Grief: How to Survive It

I was up early the day my whole world changed forever.

My boyfriend was in a triathlon race 1000 kilometers away and I felt wretched that I hadn’t been able to be there to cheer him on when he crossed the finish line. I had just started a new job and wasn’t able to take the time off to go with him. I loved this man more than I had ever loved anyone in my entire life and it felt so wrong not to be there for him. After all, he had always stood so steadfast beside me every time I needed him.

I looked at my empty coffee cup, yawned and stretched. I woke up at 5am to wish him good luck as he prepared for race day, wanting to show my love and support in some small way. Yes, it was definitely time for another caffeine infusion. I padded sleepily in the direction of the kitchen and made a latte as quietly as possible, hoping not to wake my sleeping children.

It was mid August and the sun was already shining brightly in the brilliant blue Northern sky. I took my frothy cup of coffee outside and settled my favorite chair on the porch. The birds were chirping and the leaves were rustling high up in the poplar trees as I picked up my phone and opened the special website where I could enter his race number and check his progress.

Suddenly my phone rang interrupting the peace of the morning. I knew with that deep, ancient intuition that is completely unexplainable that it was bad news. I picked up my phone and walked to the end of the porch, the offending device still ringing loudly. My stomach was upside down and I was shaking slightly when I slid my finger across the screen and put the phone to my ear.

“Hello?”

“Jenny,” my mother was sobbing on the other end, barely able to get the words out.

“What happened? Please tell me what happened!” I begged her but I already knew.

“Grandma,” the single word crashed into me like train and sent my world spinning.

“Noooooooooo,” I fell to the ground. The pain ripping through my body was suffocating.

I don’t remember much but I remember lying on the wooden planks of the porch, sobbing and praying: Please God, don’t take my grandmother. I don’t know if I can get through life without her.

She was the sweetest of souls and I loved her like a mother. My father was killed when I was two and my grandparents had filled a void that would have been a very deep chasm without the warmth and security of their love.

I know that I had to make phone calls to other family members but the only call I remember making was to my boyfriend. He wasn’t quite done the race so I had to leave a voice mail. I felt terrible that he was going to be full of excitement and then he was going to hear my awful, sobbing, incoherent message. I desperately needed him; I needed the security of his arms and the solace of his tender love.

A few days later, my grief multiplied to a magnitude that was almost unquantifiable.

It was the night before my precious grandmother’s funeral. We were all travel weary and I was beyond emotionally exhausted having cried for the majority of the grueling fourteen hour drive from one end of the province to the other. I was tucking the girls into bed when I glanced over and saw my boyfriend’s ipad on the hotel nightstand between their single beds. He had filled it with games and activities just for my youngest daughter but lately, the ipad had remained strangely out of sight. Considering my emotional state, I’ll never understand how my stupid sixth sense kicked in again and started screaming at me to pick it up.

I hesitated, second guessing myself. Finally, I reached out a shaky hand and sat down on the end of my daughter’s bed with it on my lap. I was already so grief stricken that I could hardly muster more than outrage at what I found. He swore that night and to this day that he never cheated; but he still ran. He left me broken and wracked with sorrow on the eve of the day I was expected to stand beside my grandfather and support him as he laid to rest his soul mate of 65 years.

In the space of a week, I lost another person whom I had loved with all my heart. It wasn’t death that took him from me; I think the only term that would describe it is…….fear. I lost him to his fears.

He didn’t just leave me that night. He kept running. A week later, he ran away for the weekend with a woman he had just met the day before. He stayed with her for the better part of the year.

The grief that followed shook me to my very core.

I wanted to just quit life. I wanted to crawl into my bed and never emerge. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; it was simply too much effort to listen to their kind, understanding words. I lost an alarming amount of weight for my frame because the sight of food sickened me; food is for the living and I was barely living.  

I have been through some struggles that would have crushed the average person but this was by far the most difficult journey of my entire life. Every day I would cry on my hour drive to and from work. When I walked through the front door, I would paste a smile on my face for the sake of my girls. Once they were in bed, I cried myself to sleep.

I tried to read books about grief and abandonment but my mind wouldn’t stay focused. I tried to talk it out with friends but every word they said felt like another brick was being thrown my chest; their words only seemed to cause me more anxiety. I tried to mediate but I just cried the entire time. Everything about life seemed to be more of a struggle than it ever had before.

The one thing I didn’t do was to try to run from the grief or put it in a box, lock it down and shove it to the back of my mind. Somehow, I knew that I had to allow the process.

The only way to survive the unbearable grief was to allow it to wash over me.

I had to allow myself the luxury of grieving; but that doesn’t mean I quit life. It means if I needed to crawl into bed and cry, I did. If I was making dinner and I suddenly sat down on the kitchen floor for a good cry and dinner was late, I didn’t beat myself up about it. If I needed to dance or break plates or run until I fell down, I allowed myself to do it.

Very slowly I started to replace my grief with gratitude; gratitude for my amazing little family, my loyal friends, my horses, the peace and serenity of my farm. I fell in love all over again with the things that had always made my soul sing like riding, dancing and running. Eventually I was able to read the books and find my center again.

I gathered my little daughters close and immersed myself in their unfailing, innocent love. We learned how to be a family, just the three of us. Our house filled with laughter and fun again. We danced in the kitchen, laughed when we got stuck in snow banks and viewed every day as grand adventure.

But that doesn’t mean the grief was gone.

People often say that life is a journey, not a destination. I learned that it’s the same for grief.

You never really get over losing someone you love. The loss becomes a permanent fixture in your being, almost like foreign DNA injected into your chromosomes. You learn to cope with it; some days you cope better than others.

I never want to experience that kind of debilitating pain again.

However, I did come out of it with a new appreciation for life; now I cherish every person and every moment because I never know what life will bring in the next minute, day or month.

Now my mantra has become:

Love without fear.

Live a life that matters.

Focus on the good and release the negative. 

The Truth About Fear

It was Saturday morning and I was in the kitchen cleaning up after making the girls their favorite breakfast of waffles and fruit. From my vantage point by the sink, I had a clear view into my bedroom. My ten year old daughter was lying on my bed, playing on her iPod while the youngest watched TV. One of our favorite songs came on the radio and I glanced through the kitchen to see if they noticed.

Nope, both were still thoroughly engrossed in their chosen diversions.

Normally when that song comes on, both girls coming running to participate in a family dance off. I glanced over at them again but they still have not noticed; brains focused on the screens in front of them, unaware that they were about to miss out on one of their favorite things – trying to out-dance their mother.

Am I doing all I can to teach my children to see the small miracles around them? Deciding that I could definitely do more, an idea began to take shape in my mind.

“Girls,” I called from the kitchen. “Get dressed and brush your teeth, we are going on an adventure!” That got their attention, I laughed to myself as I suddenly heard little feet hit the hardwood and run in my direction.

“What are we doing?” Chelisa asked with excitement.

“I wuv adventwar mommy,” said Brooklynn as she clapped her little hands and jumped up and down.

“We are going to take pictures of a herd of mares with their foals and I am going to teach you a bit about how to study animal behavior.”

Both girls started squealing and jumping up and down, totally thrilled. I smiled at them, rather pleased with myself. I doubt they would have been much more excited if I had told them we were going to Disneyland.

Thirty minutes later my silver Xterra was heading down the highway to a 160 acre pasture about 15 kilometers from our little hobby farm.

It was not long before we parked, unloaded the camera and tripod, cautiously climbed over the barbed wire fence and began to slowly walk toward the herd of about 20 mares with their young foals.

“I can’t wait to pet the baby horses!” Brooklynn exclaimed excitedly.

“These horses aren’t like ours honey. They are basically wild so they are afraid of people. We have to move slowly and quietly or they will run away,” I cautioned in whisper as I took my youngest daughter by the hand in case her wild little ginger personality urged her headlong into a herd of horses.

IMG_5989 iscar We were no more than forty feet into the field when the mares put their noses to their babies bums and urged them forward into full gallop, taking them deeper into the pasture and away from us. Only a palomino mare and her foal stayed behind to observe us.

Suddenly, a magnificent sorrel colored horse appeared behind the pair, urging them to race toward the rest of the herd. Once safely on their way, the beautiful lone horse turned to face us, strong and sure, long mane whipping in the wind. The girls stared in silent awe as I snapped pictures madly, hoping to capture the beauty of what I saw in front of me. After sizing us up for a few moments and feeling no threat, the horse turned, red coat gleaming in the sun and raced to join the rest of the herd.

“What was that all about?” Chelisa asked. “Maybe that was the lead mare and she came to get the palomino and her baby when they didn’t follow the herd?”

“Write down all of your observations, questions and thoughts,” I advised her. “All the pieces will eventually come together.”

She slid her purple glasses onto her cute little nose, sat in the tall grass and bent her dark head toward her notebook. I could hear the scratching of her pencil as I snapped a few pictures and brushed my hair out of my face as the wind picked up, sending the long strands in every direction.IMG_6012 edit

One of my favorite horse trainers, Carolyn Resnick, spent an entire summer as a young girl observing and eventually gaining the acceptance of a herd of wild horses near her home. I looked over at my daughter and wondered if this could be a pivotal moment in her young life.

Once her notes were completed, we headed deeper into the pasture in quiet pursuit of the herd. Shortly after setting up again, something truly remarkable happened; a dark palomino mare, with a long twisted mane, intelligent eyes and a confidence of purpose, began to walk toward us, her foal at her side. I lifted my eye from my camera, blinked and stared at her. She was definitely a horse but something about her was strikingly reminiscent of an ancient Indian princess.IMG_5967jj

I was so taken with her that it took me a few minutes to realize that the rest of the mares and foals were falling into place behind her.

“She is the lead mare, Chelisa,” I pointed toward the Warrior Princess steadily walking toward us. I glanced over at my daughter and saw that she was nodding her head in agreement, mouth hanging open, just as mesmerized as I was.

Suddenly, huge the foaless sorrel horse galloped up from the back of the herd, crossed in front of them and continued toward us. With my camera focused on the magnificent beast in front of me and Chelisa busy taking notes, it was a few moments before Brooklynn’s excited chatter percolated through my consciousness.IMG_6001 jj

“Here come the baby horses! I’m going to pet them mommy!” I lifted my head and swiveled it quickly to the left. Warrior Princess had followed the big red horse and entire herd of forty horses were following her and they were all unbelievably close to us!

Realization came quickly.

“Holy cow girls, that‘s a stallion!” I stood up quickly, camera hanging forgotten in my hand. I have loved horses from the moment I was born but fear was pounding through my body as I realized that a stallion was dangerously close to us. My daughters and I were in a potentially very serious situation. I shoved the girls behind me with a sick feeling, knowing that we would never make it to the safety of the barbed wire fence.

Then something remarkable happened.

I got outside my fear and looked at the stallion, seeing what was really in front of me rather than what I assumed was. His stance was not aggressive; it was protective. The mares and foals were clustered behind him but they were obviously just curious.

As the stallion and I continued to stare at each other, an unspoken understanding passed between us: each of us would protect our families but neither of us had any intention of being the first to attack.

In terms of strength and power, the stallion obviously had the upper hand; yet he was offering us the opportunity to share the same space as his family in peace and harmony.

I slowly sank back into the grass, pulling the girls with me while the stallion turned back to his family, herded them to a more comfortable distance and began to graze.

“Wow! Did you see how close they were mom? If you hadn’t stood up, I think they might have come right up to us! I was a little scared when you said that big sorrel horse was stallion,” Chelisa’s words were almost tripping over each other in her excitement.

“Yes, yes I did see how close they were,” I say reaching over to take her soft little hand in mine as my heart began to slow to its normal pace. “You better get started with your notes honey. That was some incredible behavior we just witnessed.”

As Chelisa began to once again scratch furiously in her notebook, I picked up my camera and thought about all the remarkable things that had just happened.

This adventure had started out as a way to get my children to disconnect with electronics and reconnect with nature. I lowered my camera for a brief moment to look over at my sweet little girls sitting in the grass, gazing at the herd of horses in front of them. The scene in front of me couldn’t possibly be more perfect. Mission accomplished.IMG_5810 drama

I had learned a valuable lesson too.

I learned that fear can be lie. It’s not always real.

Sometimes past experiences and preconceived notions can lead us to believe there is danger when in fact, there is not. We have to be able to step outside of our fear and examine the situation for what it really is.

That can be easier said than done. Day to day life in this modern world does not often allow us the opportunity to be still and listen with a pureness that isn’t clouded by distractions or negativity.

In my moment of awareness, I was surrounded by nature. I felt that energetic connection when you vibrate on the same frequency as other living things. Everything else fell away, allowing for a moment of perfect clarity and understanding.

A quote I recently read rolled through my mind:

                                                If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence,

                                                      we would rise up, rooted like trees.

                                                                                 -Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I often fear for the future of mankind.

The more we lose touch with nature and fall deeper into slavery with our false, electronic communities and distractions, the more lost and fearful we become.

Letting go of fear and soothing our troubled spirits may not be as complicated as we make it. My extraordinary experience with the stallion leads me to believe that the answers we seek are inside of us; but they are being drowned out by the distractions we have created so we don’t have to be alone with ourselves.

This week I challenge you to get out into nature and disconnect from all of the meaningless electronic stuff. Listen to the wind rustling the leaves, the birds chirping, the bees buzzing and let earth’s intelligence send your soul a bit of wisdom.

 

If you would like to see more pictures of our amazing adventure, please join us on Facebook.

www.facebook.com/lifeyouwant.jenniferlemky

 

 

 

The Number One Thing Everyone Should Have On Their Bucket List

It’s midnight and I am sitting on the porch with a teeny bit of caramel pecan ice cream and a cup of tea watching the lightening storm. Normally I love watching the magnificence of Mother Nature when she decides to hurl a good prairie storm my way. Lightening flashing across the wide open Northern Canadian sky can be a very awe inspiring experience.

Not tonight. Tonight I am watching it warily, like a prison guard watching a crafty inmate who likes to suddenly escape, causing mayhem and havoc before being shackled and wrestled into submission once again.

My ten-year old daughter is sitting beside me, nervously watching too. Every time the sky is illuminated by a particularly bright flash and immediately followed by a huge clap of thunder, she flinches.

“Wow, I felt that one shake the ground and come up through my toes,” I say as I glace her way. Even though she is fighting hard against it, her face scrunches slightly and her big green eyes fill with tears. I slide closer to her so I can tuck the blanket more tightly around us and put my arm around her slim shoulders. She’s worried about her best friend; her six year old Welsh-Arab pony named Bella.

I understand her worry; I am feeling it too. We are three girls living on a 160 acre farm, 30 minutes from town and are currently in the middle of a couple of severe forest fires ripping through the northern part of our province. Now is not a good time for a massive lightening storm, especially a dry one. We desperately need some rain to sooth the fury of Mother Nature’s wrath but that isn’t going to happen tonight.

BOOOOM!

“One, two, three, four,” she counts quietly. “Four. It’s only four kilometers away.” I pull her a little closer and gently kiss the top of her head.

“It’s more like a guideline than a hard fact,” I tease, trying to lighten the mood.

What would I do if we were given an emergency evacuation notice?, I think to myself.

I alone am responsible for two little girls, eight horses, a dog and two cats. Thirteen living souls are counting on me; thirteen to one ratio.

As the weight of that responsibility starts to press down on me, I resolutely shake off. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I have to be real and make some kind of a plan in case the worst happens.

I stare unseeingly at the night sky as I mentally walk through each room. What would I take? What is irreplaceable?

I shake my head, somewhat surprised at the mental list I have complied: one week’s worth of clothes for each of us, pictures and photo albums, laptop and two external hard drives, the two tea cups that belonged to my grandmother and the blanket she made me when I was a baby.

Everything else is just stuff.

If the house burned to the ground, I might be hard pressed to remember half of what we lost. For the most part, it’s all just worthless stuff that clutters up my life.

I wrap my finger around a soft, dark curl just above my daughter’s ear and I know without a doubt that the only thing that isn’t replaceable is this little girl curled up in my arms. The expression a house isn’t a home without family, pops into my mind. I feel the truth of those words course through my body as surely as I feel the vibrations of the thunder.

It all boils down to family; that’s what matters most. My life would be an empty shell without my family.

If your house was on fire and suddenly a big blue genie appeared and said, “You can save your house and everything in it or you can save your family. You can’t have both. You have to choose.” I can’t imagine that anyone would choose their material possessions over their family. That’s a pretty simple conclusion.

However, here is observation that maybe isn’t as plainly obvious as the last: if we would all choose our families over material things, then why aren’t we doing that every day?

The most important thing in any human’s existence is its relationships with other humans. So why do they often take a back seat to everything else in our lives? Why do we treat the people we love with less kindness, respect and consideration than we give our co-workers or casual acquaintances?

When your time on this earth comes to its inevitable end, who will be there to hold your hand and kiss your cheek as you close your eyes for the last time? That vacation house, sports car, Coach purse or ATV that you worked so hard to get certainly won’t care when you are gone.

Making a bucket list is rather trendy and cool right now. However, I doubt that many people have “Making my family a priority” as item number one on their list.

This week I challenge you to evaluate all the people in your life and decide who are the most valuable and important. Are you making them a priority? Do you treat them better than all of the other less important people in your life? Do you love and care for them the way they deserve?

If you answered “No” to any of the above, then you have some work to do this week.

Your life will become so much richer and more meaningful if you do. That’s a promise.