I recently listened to this podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert on how instead of chasing passion (something she’s been preaching her entire career), you should be chasing CURIOSITY instead. And let me tell you, this spoke - so deeply and so profoundly - to my soul.
Over the years, I’ve watched and listened to successful, ambitious people talk about the importance of finding your one, true, passion. I was married to Bradford Frost - the most focus driven person I know. And while he supported my life of enthusiastic exploration, for years I felt inadequate in my lack of direction and singular passion. I’ve had countless jobs in countless industries. I’ve stopped and started. Changed directions and changed courses. I justified it (because when you’ve had cancer, you get to forever say, “Fuck it! Life’s too short!”) but I still felt less than because I didn’t have this - all caps - PASSION.
And then, listening to this podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert’s husband (also lacking a singular passion) said the most simple and profound words: "My passion is for life itself, in all its magnificent directions."
And sitting alone in my car, I felt understood. I felt seen.
Because I might not have one PASSION, but I am really good at living life in all its magnificent directions. In between all those jobs, I chased curiosities. I rode camels in the desert of Morocco. I swam in the Arctic waters of Norway. I climbed up glaciers in Iceland. I camped with a herd of elephants in South Africa. I slept under the brightest stars in the middle of the Australian outback. I read books. I tried new hobbies. I had countless conversations about cultures and politics and love and death. I gained perspective. I learned empathy. I listened. I learned. I expanded.
My best and most meaningful experiences came not because I chased a passion. But because I chased curiosity.
And a couple of years ago, I became ok living a life chasing curiosity. In fact, I moved to northern Michigan with the intention of creating a life of multiple passions. I have several jobs and get paid to write and tell stories.To explore nature. To be a shop keeper. To facilitate conversations with cancer survivors.
So to the 22 year old version of myself (and anyone else struggling to figure out your PASSION), just relax. And chase those curiosities instead.
I met a guy at a brewery recently. He was a friend of a friend of a friend from Detroit. He was a close talker - and not in the charming and intimate kind of way, but in the too-drunk-to-pay-attention-to-boundaries kind of way. After a couple minutes of small talk, with his warm alcohol breath in my ear, he slurred “I heard about your husband.” Apparently moving 200 miles north was not enough distance to separate this new life from my old one.
“Yeah. How did he die?”
I had zero interest in sharing the most affecting part of my life with this stranger, but I must admit, I did respect his complete drunken disregard for platitudes and his desire to jump straight to the juicy details.
“Cancer,” I replied, leaning away.
“Did he smoke?” he asked, leaning back in towards me.
The question hit me like a punch to the gut. That was my cue. I stood up and walked away.
“Where are you going?!" the drunk friend of a friend of a friend yelled before getting distracted by a nearby buddy with a fresh pitcher of beer.
If Brad smoked, did that mean - from this stranger’s perspective - his terminal diagnosis was justified? That somehow he deserved to die? If Brad smoked, did this tragedy somehow make sense?
The truth is, when we first met, Brad did smoke. I’d walk by his ground floor apartment on my way to class and see him sitting on his patio with his just-woke-up bedhead - a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, scribbling in his journal. Even though he had quit shortly after, and been a non-smoker for the majority of our decade plus relationship, when I think of Brad, that version still vividly pops up in my mind.
I get it. I get why this stranger wanted to know if he smoked. Healthy 35 year olds aren’t supposed to die without cause, right? One day he was fine, the next day he wasn’t. It’s not supposed to happen that way. So we create a “reason” so we can assure ourselves it could never happen to us. That drunk friend of a friend of a friend wasn’t actually asking how Brad died. He was asking why Brad died. So he could reassure himself that he wouldn’t - couldn’t - die the same way.
I don’t think that friend of a friend of a friend meant to be offensive. Whether he was aware or not, he was asking the question that would allow him to continue living in blissful ignorance. He was asking the question, so the other question - “could that be me?” - wouldn’t linger in his mind. He probably left that day and never thought about Brad again.
But his question stuck with me. And if I’m being truthful, I had my own period of time, wondering similar questions. Why did he die ? Was it a medication he was on? His alcohol consumption? Something in the water? A hidden toxin in our home? His diet? The way he carried his stress?
I was desperate for answers. I too, wanted to know why Brad died.
I understand where this friend of a friend of a friend was coming from. I do. But still, it made me feel like shit. It made me rage with anger. It made me want to stand up and scream at him, “does that make it ok?!”
Instead, I stood up and walked away.
People say a lot of unintentional shitty things, completely unaware of the effect it may have on the recipient. And I’m not necessarily mad at them for asking the insensitive question, no matter how valid/invalid it may be. I’m mad because it triggers my own anger and my own desperate desire for questions - questions I’ll never have answers to.
But even if the questions themselves aren’t “wrong,” for the sake of the grieving, I’d encourage you to really try to avoid being the person that triggers such rage in another.
So to help you out, from my experience, here are things you should probably avoid saying to someone who has recently lost a spouse (especially if you are a stranger. Or even a friend of a friend of a friend):
"Did he smoke/drink/do drugs/eat fast food/etc.?”
Even if he did and even if those lifestyle habits did lead to an illness, it’s not helpful. It provides zero comfort. As mentioned above, it triggers a Daenerys-Targaryen-just-lost-her-dragons level of rage. Even if I could connect the dots as to why Brad got a terminal illness - even with those answers - I’d still be just as sad/angry/shocked about his death. Ask it to yourself. Use that question to educate yourself on healthy lifestyle choices that can help you avoid future illness. But don’t ask me.
"At least it was quick.” “At least it was slow.” “At least you’re young and can meet someone else.” At least you had a lifetime together.” At least you didn’t have kids to take care of.” “At least you have kids to focus on.”
If your sentence starts with "at least…” just stop (unless it’s “at least I showed up with tacos and beer”). Saying “at least” is an attempt to put a positive spin on a negative situation. Let’s just all agree that losing your spouse is fucking negative.
“My grandfather/sixth cousin/pet parakeet also died from cancer, so I get it.”
Sharing grief stories is great - it’s healing, it allows you to feel less alone, and relate over a shared loss. We use our own experiences with loss to try and connect. But don’t let those be the first words out of your mouth when you are trying to support someone who just lost their partner. Comparing grief isn’t productive. We are different people who lost different people and who process loss differently. None of us get what someone else is going through. And bringing up your loss, shifts the focus to your own loss, instead of the person needing immediate support. There will be time for that later (if you're an actual friend and not just a friend of a friend of a friend).
“He’s in a better place.”
Sure. Maybe there is a heaven with all you can drink margaritas where you spend your days flying through the sky and your nights sleeping on a pillow of clouds (Maybe I’m confusing heaven with Care-a-Lot). But in the midst of my grieving, I don’t care. I'm selfish and think there is no better place (not even heaven - or Care-a-Lot) than here with me (and I believe Brad would agree. Because I'm fucking awesome.). Plus this brings up an assumption on an entire set of beliefs that you don’t know we share.
“I can’t imagine…”
Yes you can. You absolutely can imagine. It’s actually really easy. You can do it right now. You just imagine the person you love most in the world walking out the door today and not coming back tonight. You just imagine going to sleep in your shared bed alone and then waking up alone over and over again. You just imagine opening up your closet and realizing he will never wear those shoes again. You just imagine spending hours sifting through old videos just to hear his laugh one more time. It’s not that you can’t imagine. It’s that you don’t want to imagine. It’s that it’s too hard to imagine. It's that you are uncomfortable imagining.
So what can you say if you just met someone whose spouse has died?
"I’m so sorry.”
Look them in the eyes, don’t squirm in discomfort, actually imagine what they must be feeling, and say, “I’m sorry.” It’s direct. It’s simple. It’s thoughtful.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who had lost his wife last year. He asked me about my experience “running away” and when looking back, if it had ended up being the right choice for me. He was craving something similar but, understandably, scared to make a move.
Here’s the thing. They say not to do anything drastic after experiencing such a loss - don’t move, don’t switch jobs, don’t spend your money, don’t change. But I’m starting to believe that maybe “they” (whoever they are) have never actually experienced loss and that maybe “they” are sometimes full of shit.
When you lose your spouse, everything changes. Everything changes. Everything that was previously familiar suddenly becomes foreign. Your home, your social circle, you job, your routine. None of it makes sense anymore. It feels like waking up in a stranger’s bed. The smells are different. The sounds are different. Everything is different.
For me, the easiest way to cope with this feeling of unfamiliarity was to physically insert myself in new unfamiliar situations. To deal with unwanted change I needed to continue experiencing change (change of scenery, change of location, change of people). For me, that meant getting in my car and spending two months driving across the country and another month traveling through Iceland and Norway. For me, the best chance I had of moving forward in a life without Brad was to start outside of the place we had spent 10 years living together.
People may have thought my decision was irrational, but running away allowed me the opportunity to deal with this unwanted change on my own terms. It was space away from the closet filled with Brad’s clothes. And the bar where we would grab drinks after work. And the river where we would take morning walks with Dune. It was space away from eyes of pity and stares of concern. More than anything, running away allowed me the space to grieve.
And it was hard. Really hard. At times I was scared and uncomfortable and really fucking sad. But something unexpectedly beautiful also happened during that time. Without the pressure of expectations or outside influences, I stripped down to the barest version of myself and began to learn who I was and what I wanted, not as part of Brad and Dana, but as me (and yeah, that was hard too). I threw myself into the unknown and came out the other side, changed.
So yes, running away was the right choice for me. “They” all say not to do anything drastic, but if your heart is pulling you to change, you change. It’s your life. Don’t let “them” stop you from living it. And if you’re lucky. running away can actually lead you towards some changed version of yourself.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations about power - specifically the internal power we all possess. As I dream up future plans and ambitions for the Forced Joy Project (and subsequently ask myself why I am not doing more to chase those dreams), a wise woman recently told me that we are more afraid of our owning our power than of the possibility of failure. And let me tell you, that thought stuck with me. For days. Because the truth is, I feel like I’m on the edge of something great. And I’ve been afraid to take the next steps. And I told myself the narrative that is so common in so many of us: “I’ll take the next step when I have more time. When I have more money. When I have more experience. When I have more ideas. When I have more training.
I'll take the next step when...”
Examining this, I was able to acknowledge that it did, in fact, come down to fear. And for so long I assumed it was fear of failure. But it turns out it was fear of my own potential. Fear of my own power. Fear of success. I was afraid of putting myself out there and actually succeeding and having to own up to everything I am capable of. For so many years my comfort zone was in the middle. I felt safe in the ordinary. I was afraid to create waves, afraid to stand out, afraid to be noticed. Owning my power and owning my potential meant I had to accept that fact that I was deliberately pushing myself out of the middle and onto the edges. And living on the edge is terrifying.
Last week, I shared this story with my bff Jeremy and how much that comment about being afraid of our own power affected me. And for the first time, I admitted out loud to Jeremy that I wanted to be more than ordinary. I wanted to be this powerful, courageous, badass presence who isn’t afraid to take big risks. And Jeremy turned to me and said - in the most Jeremy BFF way - "maybe you should start by actually acknowledging that you already are a powerful, courageous, badass presence who isn’t afraid to take big risks.”
As usual, he was right. But I felt really uncomfortable saying it out loud because I am afraid of being seen as arrogant or narcissistic or egotistical. Because it’s easier to acknowledge our flaws than our strengths. And because it's easier to stay small, where I am praised for my quiet easiness, than to own my power and risk creating waves. But I don’t want to be small. I want to be - no, I am - a powerful, courageous, badass presence who isn’t afraid to take big risks. And that’s my ferocious truth.
Now tell me, what’s yours?
“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
For two years I’ve had this Samuel Beckett quote at the top of my notes. Each morning, as I began my writing for the day, I'd read It and feel the truth of the complexities of loving and losing and living in the aftermath. For two years it has been the quiet back-and-forth of my inner dialogue. For two years, I have had to verbally remind myself that, in spite of it all, I must go on.
Two years ago, I didn’t think I could.
Two years ago, my vocal, opinionated, extroverted husband whispered his final words. I held his hand and said, “I love you.” Brad looked me in the eyes, smiled, and replied with this one small word: “yes.” His body would hold on for another day, but that would be the final verbal exchange between the two of us.
When I think back to that day two years ago, I didn’t think I could go on. I didn’t think I could live through the pain of not having Brad in my life. I didn’t sleep. I sobbed on the floor for hours. I drank away my pain. I regularly thought to myself, “I can’t go on.”
But two years later, I have gone on.
I went on, not just because of my own strength and desire to live. But also because Brad deserved nothing less. I refused to waste my life when Brad’s was so unfairly cut short. I went on, in part, because of Brad's profound influence on me. Brad didn’t ever choose the easy path. He could have easily made more money, but chose to work in non-profits, serving his community. He could have lived in Boston or DC or Portland, but chose Detroit. He could have married any one of his many admirers who demanded less (hi ladies!), but he chose me. He could have talked his way through anything, but he chose to listen. He could have played it safe, but he chose risks. He chose courage. More than anything else, he chose a life of meaning.
Leading by example, Brad challenged me to be courageous. He emboldened me to ask the tough questions. He encouraged me to use my voice. He chased high expectations and big dreams. Witnessing someone reach for a life that substantial was infectious and it inspired me to reach further too.
Two years ago, Brad looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said, “yes.” That yes wasn’t just about loving me. It was about all the choices he had made - all the choices we had made in our life together.
And in the past two years, when I’d lay in my bed and cry and think “I can’t go on,” I inevitably think back to Brad's “yes” and I know: I will go on.
I started this blog as a way to both process my own feelings and also connect with others on a similar journey. Over the last two years, I've had countless people reach out - some who have been through their own grief and others who want to know how to handle loved ones who have experienced loss. Connecting with so many people - people who get it, people who want to get it, and people who are just curious - has been incredibly fulfilling for me. And because of those connections, I have decided to be more intentional with these posts, and create a new series where I answer any questions you all have.
Recently I asked those of you following on Instagram what topics you are curious about and what would be helpful to write about. And you guys delivered - bravely and boldly. You asked me about everything from grief (lots and lots of questions on grief), to guilt, to dating after loss, to being a caregiver, and everything in between.
So today is the first installment of the “Ask Me” series, where I’ll be answering all your questions on grief, loss, cancer, joy, and widowhood. Have a question? Shoot me an email.
Q: How do you handle the fear of growing old alone?
A: I wanted to dive into this question first because I think it's a pretty immediate fear from anyone who loses their partner at a young age.
When I was younger, I never really had a fear of growing old alone. I had this picture of myself as a strong, independent woman surrounded - not by a husband - but by a house full of dogs.
Ironic, right? Did my 17 year old self manifest this current reality? Yeah, probably not.
The truth is, I didn’t want to grow old alone, even then. My earlier “manifestation” was really just created out of fear. I feared I would never find a partner so I created this vision of my future that didn’t rely on finding love. I had no healthy examples of love or marriage at that point in my life, so I was unable to picture if for myself. I began putting up walls early to protect myself from future hurt.
And then I met Brad. And he persistently and stubbornly broke down those walls. I felt secure in both my relationship and in my future. Honestly, with Brad, I felt secure in myself. And I never imagined the possibility of him dying young and leaving me to handle the “growing old” part alone. It just wasn’t an option I had considered. If anything, I was going to die and leave him to figure out the rest. He was always better at long term planning anyway.
But here I am. Alone with regular thoughts about my future and certainly not getting any younger.
So how do I handle the fear? On my best days, I live my life as the strong, badass, warrior I am, knowing I’ll be fulfilled in my future, whether I am with a partner or not. I fill my days connecting with friends and family and writing and laughing and exploring. I fill my days creating the best version of myself so that whether or not I grow old “alone” I’ll be surrounded by those I love (including myself), doing the things I love.
But on my worst days? On those days, I give in to the crippling loneliness I feel. The intense yearning for another human. For touch. For intimacy. For companionship. I imagine living my life as that same badass warrior chick but never getting to share that with another person. Never building a lifetime of inside jokes reserved just for you and your person. Never again being looked at like a magical fucking unicorn. On my worst days, I deeply feel that loneliness and wonder if I'll still feel that way 5, 10, 20 years from now. And it’s really fucking hard. And honestly, I don’t always handle it well. I sink into the temporary depression, turn on the saddest of sad music, and feel sorry for myself. It’s not pretty. But I do think it’s valuable to allow myself to go there. Because even when I’m in my deep, dark sinkhole, I know I’m not going to stay there. Not forever. (To anyone stuck in your own sinkhole, know that this is a huge shift from the earlier days, where I felt like I’d live and die in that sinkhole of depression. It does get better.)
Most days, I'm somewhere in between.
If I'm being honest, I’m not sure I actually believe I’ll grow old alone (also a shift from the early sinkhole days). I'm aware that I am young enough that I still may get 50 or more beautiful years with another person. And the truth is, that idea is just as scary as growing old alone. Because after Brad died, a lot of those early walls went back up. I stopped depending on - or asking for - help. After depending on another person for so long, I decided I needed to protect myself and stop depending on anyone. Because what if there isn't another person? What if it is just me? Imagining a different version of the reality you thought you’d get isn’t easy. Accepting a different version of the reality you thought you'd get really isn't easy.
So really, for me, it is balancing the fear of growing old alone along with the fear of growing old with somebody who isn’t Brad. And in order to really dissect that, I’d have to dive into dating and sex and men (all of which you guys bravely asked about), so I'll reserve that for a future “Ask Me” post. In the meantime, if you fear growing old alone, just try and be the best, most interesting, most compelling, most fun version of yourself. For yourself. And I honestly believe/hope the rest will fall into place.
The fall equinox. A change in season. A change in light.
Today was supposed to be our 10 year wedding anniversary. We were supposed to renew our vows on the beach in Northern Michigan. We were supposed to rent a house for our family and friends. We were supposed to have a casual dinner party on the beach, catered by a local chef who picked the menu based on what was found at the farmer’s market that day. We were supposed to dance as the sun went down. We were supposed to swim under the moonlit sky. We were supposed to sit by a bonfire laughing and singing and telling stories until the sun came back up. I was supposed to be barefoot. Carefree. Happy.
I know what we were supposed to do because we talked about it, two years ago, on our 8th wedding anniversary. We talked about it because I suppose I used to be the kind of girl who liked to plan and talk about her future. The kind of girl who liked to plan momentous celebrations with those she loves. I was the kind of girl who created a Pinterest board, filled with inspirations of outdoor dinner parties and beach bonfires. A Pinterest board now haunting me, full of images reminding of where I’m supposed to be. A board that keeps its company next to all the other boards of future trips and dinner recipes and experiences that Brad and I will never share together.
Things change. One season ends and another begins.
Brad used to joke he’d marry me as many times as it took for our marriage to stick. He knew my family and its history of multiple divorces (and subsequently multiple marriages), and refused to follow suit. So we got married for the first time on a Saturday in front of our friends and family and for the second time, the following Monday, on the fall equinox. It only made sense that we’d eventually get married a third time too. It's what we were supposed to do.
But that changed too.
And now, instead of spending this weekend on a beach, surrounded by loved ones, recommitting to my future, I am spending the equinox in solitude. I am spending this time reflecting on both my love with Brad and also reflecting on my future with myself. Like the equinox, it feels equally divided between the darkness and the light.
I was supposed to be somewhere else today. Instead, I am here, at Glacier National Park, spending the first day of fall climbing mountains and, once again, turning over a new leaf.
Earlier this summer, I spent 5 days backcountry camping throughout the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. Over those 5 days, as I struggled with the weight of my pack, the pains, the moments of joy, and the elements, I realized how similar a trek in the wilderness is to the grief journey. Along the way, I wrote this post.
Grief is a lot like a backcountry trek. The weight of the pack, like grief, becomes deeply ingrained in you. Whether you are aware of it or not, it becomes a part of you.
In the beginning, the weight feels unbearable. You ask yourself how you can possibly make it past the first day. How you can possibly lift the weight by yourself. You sit and stare in disbelief. Frozen in shock, you initially refuse to carry the weight. You tell yourself you can't. But eventually you realize you have no choice. So you pick up your weight and take a single step. And then another. And another. It is heavy. You feel the pain with every inch forward. But you keep moving until you have survived your first day and are able to rest.
The next day, as you put the pack back on, you immediately notice the discomfort - the soreness and bruises from the weight - a reminder of the previous day’s struggle. You feel it in every single new step. Eventually, you settle into the pain and are able to move through it. Eventually, it becomes a part of you. You carry it and you feel its presence, but you also start to notice other things besides the pain. Eventually you start to notice the joy.
As time goes on, you still feel the pain, you still know it’s there, but it’s less acute, less piercing. If you’re lucky, you have people that can help lighten the load and carry the weight with you. But for the most part, you know you have to rely on yourself to keep moving. You know the weight is yours to carry.
The heaviness of the weight takes its toll on you physically. You are no longer as bright and shiny as when you started. You are more worn. But soon you will start to embrace this full and messy and imperfect version of yourself. Your life will become bigger as you learn to feel it all. You recognize the beauty in places you never would have been able to before. You begin to find light in the darkness.
Sometimes your path is through miles of muddy shit. You slip. You lose your balance. You fall. But you keep going. Sometimes barriers have blocked your path. You must lift your weight and climb over them. The terrain becomes rocky and you must learn how to navigate your unsteadiness. You wander off your path and get lost. You fall again. You rest. You keep going. You try and stay present through this new and foreign terrain because you begin to learn that inevitably there are respites of beauty that make the struggle bearable; that allow you to keep going, in spite of the pain. You begin to embrace the beauty.
At first the weight is a burden. You long for the familiar past and yearn for some different future, where the weight doesn’t feel so heavy. Because the weight will exhaust you - in ways you never thought you could be exhausted. You will ache, physically and emotionally, because of it. And you will thirst for lighter days. But you will learn to find different ways to cope with the pain of the weight, so as not to be crushed by it.
You will face many uphill battles and the weight will feel impossible to carry. Don’t think about the entire uphill journey. Don’t focus on the top of the mountain. Focus on the first step. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. When necessary, slow down. Take a break. Pause. Remind yourself of what there is to look forward to, even if it feels unreachable.
Eventually the weight becomes second nature. You learn to balance with it. You learn to carry it through the ups and downs of the terrain. As time goes on, you don’t become weaker, as you first suspected. No, the extra weight makes you stronger, more capable. You become more resourceful, relying on yourself and the elements around you.
In the end, you’re not the same person who started the trek. Not better. But different. Changed. And as much as you might want to at times, you can never go back to the previous version of yourself. Embrace this new, stronger, messier, more human version of yourself. Connect with others who have walked a similar path, and who have carried their own weight. Find those who see your weary eyes and are able to recognize your bright soul.
I’ve been struggling with how to write this post for over a week now. Because eventually, when life continues to hand you unbelievable and shockingly shitty situations, you just stop finding the words. You stop finding the energy to even look for the words.
Instead you take action. One hour, one day, at a time, you do what needs to get done. You go through the process. Through the motions. Eventually the words will come.
But first actions.
The last two weeks have been full of action - hours on the phone with insurance companies and the disability office and doctor’s offices. Hours in the car driving back and forth between Michigan and Virginia. Hours trying to make a plan.
Because when someone you love is struggling, you show up. You take action.
And my dad, he’s been struggling.
Two weeks ago, he was diagnosed with Esophageal cancer.
Yet again, cancer has reemerged into our lives.
My dad hasn’t had it easy the last few years. He’s been in and out of the hospital with complications due to diabetes, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. And now, on top of it all, a cancer diagnosis.
It’s too much to go through alone. It’s something no one should have to go through alone. And because his prior health conditions complicates an already complicated situation, we decided the best option for him would be to live with me in Northern Michigan.
So we came up with a plan of action. Get him new health insurance. Get him set up on dialysis. Find his new team of doctors. Move him up. Start treatment.
But life doesn’t always go as planned, as we’ve learned all too well. Due to a series of obstacles, we are now stuck in limbo. Stuck in Detroit, in between his old home and his new. Stuck between the past and the future. Stuck without any concrete answers or any concrete plans.
It’s hard. All of it. Cancer always is.
And another diagnosis obviously brings up a lot of triggers for me - unexpected ER trips, oncology appointments, endless research trying to gain knowledge and answers. Fear. Hope. Love. It triggers it all.
But as difficult as it will be, I know I can handle it. Because we’ve been here before. And I am grateful to be in a position to be able to help. Grateful that I have a room to share in my home on the lake. Grateful for the time with my dad, who I haven’t lived with since I was four.
So for now, we are in Detroit coming up with the next steps for the difficult journey ahead. For now, we are just trying to take it a single step at a time.
I may not have the words yet, but hopefully soon we’ll have the actions.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” -C.S. Lewis
It’s been 18 months since Brad’s death and I still feel full of fear. Grief tends to do that - bring up all kinds of fears, some more rational than others. Fear of getting sick and dying of cancer seems to be an obvious one. Fear of an unknown future ahead is another. Fear of loneliness. Fear of public perception. Fear of failure.
But so many fears within grief seem to be wrapped in an impossible duality, one where you feel stuck between two opposing forces - like being both afraid of the dark and afraid of the light. At all times the pain of the loss is also, concurrently, connected with the joy of remembrance.
Living life in this duality of grief isn’t easy. But the only way to prevent those fears from holding you back is to feel them, acknowledge them, and eventually let them go.
So in an effort to release them, here are (some of) my (many) fears.
I am afraid I will never get over the loss of Brad. That his death is so entwined in my body and in my soul, that I will be broken forever.
And I am afraid of feeling his loss less. Of continuing on with my life and not thinking about him every waking (and sometimes sleeping) second. I am afraid of the day I wake up and his absence feels normal.
I am afraid of forgetting. Forgetting all the tiny little things that made up Brad. His mannerisms. His expressions. His witty banter. His laugh.
And I am afraid of remembering. His diagnosis. His rapid decline. All the trauma that still haunts me surrounding his death.
I am afraid of being alone forever. Of never connecting with anyone the way I did with Brad. Never again being seen or understood. Never being supported. Never having a partner to go through the joys and pain that life inevitably throws at us.
And I am afraid of not being alone. Of being open and vulnerable enough to let my guard down. To let someone else in. To allow another into my grief. Into my joy. To let someone else see and understand and support me.
I am afraid of never feeling like myself again. Of old traits - that used to come so freely - now come a little slower and with an extra weight of heaviness.
And I am afraid of this person I am becoming. This person that I have grown to respect and admire, but is inescapably different. I am afraid of changing so much that I would be unrecognizable to Brad.
I am afraid of the future. Of everything yet to come. I am afraid of planning a new future built for one, instead of the old future, built for two.
And I am afraid of the past. I am afraid of feeling stuck in the past and forgetting to fully live in the present. I am afraid that every future joy will be compared to every past joy.
I am afraid of how much I feel pain. Not just my own, but in other’s who are experiencing loss too. I am afraid of how much I will feel future pains, before they even arrive.
And I am afraid of becoming numb to pain. Of losing that empathy and becoming jaded. I am afraid that because of my experience I might one day start to minimize that pain.
I am afraid of grief. The grief that sits so deep in my bones that it creates a burden to every joyful experience. That for the rest of my life, every happy moment will be coupled with the weight of grief.
And I am afraid of joy. Of every single blissful moment that Brad will never get to experience alongside me.
I am afraid of death. And I am afraid of life.
I am afraid of it all.
I am afraid.
And I don’t want to be afraid.