How can one person possibly be filled with such immense and intense feelings all the time. Sometimes I wonder if my heart is simply going to explode. My heart feels so tired one minute and then so completely filled up with love and joy the very next minute. The capacity our heart has to continue to make room for everything we pack into it amazes me.
I feel love and joy for so many things, people, moments, and memories. And yet, this same space holds me when I am sad and lonely.
I found myself spending more time than I care to admit feeling constantly disappointed by people, bitter, angry, and absolutely grief stricken. Yet, my darkest moments of this year were, and continue to be, always overcome by joy. Always.
This year of 2022 brought the death of my dad, the death of one of my dearest friends, and unrelenting grief over the senior year Nikolai would not experience. And yet, I was met with joy on every corner of that grief.
Nikolai’s graduation party.
Summer vacation of all vacations.
Memorial Day garage sale.
Strangers in the cemetery.
Random acts of kindness.
Love. Pure love.
Godwink after Godwink.
Are you looking for the joy? Because as much as I didn’t want it this year, joy filled my every day in some capacity, big and small. Thank God. I wanted to live in heartbreak this year but that isn’t what life is all about. I can be sad. I can cry. I can feel all the grief. My heart can take it, but it also doesn’t want me to sit in it.
I miss Nikolai. I miss my dad. I miss my friend. Yet, someday I will see them again. For now, I have a whole lotta people to wrap up in love right here on this physical earth.
This month began with tragedy in Oakland County, Michigan. For those of you who don’t know, one of our small communities experienced a horrific school shooting in which four young high school students lost their lives, many more were injured, and now an entire school of youth and staff have to figure out a way through trauma and grief. Every community in our county empathizes deeply with Oxford and our hearts are shattered for them.
I simply can’t get these four families out of my head. These teens were children, babies really when you look at the average life span of a human. And I know this pain, this deep grief all too well. Loss of a child. It is a pain like no other.
This is our third Christmas without Nikolai. And to say it’s been weird is an understatement. I don’t know if it is the pain I carry for these Oxford families has made me not realize my own grief or if it’s all mixed up.
Putting up our Christmas tree for the past two years has sent me spiraling. Pulling all of Nikolai’s ornaments out of the box and hanging them on the tree usually brings me to tears. This year, I decorated the entire tree by myself and never shed a tear, like it was any old year. Nothing. Zero emotion. This scared me. Have I placed my grief somewhere else with other families to the point that I have misplaced my own grief? Or have I somehow come out the other side?
The answer is neither.
I believe I have compartmentalized my feelings, as if I can only be sad about one thing at a time. I wonder if it is my way of protecting myself because too much grief may destroy me. I will feel all the things for these other families because I truly ache for them and at the same time, I will ignore my personal pain. It makes me feel stronger. Look at how much I can endure and not fall apart.
I mean how emotionally unhealthy can you be? Sad is not bad.
I have been to the cemetery more in the last eight days than all of October and November combined, like almost every single day. And I cry every single time. It’s time to accept that I can’t compartmentalize my feelings, nor should I want to. It’s time to accept that my feelings are real and not bad. My feelings are valid and shouldn’t be closed off behind a door somewhere.
All those things I tell everyone else… maybe I should start taking my own advice.
The more days that pass since the Oxford tragedy, the more absorbed I find myself back into my own grief. And this is hard. It’s easier to grieve for other people’s loss; however, when you flip it back around, well, it hurts and at a much deeper level because it’s your pain.
I miss Nikolai.
I miss his smile and his laughter. And it’s difficult because it’s getting harder to hear his laugh. Will there come a day when I can’t hear it at all?
I will miss hearing him get up in the middle of the night, even at 14 years old to sneak downstairs and look at what Santa brought and then begrudgingly stomp back upstairs because it was too early for everyone else.
I will miss watching him try and crack open his crab legs at Christmas dinner and sending shell flying.
I will miss him trying to burp like Elf and say “did you hear that?”
I will miss him singing “Dominic the Christmas Donkey” with me in the car because it’s silly and fun.
I will miss watching him hug his grandma and grandpa.
I just miss him.
I sit here in Dragonfly Central (my office, his bedroom) and know that he surrounds me every day, giving me support, guiding me, and making sure that while I miss him, I still find and choose joy. Because he was joy.
The pain I feel for these Oxford families has brought my pain to the forefront. And each time another young person takes their life, I relive this pain again. I want to tell all of these families that this pain will never go away. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. However, my prayer for you is that you remember the immense joy your child brought to you and I invite you to sit in those joyful memories along with your pain because joy and sadness can and do coexist.
This is how we remember. This is how we make sure that the world remembers.
There are so many people in my life who are hurting, grieving, struggling. The world is upside down and cruel and confusing. My head spins all day long and now it’s entering my sleep time.
I’m doing my best to check in with all those people in my life who need to be heard, who need kind words, who need a little extra love right now. However, I realized today that I need to check in with myself too and that means I may have to check out on helping others for a bit and focus on me. I’ve been focusing so much on the hearts of others that I forgot that mine is just as achy and needs a little extra care too.
Yet how do I do that? I can’t just walk away from others. How do I find balance? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And I for real don’t have an answer.
Somehow I need to acknowledge my loss and my feelings. While other people have moved on, and I am stronger now than I was, I still miss Nikolai as much today as I did the day he died. The dreams don’t ever quit. The remembering is always there. I need others to also acknowledge my loss, even if they don’t understand where I’m at with it right now. Unlike physical pain, it’s very difficult for people to relate to emotional pain, and especially to talk about it. It’s hard.
I also don’t want my loss to be a central focus of my life, but it is a huge part of my life and I can’t ignore it. And especially in seasons like Christmas, my feelings are bouncing all over the place – like a pinball machine. I can’t help it. Someone is missing from my season. I don’t care whether this is your first holiday without someone you love or the 20th, it still hurts.
While I try to help others, I feel myself sinking in the muck. I’m biting back tears constantly, forgetting things, snapping at people and acting sometimes in a way that I often regret. I ask you to grant me some mercy. Overlook it. My emotional tank is so empty right now and many days I feel like I’m going to shatter like a glass ball falling off the Christmas tree.
I try not to talk to people about my feelings because I feel like either they don’t want to hear it, they have their own grief they are drowning in, or they don’t know how to handle it and it just becomes awkward for everyone. The few times I thought about starting a conversation, I held back because I just don’t want to bring a room down, you know what I mean? After all, it’s the most joyous season of the year, right?
All of this leads me to the same question… how do I balance reaching out and loving others while simultaneously taking care of me? I still don’t have any answers except that maybe we just extend each other some grace right now and know that we are all in a tough spot. Maybe we lavish love on each other through prayer and forgive someone when they don’t reach out when we think they should.
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Here we are… it’s the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s holiday season. Again.
Last week I tried so hard to write a blog piece about all the things I am grateful for, a thankful post of sorts. As you can see, I didn’t do it. Let me rephrase that: I couldn’t do that. And not because I don’t have a million things to be thankful and grateful for, it just felt forced. This is our second holiday season without Beans. Throw in some COVID-19 lockdown and limited time with extended family and BOOM, you have a storm of emotions that I simply didn’t have control over.
Grief on a normal day is hard; however, grief during the holiday season is something else entirely. It’s wanting desperately to hang on to the memories and keep everything the exact same, while realizing that it won’t ever be the same. It’s experiencing crushing sadness in the midst of pure joy.
I don’t know if this will help you or not; however, here are a few things that I tell myself, not just through this holiday season, but throughout the year:
Let yourself feel. Last night my family watched “Elf” and if any of you know me, you know this is my absolute favorite movie of all time – like, I could watch it in July it’s that good. This movie brings me absolute pure joy. Last night, while my heart is bursting with joy, I started to cry during the end where they all have to “sing loudly for all to hear” to make the sleigh fly. I don’t know why, it just hit me in the feels. This is the feeling I’m talking about where I literally seem to float between joy and sudden sadness. And that’s OKAY! You have to allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions. The sounds, sights and smells of the holiday season may trigger feelings of sadness, loss, emptiness and anxiety. I read in an article a while back that “time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss; it’s what you do with that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal.” Rather than try to ignore the grief, we should embrace it.
Set boundaries for yourself. Last year we had plans to meet friends for drinks one evening. The whole day leading up to that singular event was excruciating. I knew I couldn’t do it. My heart hurt too much and I really just wanted to stay home and cry a little, snuggle with my husband and just feel. I tried to bury those feelings all day but in the middle of getting a car wash on our way to meet them, I looked at my husband and he just knew. He texted our friends and cancelled on the spot. This was a lesson for me to make sure that I’m setting boundaries for myself. You are not obligated to do anything, go anywhere or see anyone if you aren’t feeling it.
Honor your memories. Memories are the very thing that keep you solidly connected to those you have lost. It is so critical to continue to talk about your loved ones and cherish all the amazing memories you shared with them. It helps keep them alive so to speak. Christmas was always Nikolai’s favorite holiday and I love that even at 14 he would get up at 3 a.m. to see what Santa brought him and then go back to bed and lay awake anxiously for everyone else to get up. I love to picture his face on Christmas morning. I have a million memories of Nikolai at the holidays and my family will share them, talk about him, remember him and honor all of those memories.
Create new traditions. This one is tough for me as I’m not a lover of change. I thrive on tradition. However, over the course of time, new traditions just start to naturally emerge and someday I will be okay with that.
Ask for help. Last December I was in the absolute darkest of places, a black hole of sorts that I literally could not pull myself out of. I have a dear friend who literally said to me one day, “either you make an appointment with a therapist, or I’m making it for you.” We need these people in our lives. No one ever likes to ask for help. And this is one of the biggest hurdles we as humans must jump over if we are going to make change in this world. We need to admit that we can’t do everything ourselves. It’s okay to ask for help. People, by nature, want to help – it’s who we are. It doesn’t have to be a therapist, it could be a friend or family member. The point here is to reach out. Make the call. Ask for help.
This holiday season is no different than my every day, in that I will always choose joy while recognizing that I won’t always experience joy. I have much to be grateful and thankful for; however, I can also sit in the space of sadness once in a while and grieve my losses. We all feel broken sometimes. Just hold on, joy will always eventually shine through.
I choose joy has become my daily mantra. Do I wake up every day feeling joyful? No. That is a hard and fast no. However, I get up, get dressed, pour my coffee and make the choice to live joyfully each day.
I have a lot of things to be sad about right now – don’t we all? But what happens when you focus on all the sad? All those negative emotions spiral you into a black hole that is very difficult to escape. I’m not saying it’s not okay to be sad – it absolutely is; however, don’t unpack there. Cry for a minute. Grieve your losses. And, then choose joy. Because when we choose joy, when we choose to look at how blessed we are, it changes our outlook and allows us to be more content with our situation.
I have five days “off” from work. This wasn’t ideally how I wanted to use my PTO; however, I’ve decided to use it to further my dreams and goals. I’m choosing to refocus my energy these few days into projects that light my heart on fire. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I can’t think of anything more important to focus on right now than that. It has always been extremely important to educate about mental health; however, these days it has become even more important. People all around us are struggling with one thing or another and how they are able to handle those things will determine much in their lives.
I made it my mission the day Nikolai took his own life to do whatever I could to help educate our community on mental health and suicide. I decided that day to make sure that as many people as I can affect know that they are enough – they are strong and courageous and we need them and the impact they are going to make on this world. Nikolai’s death transformed me in a million different ways. I grieve the loss of my child, yet I have found my purpose at the same time.
Nikolai lived joyfully. I believe he struggled with mental health all his life; however, he always chose joy. The last few years of his life, he desperately fought for that joy. The week before he died I asked him ‘where his joy was’. He said he didn’t know. He couldn’t find it. That was hard to hear. This is when I knew things were bad, really bad. For someone who lived for joy, saying those words was his last ditch effort at this mental health battle. He lost the war.
So when I say I CHOOSE JOY. I choose it for me and for him and for all of you who are battling finding your joy every single day.
Use this time to find your joy – whatever that may look like to you.