or unacknowledged grief in your circumstance as an ex-partner adds such a layer of burden and isolation. I’m having a deja vu moment. When I was in full-on early days of parenting I remember thinking, “I cannot believe parenting is not headline news every day!” I now feel the same about caregiving and grieving. Here’s to the power of sharing our stories.

  • I will be interested to know more about working with

    • Dear Claire, Most of what we do at Willow is to create tools that folks can use themselves or with the people who matter most to them. We have a workbook in both print and fillable digital version, a self-study online program and free tools available to download. These items all live in the SHOP in our website. Our BLOG also has dozen and dozens of short article that we hope serve to inform, empower and inspire people at all stages of living and dying.

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