I was recently forced into one of the longest breaks I’ve taken since Emily’s death. On the day of our big Emily’s Hope Art Show & Auction, I began to lose my voice. I led the program that night, but it was painful as I tried to project myself on stage. The next day I woke up with no voice at all and a horrible cough. A visit to the doctor confirmed I had bronchitis and laryngitis (not COVID-19). I was horribly sick for seven long days, which will drive any fitness fanatic nuts alone! However, I also could not speak at all! My voice is so incredibly important for all of the roles I have in life, from broadcast journalist to the leader of Emily’s Hope and podcast host.
As the days went on and I started to feel a little better, my voice still refused to return. I tried every home remedy and pharmaceutical one possible. I am currently on Day 14 and can only speak very hoarsely, and only for a little while before I have to stop to cough or take a drink. A specialist scoped my throat and determined that my vocal cords were simply irritated and that it would take even more time for my voice to return.
This unexpected hiatus from my daily routine and activities sent me on a downward spiral emotionally and I began to feel the dark shadow of depression flooding over me. I couldn’t rely on usual work or social distractions to keep me busy and ultimately prevent me from dwelling on the loss of my sweet girl. I realized that between my demanding, high-performance job with its incessant deadlines and spending all the rest of my waking hours focused on the success of Emily’s Hope and helping as many people as possible, I had effectively pushed my feelings of grief down about as far as they could go.
Now I couldn’t work, couldn’t talk—not even a little—and I was forced to look grief right in its twisted face once again. The above quote from On Grief and Grieving says, “You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.” I have healed so much from those early days following Emily’s sudden death, when the pain was so raw it was palpable. I certainly have rebuilt myself through Emily’s Hope and our mission to end the stigma surrounding addiction, prevent substance use disorder and get people the help they need. This has enabled me to carve out purpose in my pain, yet even though the injury to my heart can be ignored, I have been reminded that it can never be denied
Filling up every hour of my day with work, in one form or another, has perpetuated a lie: that I won’t grieve forever. My health sidelining me from all those activities has reminded me that I will. I felt as if my entire being was splintered upon my daughter’s death and slowly those various parts have formed someone new. This is often a better version of myself than I ever was. As Kubler-Ross and Kessler said, “Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” I am more empathetic and compassionate toward all people, which also makes me a better journalist. When you lose a child, you also realize how fleeting life is and how insignificant most of the things we talk about, fight about or worry about really are. I have no time for superficiality. That can also come with a downside.
This change in me didn’t sit well with everyone. In fact, many moms I have met in this club, which we never wanted to join and can never leave, tell me the same thing. They too have lost friends who were uncomfortable around their grief. I had an entire group of friends exit my life during the first year after Emily died. I wasn’t “fun” anymore, acted erratically, and was too focused on Emily’s Hope, mistakenly expecting them to come alongside me in my efforts. It was yet another loss, compounded by the loss of who I was, who I expected to be, and my hopes and dreams for my family’s future.
Fortunately, not everyone left my life following Emily’s death and I am grateful to still have loyal friends, as well as to have made so many new ones. I’ve been thinking about all of this lately while I’ve been stuck with no voice and a broken heart. Another birthday passed, which I couldn’t celebrate this time, and my best friend from college wished me well along with this photo of us. I couldn’t help but look at myself in this picture with longing. I would love to go back to being that carefree, happy girl. Life has turned out quite differently than I ever expected it would. I remember how anxious I was to know the future. If I could, I would go back and tell that young woman to just stay in the moment and not to be so worried about what was next. In all of our lives, there comes great joy, but also great pain. The kindest thing that life gives us is not knowing the heartbreak that awaits.
Faith, Hope & Courage,