It is truly amazing to see how far one can come in life, even in the face of adversity. Recently I spent a week with youth and young adults in a leadership institute, and what a wonderful experience for all involved. For me, being surrounded by so many youthful, energetic teens has a way of bringing out the fun-loving, carefree person I can be at times, reminding me of the potential that each individual has. But, alas, being with them also reminds me of what I had with my daughter, how she loved to have fun, how she was so full of life, and how much she dreamed of and planned for.
Ironically, I was okay for the first 2-3 days. As the week continued I found myself sighing more deeply (a sign of stress or anxiety) and I knew, this week was taking me on a emotional roller coaster ride. I was being reminded of what I lost, what could have been and what dreams had been shattered. But with all this, I was also surprised that I was in control. How? Well I didn't find myself crying as they shared their dreams, hopes and even fears with me and the other adult leaders. I was able to hear their stories, understand their trials, and enter into what they were experiencing without my feelings and emotions taking over.
Just a couple of years ago when I was also on team for this same institute, I would find myself crying often and uncontrollably. The teenagers who had attended would actually glance over at me if they knew what was being shared would evoke tears. They knew that they could make Rose Mary cry easily, and I did. To actually be able to replay this segment of my life, in a similar scenario, and see the difference, has a healing quality. This retrospection helps me to see and grasp that I have in fact come a long way, that I am healing, that I am embracing the new 'normal' in my life.
Will I ever be the same person I was just over 5 years ago? NO! How can I be, I have had to reach into areas of myself I did not know or even dreamed existed. I have had to find a strength that I did not believe was even humanly possible. My outlook on life remains positive but now I look at it from different angles. I am not afraid to look deeply into anyone's eyes, to see the person that dwells within, to see the real individual; the one with joys and sorrows, with hopes and disillusions, with courage and trepidation. To see the person who wants to be everything they dream of, but holds back because life can sometimes be difficult. No I am not the same. Yes, I may appear carefree, smiling and hopeful, but yet, like so many people I meet and so many of you who read this blog; so much lies beneath the surface, so much is hidden, unseen by the human eye.
My grief and pain has taken me down roads I would never had dreamed of, opened up new doors that I would never have looked at, let alone knock on, and taken me into places that the bravest of people would not dare venture into. Yet here I am, arriving at my new self, unsure of who I am yet, but certain that I am were I need to be at the moment. What does it all mean? Who knows! Do I like this new me? Yes and no. Yes, because I know I can be there if someone needs understanding, compassion and a listening ear; and no, because I arrived here because of my daughter's death. Believe me when I say, how much I wish I could have changed the outcome, how much I wish my daughter was still a physical part of my life. I look at my grandchildren and wonder if she would have had children, what would she be doing right now, and so on. No different, really, than anyone who has faced the death of a loved one. Yet, we all make it somehow. We don't find something to fill the void, nothing can do that. What we do is accept that there will always be a certain emptiness, a hole that we learn to live with, and through faith, we cling to the fact that our love transcends even the greatest of abysses and that for me, I will see Rachel again.
My strength comes from knowing that Rachel guides me, is there when I need her, and lets me know from time to time that she is near. There are reminders of her presence in my life, and they happen when I seem to need them most. There isn't a day when Rachel isn't a part of it. And on those days when I cannot seem to hear the gentle reminder of her presence, someone or something lets me know. Just as your loved ones do the same for you.
We all have dark days and difficult times, we all struggle with life's twists and turns, but if we allow ourselves to grow, to reach out to others, we can find a way through it. I could not have come this far alone, and I know that I will continue to need people in my life; and that my journey is far from over. So why would I want to go it alone. Why would anyone want to travel alone? The most important thing to remember as we travel life's roads, is to give ourselves the time to take in the scenery, and to allow ourselves to heal. All the speeding in the world may appear to get us to our destination faster, but in the end, what we left uncared for, catches up to us. So take your grief slowly, allow yourself the luxury of going through it, rather than circumventing it. It is when we give ourselves permission to grieve, to fully grieve, that we begin to heal.