Finding a path through grief

G’day, Friends and welcome to another blog post.

I wish I could tell you that this week’s post is all sunshine and rainbows, but unfortunately, it isn’t that way this week. I feel just as much as I share the happy side to life, I am also aware that it is equally important to share the more trying times.

I lost someone incredibly special to me and my family last week. So many thoughts have gone through my head, and I have been a couch potato all week. It’s a constant rise and fall of emotions; one minute, I am in complete denial and like nothing is wrong, and the next, I am overcome with sadness, anger and regret.

Death is a part of life; some of us stare it in the face more than others, whether through living with illness or part of a job, especially in the Defence Forces. However, you continue with life because that is the only way forward. You put the idea of passing and leaving your family in the back of your mind because if you dwell on it, it will consume you.

Same as when you lose someone so special, the matriarch of the extended family. You know for years it was coming; however, nothing truly prepares you for those few weeks when you know you are on borrowed time and the phone call comes through.

Grief is a process; it is a cocktail of emotions. I have been fortunate to have only gone through this process three times when I was 8, 11 and 12: my grandfather, my first family pet, and my great-grandmother. The feeling of grief and loss then was the same as it is now.

a photo of me crying my hand is covering my face holding my glasses i am looking over the camera.

This past week has got me thinking about how grief plays a role in living with a progressive disease like Muscular Dystrophy, and how it interconnects with the grief of losing a loved one.

Living with Muscular Dystrophy, you grieve when a doctor’s visit gives bad news; you grieve when you lose the ability to go to your favourite places or activities. You grieve when you get weaker, realise that your disease is classified as terminal, and you are also on borrowed time.

But how do you navigate grief? I feel grieving over a disability is similar to grieving over losing a loved one. I am no psychologist or mental health professional, so this is just from my personal experience. Grief, for me, is a multi-tier system. Shock turns into denial, then denial turns to sadness, and then sadness turns to anger and then acceptance. It may even go back and forth between them before reaching some form of acceptance. Do you ever completely accept it? no, but you find that you get really good at living with grief, not consuming you every day, and just getting on with things.

I have gone through all those stages this past week countless times. But there is one thing I have been slightly called out on. I want to keep myself together at the funeral and not cry. My mum asked a couple of nights ago, “Why don’t you want to cry?” and I replied, “If I cry, I worry I will completely fall apart”.

My whole life, I had tried to keep it together and not show my family that I was sad or destroyed, especially when it came to doctor visits and losing the ability to do things as I got older. I saw the pain on my parents and my brother’s faces, and I thought if I could show them I was not sad or scared, then maybe I could make them feel less sad or scared. Let me tell you, that doesn’t work and instead makes you not process your feelings. And as my equine therapist said, bottled-up feelings will make their way out at some point, often at the most inopportune times.

I have learnt over time, with my disability, to allow myself to feel how I need to feel on any given day and then pick myself up and go again and get on with life. When I didn’t process my feelings towards myself and my disability, and after my grandfather’s death, I became incredibly bitter and resentful and turned away from my support network. I highly do not recommend it.

Disability, like life, is constantly evolving and changing. You have to move with it, or you will be stuck in the past instead of enjoying every moment you are presented with… Or being present enough to handle the curveballs and heartbreak it also often brings.

For me with my disability, whenever things go wrong, or times seem uncertain or scary, I lean on my faith, my family, and be gentle on myself. I allow myself the time and space to feel all the emotions, and will enable them to pass through me. I either Journal, talk to family or my equine therapist or psychologist, listen to heavy metal if I am feeling particular angry or songs about grief is I just need cry.

I have done all of those things this week countless times.

As it comes closer to saying see you soon to my family member, I am constantly trying to reflect on my time with her and what I have learnt about life by watching her.

You learn lessons from every person you interact with, no longer how long they are in your life for. She was very much like my grandfather on my fathers side. Stubborn, giving, selfless, strong, opinionated, caring, witty, and incredibly good at playing a game of cards.

My great-grandmother showed me from how she presented herself and went about life the true meaning of life and service; be selfless – give your all to the people you serve and expect nothing in return. She showed me what it meant to be a strong woman; even though she grew up in a time where women didn’t have much say over their lives or opportunity, she and her husband were incredibly progressive.

When I watched her interact, she never took anyone’s BS; she would call people out in the best, wittiest fashion and would be unapologetic in how she lived her life. She was all about work and helping others, and she would always get one with life, even when a curveball was thrown.

I hope to embody even just some of her strength and selflessness. I have been so blessed to have had some robust, stubborn and resilient people to teach me always to keep moving forward, even when it seems uncertain or too painful.

Living abled my way at the moment is simply taking a moment at a time, reflecting, crying, shouting if I need to, and then getting back to work slowly and gradually. Because even though life is so short, life continues on, and our legacy and love are left behind when we leave this life. To leave that legacy, you must be brave enough to continue, not forgetting the person or experience, dont be be sad for too long, but be grateful they were here in the first place to teach us what they needed to. And boy did she leave one heck of a legacy.

Find the lessons in the memories, learn from them, grow from them, cry about them, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving with grace and patience. Remember, it isn’t goodbye, it’s see you soon.

A photo of a sunrise with a mountain in the distance on the right of the photo. the left side of the photo is still dark with the evening sky and the left is light from the sun coming over the horizon
A photo I took a couple of days after my great-grandmother’s passing.. there is always light in the darkness

I want to leave you with a quote one of my mentors sent me this week:

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived”. – General George S. Patton

Till next week, keep living abled your way.


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