I was up early the day my whole world changed forever.
My boyfriend was in a triathlon race 1,000 kilometers away and I felt wretched that I wasn’t able to be there to cheer him on when he crossed the finish line. I had just started a new job and wasn’t able to take the time off to go with him.
I loved this man more than I had ever loved anyone in my entire life and it felt so wrong not to be there for him. After all, he had always stood so steadfast beside me every time I needed him.
I looked at my empty coffee cup, yawned and stretched. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to wish him good luck as he prepared for race day, wanting to show my love and support in some small way. Yes, it was definitely time for another caffeine infusion. I padded sleepily in the direction of the kitchen and made a latte as quietly as possible, hoping not to wake my sleeping children.
It was mid August and the sun was already shining brightly in the brilliant blue Northern sky. I took my frothy cup of coffee outside and settled into my favorite chair on the porch. The birds were chirping and the leaves were rustling high up in the poplar trees as I picked up my phone and opened the special website where I could enter his race number and check his progress.
Suddenly my phone rang, interrupting the peace of the morning.
I knew with that deep, ancient intuition that is completely unexplainable that it was bad news.
I picked up my phone and walked to the end of the porch, the offending device still ringing loudly. My stomach was upside down and I was shaking slightly when I slid my finger across the screen and put the phone to my ear.
“Jenny,” my mother was sobbing on the other end, barely able to get the words out.
“What happened? Please tell me what happened!” I begged her but I already knew.
“Grandma,” the single word crashed into me like train and sent my world spinning.
“Noooooooooo,” I fell to the ground.
The pain ripping through my body was suffocating.
I don’t remember much but I remember lying on the wooden planks of the porch, sobbing and praying: Please God, don’t take my grandmother. I don’t know if I can get through life without her.
She was the sweetest of souls and I loved her like a mother. My father was killed when I was two and my grandparents had filled a void that would have been a deep chasm without the warmth and security of their love.
I know that I had to make phone calls to other family members but the only call I remember making was to my boyfriend. He wasn’t quite done the race so I had to leave a voice mail. I felt terrible that he was going to be full of excitement and then he was going to hear my awful, sobbing, incoherent message.
I desperately needed him; I needed the security of his arms and the solace of his tender love.
A few days later, my grief multiplied to a magnitude that was almost unquantifiable.
It was the night before my precious grandmother’s funeral. We were all travel weary and I was beyond emotionally exhausted, having cried for the majority of the grueling 14 hour drive from one end of the province to the other. I was tucking the girls into bed when I glanced over and saw my boyfriend’s iPad on the hotel nightstand between their single beds.
He had filled it with games and activities just for my youngest daughter but lately, the iPad had remained strangely out of sight. Considering my emotional state, I’ll never understand how my stupid sixth sense kicked in again and started screaming at me to pick it up.
I hesitated, second guessing myself.
Finally, I reached out a shaky hand and sat down on the end of my daughter’s bed with it on my lap. I was already so grief stricken that I could hardly muster more than outrage at what I found.
He swore that night and to this day that he never cheated; but he still ran.
He left me broken and wracked with sorrow on the eve of the day I was expected to stand beside my grandfather and support him as he laid to rest his soul mate of 65 years.
In the space of a week, I lost another person whom I had loved with all my heart. It wasn’t death that took him from me; I think the only term that would describe it is…fear. I lost him to his fears.
He didn’t just leave me that night. He kept running. A week later, he ran away for the weekend with a woman he had just met the day before. He stayed with her for the better part of the year.
The grief that followed shook me to my very core.
I wanted to just quit life.
I wanted to crawl into my bed and never emerge. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; it was simply too much effort to listen to their kind, understanding words. I lost an alarming amount of weight for my frame because the sight of food sickened me; food is for the living and I was barely living.
I have been through some struggles that would have crushed the average person but this was by far the most difficult journey of my entire life. Every day I would cry on my hour drive to and from work. When I walked through the front door, I would paste a smile on my face for the sake of my girls. Once they were in bed, I cried myself to sleep.
I tried to read books about grief and abandonment but my mind wouldn’t stay focused. I tried to talk it out with friends but every word they said felt like another brick was being thrown my chest; their words only seemed to cause me more anxiety. I tried to meditate but I just cried the entire time. Everything about life seemed to be more of a struggle than it ever had before.
The one thing I didn’t do was to try to run from the grief or put it in a box, lock it down and shove it to the back of my mind. Somehow, I knew that I had to allow the process.
The only way to survive the unbearable grief was to allow it to wash over me.
I had to allow myself the luxury of grieving; but that doesn’t mean I quit life.
It means if I needed to crawl into bed and cry, I did. If I was making dinner and I suddenly sat down on the kitchen floor for a good cry and dinner was late, I didn’t beat myself up about it. If I needed to dance or break plates or run until I fell down, I allowed myself to do it.
Slowly, I started to replace my grief with gratitude; gratitude for my amazing little family, my loyal friends, my horses, the peace and serenity of my farm. I fell in love all over again with the things that had always made my soul sing like riding, dancing and running. Eventually I was able to read the books and find my centre again.
I gathered my little daughters close and immersed myself in their unfailing, innocent love. We learned how to be a family, just the three of us. Our house filled with laughter and fun again. We danced in the kitchen, laughed when we got stuck in snow banks and viewed every day as grand adventure.
People often say that life is a journey, not a destination. I learned that it’s the same for grief.
You never really get over losing someone you love. The loss becomes a permanent fixture in your being, almost like foreign DNA injected into your chromosomes. You learn to cope with it; some days you cope better than others.
I never want to experience that kind of debilitating pain again.
However, I did come out of it with a new appreciation for life; now I cherish every person and every moment because I never know what life will bring in the next minute, day or month.
Now my mantra has become:
Love without fear.
Live a life that matters.
Focus on the good and release the negative.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own