Recently I had the most incredible experience. I was allowed to share my story of recovery with a grief support group at a neighborhood middle school. I felt very privileged. I can’t imagine dealing with death while going through middle school. Those years are such a time of change and growth.
Before meeting with the students I spoke with Ann White at The Healing Center in hopes that I might better understand what part of my experience would best support them in dealing with their grief. Surrounded by the Healing Center’s warmth, I melted into the soft chair next to Ann and found myself holding back tears as I told her about my fiance Mark who was killed in an accident 17 years ago. A lot of years have passed since Mark’s death and I don’t cry about it much anymore, so I felt silly. Ann reached across and touched my arm. “It’s okay to cry. And it will be okay for the kids to see that even after many years have gone by, you have a special place in your heart for Mark.”
Thank you. Even an old lady like me felt relieved to hear it out loud.
Ann related the grief of a loved one to a scar. She said the pain in your heart, just like a scar, can heal and be stronger than before, but it can also be very sore to the touch.
I felt the pain melt away.
I talked to the middle schoolers about my life. How lucky I feel to be in this world sharing my life with my husband and kids. That I am a writer and I have just finished writing a book. That I am a fashion model and an athlete. That I had played basketball in college, and still play and coach basketball. I shared with them that there was a time in my life when I would not have thought any of it possible.
I explained that my finane Mark and I had been hit by a train. He had been killed and I wished I had been too. I told them about a friend, Solvieg, who during my recovery, said that grief hurt but over time I would feel better. “I’m not sure I believed her at the time,” I told the students, “but I did agree with the fact that I was hurting.” And now I see that Solvieg was right. After my accident, after losing Mark, ever so slowly I began to feel better.
But along with time, there were several things that helped me in my journey of recovery, and when I talked with the students I explained that everyone’s experience is different but I hoped they could draw something useful from my experience. First of all, I cried a lot. I had great family support and I was allowed to cry and cry and yes…cry. I did not have to go to school or work and act like everything was okay. Finding the time to cry is not always an easy task but for me, it was an important part of grieving.
I took life one-step-at-a-time. I was able to do that during the worst times thanks to my history as an athlete. How many times had I gone to basketball practice and pushed myself to work hard even when I was injured or simply sick and tire of practicing three hours a day. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I put my “never give up attitude” from basketball to good use on my journey of recovery.
A month after Mark was killed, I began writing in a journal. Writing may not be for everyone, but it was helpful for me to put my anger and pain on paper. How could this have happened? Why do I have to live without Mark? How can I go on? Every time, the words hit the page they allowed me to move forward in my recovery. To find a way to move ahead with my life. I believe that the journal doesn’t have to be fancy, sometimes it’s better if it’s not, that way you’re not afraid to write in it, dirty it’s beautiful pages.
Last, I found something I was passionate about to focus on…playing basketball. Trying to play basketball again, gave me something to live for. It helped me to move toward a life filled with happiness and love. Find your passion. Find a reason to live.
While meeting Ann at the Healing Center, she had asked me a question that penetrated my soul. “What gifts did Mark give you?” I had never thought of it like that before. At home I let the question swim around in my mind. I knew Mark was a part of me now and forever, I had written about him and how he changed my life, but I had never thought of it in that way. “What gifts did Mark give me?” I remembered how when we visited Marks grandparent’s he would chop wood, cut back branches that drooped across their drive, and look for other odd jobs to help around their house. Or what about how he had saved money to get a limosine for each of his three sisters for their 21st birthdays. (Not one, but three sisters.) Mark was thoughtful. that was one gift I have tried to implement into my life. I don’t always succeed but because of him I increase my effort. It has been nice to begin to identify and recognize many of the gifts that Mark has given me.
Just last week, I lost my grandfather “Bampa“. And I found it very comforting to look at the gifts he has given me. From something as simple as tickling my feet when I was a little kid (Oh how I loved that simple loving touch) to the way he lived and share his life.
Looking around the room during the middle school support group meeting, I realized that there were many gifts given to us in our lifetime and those given to us by the ones we have loved and lost have a special meaning.
While in the depth of grief I wouldn’t have seen it, but now I recognize the gifts that Mark and my grandfather have given me. And just as important I remind myself of the gifts that are given to me every day as I live my life. The mom that rescued my kids from piano when I worked late, the “walrus dancing” email sent by my middle school friend Kirsten that brought a chuckle during tax time, the sticky cookies-n-cream ice cream mustache kiss from my son. All of them are gifts. Sometimes when life gets hurried I forget about how precious life is, but then I think about Mark. I think about Bampa. I think about what is really important in life, my family and friends, and I feel very lucky indeed.
…remember the gifts.