When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was a guided meditation titled “Cultivating Joy.” In this meditation I was taken back to a time when I felt joy. The first thing that popped into my mind was a time about three weeks ago; my husband, my dog Lily, and I had traveled to Wintergreen Resort to celebrate my birthday.
Wintergreen has always been a magical place for me. I was born and raised in the same county, but just on the other side of the mountain. My idea of a birthday celebration has become much less …
Loss is confronting. But I ask you to please walk beside me while I address this most challenging aspect of life.
Losing those we love.
While loss is inevitable, it is something that we always think happens to others.
Until it happens to us.
The last six months I have had a steep learning curve on loss.
The spiral began in May this year.
On May 18th, my partner suddenly walked out. I was blindsided. Heartbroken. I would later learn the truth about his duplicity. But that is fodder for a memoir at a later date.
Two weeks after my partner left, my beautiful horse died in a freak accident.
A month later, my father, with whom I was incredibly close, passed away unexpectedly.
A month after my dad’s passing, my ex-husband, my daughter’s father, died suddenly.
Plunged into pain and darkness, I didn’t know when or how I would surface. Grief is devastating and incredibly raw. It brings you to your knees.
This is when I learned the term cumulative grief.
Cumulative grief is described as a series of losses that compound, not giving you enough time to process one loss before incurring another. Like tumultuous swell in the ocean, you barely get a chance to draw breath in between ‘waves.’
And I was drowning.
Drowning in the loss of a man I thought I knew, the loss of my beautiful father, and the loss of my ex-husband. And my darling horse would no longer be there to greet me at the gate.
A paradigm shift occurs when you suffer such dire despair. The first is you face your own darkness, and the second is that you learn the mettle of those around you.
In facing my own darkness, I was stripped bare emotionally. I could no longer avoid those places inside that had long needed to heal. As I was tossed about in the ‘waves,’ I gained a certain clarity and insight into my strengths and weaknesses and had no choice but to confront them.
Learning the mettle of those around me was eye-opening. Some quietly disappeared from my life, others avoided me, and then there were the glorious few who dove in beside me to help navigate the rough seas, steering me through my anguish and taking over the wheel of the ship when necessary.
Loss is a terrible thing.
We like predictability, certainty, and security. Loss robs us of this. Like a thief in the night, it comes out of nowhere. Once touched by it, our perspective is changed forever.
What I learned is that even in grief and despair, we evolve. I call this the evolution of loss. Life at any age is not static. These losses proved an incredible catalyst for introspection, transformation, and wisdom.
I learned that control is merely an illusion.
The only control we have is over ourselves. Our choices, and our reactions, govern the direction of the ship. We can sink or we can swim.
Sinking was not an option with a grieving teen daughter who had lost a father and a grandfather. The loss of our fathers intrinsically bound us.
I chose to tread water amidst those pounding waves of grief. Then I chose to swim for shore.
Have I changed? Yes. Irrevocably. I look at life through different eyes. But this is not a bad thing. I appreciate more, I count my blessings.
On the days I grieve, I embrace the altered seascape of my life. When the big swells come, I ride them out until the waters are serene again. Grieving is one step forward, two steps back, until you reach a level of acceptance.
I am restoring my sense of agency, diving headfirst into things I have always enjoyed but never made time for. I have learned many things about myself.
I inherited my father’s love of writing. Now I write—all the time.
I spend endless hours in the garden, growing roses and vegetables.
My other horse is due to have a baby on Christmas Day.
After four years out of the workforce, I got a new job in medical research, which is interesting and varied.
I started an advocacy group for teens to recognize toxic relationships. I plan to write a program for schools.
I have joined new groups and met new people.
I am here today because I made a choice not to let someone’s duplicitous actions and the unfortunate events of life shatter me forever.
Loss can break you or it can help you grow. You get to choose.
About Leigh Burns
Leigh Burns is a writer of human-interest articles and is currently penning her first book, which promises to be relatable, bittersweet, and intriguing. Leigh hails from a small town in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and has a background in medical writing, educational writing, and marketing. Leigh is a mum to one teen daughter and has an innate love of horses, the Australian outback, and a well-brewed pot of Earl Grey tea.