I have that exact magnet on my refrigerator, and I’ll tell you why…
This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of a period of dramatic change in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the beginning of one of the roughest periods of my life as well. It began when one of our pugs, Coco, who was only 5 years old, died suddenly in our home. Just four days later, my dad was involved in a DUI that was so bad that the EMTs and police were sure that it was a fatality when they arrived on the scene. I actually drove by the scene as they were cleaning it up but had no idea it was my dad until the following day when my husband heard through it through the grapevine and had to come home and let me know. I was fairly certain I was going to lose my mind at that point. I was so shaken up at the idea of nearly losing Dad and so angry with him for not letting the emergency workers contact me to let me know that he’d been hurt. He was so concerned with keeping the fact that he’d been drinking from me that he couldn’t understand why I was so hurt.
Then just two weeks later, I got a call letting me know that my beloved grandma Dorothy was dying. I’ve talked about her before – she was my heroine, my role model and really, the only mother I ever knew. Even though it scared me, I stayed there in the room with her and my other family members as she passed. I’ve since come to realize that it was a profound gift to be there with her when she left this world, even though the pain of losing her was almost unbearable.
Over the next year or so, I lost two more family members. I never felt like I healed from any of those wounds before the next blow came. Then in February 2011, I went in for surgery to repair herniated and blown disks in my neck. While I was healing from my surgery, I found out my mom, who was living in New Mexico at the time, was gravely ill. She’d suffered a stroke and some other health issues right before I went in for my surgery, but it seemed that she was healing, albeit slowly. Within a month, she was gone. Even when my brother came to my house to prepare me (he’d gotten a call letting him know that Mom wasn’t going to last the night), I kept thinking he’d come to tell me that she was improving. Up until we got that final call, I still didn’t believe it. Her funeral services are a blur to me – I had a friend ask me recently if she’d attended Mom’s viewing, and I honestly can’t remember for sure. Those days I could barely get out of bed and the only thing that kept me from absolutely breaking apart was my family and Xanax. A bunch of drama blew up after she passed, but at that point, I didn’t even care.
Then in May, my grandpa Chester passed away. He’d been fighting Alzheimer’s for years, following a series of strokes and heart attacks, but he always seemed so strong even in spite of all that. The shock of losing him never fully set in – I had become so numb from all the other loss I think my mind just shut down at that point.
Soon after all this, our two oldest children moved out on their own. I wasn’t prepared at all for how that would affect me. They only lived an hour away, but not seeing them every day was just one more loss I wasn’t prepared to deal with.
Things were quiet for awhile and then in April of 2012, we found out my father-in-law George had lung cancer. Within 7 short months, he was gone. Even when the nurses said he only had 3 weeks to live, I thought they were full of shit. This was a guy who should’ve been retired but could never sit still long enough to enjoy retirement. He was still working, still mowing grass, working on the house, helping all of us out with various projects around our houses. George was a do-er. He was a man of steel. Invincible. And then he was gone. I didn’t even know how to help my husband and children grieve his loss at that point. I remember seeing my dad at the viewing, shaking my husband’s hand, giving me a hug, not knowing what to say, feeling so helpless. I knew how he felt.
Three months later, Daddy was gone. It happened so suddenly, and the circumstances were just horrific. I still have no idea how I got through the week leading up to his funeral. My dad wasn’t married, so it fell to my brother and I to do all the funeral planning, which I think was actually a lifesaver. It kept me busy enough that I didn’t have to think too much or feel too much. The day of the funeral came and I remember feeling so angry. Angry that I’d lost him so soon, angry at all the stupid, pointless things people say in those kind of situations, angry with myself for being angry at people who were just trying to be nice, angry that I hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye, angry that I wasn’t there with him when he died. The funeral itself is a blur. I remember getting hysterical at one point when they handed me the flag from his casket, but I don’t remember much else.
Six months after Dad died, his brother Doug passed suddenly. It was like losing Dad all over again. I hadn’t even begun to start grieving my dad when I lost another family member. At that point, I was just pissed at the entire world. Sick of funerals, scared to death to answer my phone for fear it was bad news, and convinced that I was cursed somehow. I really felt that life was testing me – pushing me to see just how much it would take to finally break me. I was terrified that something would happen to my kids or my husband because I knew that would be the thing that would send me over the edge.
And every day I’d pass by that goddamn magnet. I’m pretty sure I nearly threw it away about a dozen times. I’m absolutely sure I flipped it the bird a time or twelve. “Keep going”?!? Like I had any other choice! I cried and ranted and raved and broke things so many times and yet I kept going. I didn’t know what else to do. Lucky for me I’m stubborn as all hell.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not for sympathy. And it’s not to one up anyone who’s gone through their own hell. It’s to prove a point, and that is this: that stupid magnet is right. The only way to get through hell is just to keep going. If I’d stopped at any point and let all that shit catch up to me, I’m not sure I’d be here right now. If I’d allowed myself to climb into a beer bottle or a bottle of Xanax to cope, I’d be stuck right in that same hell. I had to keep going and I was determined not only was I going to keep going, I was going to somehow create a better life for myself out of all the wreckage. And I have. It’s been years of progress and setbacks, of soul-crushing depths and also moments of heartbreaking beauty. It’s been a dirty, nasty, knock-down-drag-out fight, but I survived it and I used it to make the life that I have now. And my life now is pretty damn good.
Does any of this make me an expert on depression or grief or recovery or any of that stuff? No, not at all. It just means when I talk about changing your life by changing your thinking, I know it can work. It means that I know that it’s not easy to overhaul your entire mindset with positive thinking and self-care, but I know it can be done and I know that it’s worth it. It means that I’ve been through hell and clawed my way out of it. I’m not saying this as someone who’s had a rough day here and there and decided I wanted to write a self-help blog full of perky quotes. I think that there’s a bigger “why” in all of this and I think I made it through not just so that I could finally have a peaceful, happy life, but so that I could share what I’ve been through and hopefully make others see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train! I’m not someone who’s necessarily comfortable with showing all my scars, but I don’t think that any of this matters unless I’m honest and open about why I’m passionate about what I’m doing.
So if you’re going through hell, keep going. And trust me when I say that it’s worth the fight. YOU’RE worth the fight.
Much love – Mama Bear