The saying goes, “Everywhere you go there you are.” I have found that everywhere I go, grief goes too. There is simply no escaping it. It’s been 27 months since my daughter, Emily, was poisoned by fentanyl and died. To the outside world, it looks as if I am doing just fine. And to be honest, there are moments where I am okay. The ground is steady under my feet and I feel as if I am part of this world once again. But in a blink of an eye, that ground can give way, pushing me into the abyss of grief.
My unwanted companion was especially evident to me when I got away to the Atlantic Ocean for a week. I desperately needed a break after the crazy news cycle brought on by the pandemic and civil unrest. I was grateful to be able to go to a beautiful place with my family for rest and relaxation. It was isolated and it was perfect. We biked, took walks on the beach, body surfed the waves, got stung by jellyfish (it wasn’t serious) and cooked fresh seafood at night. My husband and I are about to be empty nesters, so I enjoyed every second with my college-aged kids who accompanied us on the trip.
However, grief still never left my side. I found myself talking about Emily quite a bit. I told stories of memories from past family vacations. I talked about what she would have enjoyed, or not, had she been with us. Everything seemed to bring up a memory of her. But my loss struck especially hard on my final morning of our stay, when I headed out to walk on the beach to tell the ocean goodbye. We had seven glorious days and this one was no different, with the sun rising in the sky, casting a sparkle on the water and sand. As I looked at the puffy clouds in the sky, I asked the questions that never leave me: Why? Why don’t I have my daughter any more? Why did her life have to go this way? How will I keep going on without her, for the rest of my life? As I walked along that beautiful beach, tears streamed down my face and I sobbed her name over and over again
Those questions have no answers. I miss her so very much, no matter where I go, or what I do. And it will be that way for the rest of my days. The famous poem “Footprints in the Sand,” describes Jesus walking by our side. However, the footprints in the sand next to mine are grief. Grief is my constant companion—on vacation, at home, at work, while I work out, brush my teeth and even while I sleep. I am sure this is the case for every parent who has lost a child. Now the question is, how do we learn to make room for grief without letting it destroy our lives?
The trauma of my daughter’s overdose will never leave me. The despair of thinking I may have another two or three decades to live without her is unbearable. Gratitude for what I do still have in my life helps keep me grounded. But I recently heard something from spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra, that I have made my mantra and it is giving me some peace: “The past is gone. The future is not yet here. NOW I am free of both.” You’ve no doubt heard that the secret of happiness is living in the moment. Yet, it’s extremely hard for any of us to do. I remind myself that the past is gone, and even if I had all the answers to “why” it happened the way it did, it will never bring my daughter back. I can’t worry about my future without her, because it simply isn’t here yet. Now I am truly free of both the past and the future, if I can stay in this moment and not let my mind travel back or ahead. I must also accept that grief is only a memory or thought away and will often show up when I least expect it or am least prepared for it. But instead of fighting it, I’m learning to ride the wave of grief and if I can bring myself back to the present moment, I will find my feet firmly planted in the warm sand, as a gentle breeze dries the salty ocean water on my skin.
Faith, Hope & Courage,