10 Lessons From Grief in the Past 10 Years
10 years since cancer won.
10 years since you left.
10 years since my world changed forever.
7 years since you went in to the hospital
7 years since our roles were reversed and I started taking care of you
7 years since you got your death sentence
On this 10th anniversary of my mom’s death I want to share ten things I’ve learned since her passing. It’s also 7 years since my dad got sick so I’m sharing 7 insights from those close to me that have gone through similar journeys.
Now, these things aren’t necessarily related exclusively to her dying or him being terminally ill. Rather, these are things I wouldn’t have learned had my life not been placed on its trajectory due to her untimely death and his diagnosis.
1. Grief Lasts Forever Grief may become easier. Grief may diminish. But, grief will never go away. It becomes your new normal. It creeps up on you when you’re having a great time. It reminds you that life is short and to cherish every moment. As I expressed in a post on grief last year – your broken self gets put back together with missing pieces; creating a whole with a hole.
2. Your Circle of Support is Important AF
Be it friends, family, colleagues, the therapist you pay $150/hr, or even the barista at your regular coffee joint - the people you surround yourself with shape your life, influence your experience and reflect both what you feel on the inside and what you are hoping for on the outside. It’s no coincidence many of those in my circle have lost a parent.
Love for yourself. Love for others. Love for life. Love, in every way, has been affected. I have learned the importance of loving myself and treating myself with respect (self-care, body acceptance, you name it). I have learned that those I love can be taken away at any moment and to cherish them deeply. And I have learned that a love life isn’t the most important thing in life. Rather, finding a partner that is supportive, caring and a generally wonderful human, is a bonus and not a necessity.
Family, blood or chosen, are my top priority. I mean I’m important too 😂 but they come before other things like work stress or trivialities. You learn to cherish those closest to you and place importance on the small moments you share with them over material things or little disagreements.
5. Following Your Passion
We all know how fleeting life can be - take hold of the time you have and use it to pursue what’s important to you. If I hadn’t lost my mom, I’m certain I never would’ve found my passion for fitness, yoga and wellness. Though I’m not currently training or teaching, I still value the knowledge I accumulated and try to apply it to my everyday life. This is the same reason I wrote a book, even though my life was upside down the entire time I wrote it. If you have passion for something, don’t let anything stand in your way. You could get hit by a bus before you take that first step. That would be a shame.
That brings me to my 7th point - writing. Writing has proven to be extremely cathartic for me, but I know that research has proven it to be cathartic in general for anyone going through a rough time. Sometimes all it takes is getting your thoughts out on paper or screen to make sense of them all.
7. Online Communities of Support
Grief, caregiving, any uncommon hardship - at a younger age particularly - can be isolating. While it has been difficult to find others in the Montreal community who have gone through similar journeys, I have found the most amazing community online. While I do think the benefit would be even higher if these fantastic people were in the same city as me, I am so lucky to have connected with them.
8. Therapy & Medication
Sometimes, inner work and self-care in all its forms are just not enough to help you through the tough times. When I was at my wits end and no longer able to heal myself all by myself, I sought professional help. On the brink of another burnout I reached out to my network and one of my besties connected me with a friend who happened to be a therapist. It’s almost a year now that I am seeing her and almost 6 months that I’m on an antidepressant. Am I still depressed? ABSOLUTELY. But, it’s manageable now :)
9. Time Doesn’t Heal
People like to say it does, but I can tell you it sure as hell doesn’t! And not just with regards to loss… Time, by itself, can’t actually heal anything. Healing takes hard work. It takes discipline. It takes introspection.
10. The Unknown
Not knowing sucks. Not knowing is the worst. Not knowing is a part of life. Accepting that you don’t know it all and don’t have all the answers is a part of moving forward from any sort of trauma, at least in my opinion. When my mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, we had to accept that we didn’t know if she would make it. When my dad fell ill, we didn’t know what was wrong with him. Until his official diagnosis 4 years in, we had to accept that we didn’t know whether he would get better or not. Once he was diagnosed and we knew with certainty that he was terminally ill, we had to accept that we wouldn’t know when his death would come. We still don’t. It’s difficult, and stressful, and worry-inducing but it also makes the time we spend with him that much more wonderful.
And here are some bonus lessons, from several friends and fortunate connections:
1. Sabrina lost her dad tragically when she was just 16 years old. She shares some of her unique wisdom here:
Compassion, softness and resilience are the 3 main things grief has taught me. Having had to experience an intense trauma at such a young age forced me to grow up very quickly but ultimately, I am grateful. I live life to the fullest and devote my life to serving others. Having the capacity to understand trauma has given me the tools to serve and heal those in need of emotional and spiritual guidance. As difficult as it was (and still is) to lose a parent suddenly, I am thankful for all that it has taught me
2. Andrea is one of my longest-known besties. She lost her mom when she was just 11 years old – she had this insight to share about the many years that have followed:
It was my choice to wallow in my grief and I know now that it wasn’t healthy for me. I didn’t choose how my life unfolded but I was capable of choosing how to live with it.
3. Priya is my boss and friend. She lost her dad when she was 15 and her mom currently has breast cancer. I am inspired by her each day as a *successful* female entrepreneur, mother of 3, and carer to her mom. This is what she has learned:
Seeing someone you love become ill and, ultimately, pass makes you realize your mortality and appreciate what’s most important in life.
4. Lisa’s husband has had ALS for the past 2 years. We met on Instagram once I decided to share my caregiving journey and I am grateful to have "met" her.
The one thing I have learned in the past 22 months of our ALS journey Is that there are still kind people in this world. If it wasn’t for ALS I would have missed out on meeting all these amazing people who are sadly battling the same monster. Life is short - tell people how you feel about them. Take the trip. Don’t wait to live life because it might be too late to live it.
5. Selena lost her dad to ALS about 2 months ago. We also met through Instagram and I am so honoured to know her.
Since my dad’s ALS diagnosis, my life has completely changed both slowly and suddenly. For better or worse I couldn’t say, but everything has changed. Because of this, I have learned resiliency and strength. As great as that sounds, no one should have to learn these things about themselves in the way I had to. Being a caregiver to a loved one will humble you really quick. And yet, I will forever miss the love that lived between my dad and I during the time I helped care for him. How it has changed me for the long term? I’ve yet to find out.
6. Sara and I connected on Facebook about a year after my dad was diagnosed, thanks to a Facebook group for ALS Caregivers. She lost her dad to cancer when she was 21, then her mom to ALS just four years later. We couldn't believe how similar our situations were. This is what she had to say:
After the loss of both parents I became obsessed with trying to eternalize them. I didn’t want people to forget them. I didn’t want people to not know the ones who created me. I didn’t want a world where I was raising grandkids (that my parents so dreamed of having) who didn’t know their grandparents. I was stuck in a panic trying to keep my parents alive after they died. And then one day it hit me. I didn’t have to work so hard to keep them alive because every fibre of my being speaks to the legacy of my parents. Who they raised me to be and that is so deeply ingrained in my existence that I will never live in a world completely void of my parents influence. They are alive in me and in my memories and I will tell the same story of them 10 times and then 100 times more.
7. Penny and I recently connected on Instagram. She is writing a book about caregiving/grief and interviewed me to include my story in her book! Stay tuned for it in 2020 :) She has this nugget of wisdom to share after losing her mom at 22:
You can handle so much more than you imagined. My mothers death almost 20 years ago and the time I spent supporting her before that have shaped who I am to the point I can’t imagine who I would be without those experiences. Now that I am raising a disabled child, I’m using skills that I had unknowingly been cultivating for years. Would I give it all back to have my mother? Of course. But I’m also grateful for all that she taught me through her illness and death. And she would have loved to know that she helped me be the best mother I could be.