Every morning when I wake up, I feel a few moments of normalcy. Not much has changed in the way of opening my eyes and saying a sleepy “good morning” to my husband and whichever child has decided to take residence in our bed during the night. But when Ian stands up and easily walks the few steps to the bathroom, I feel a familiar wave of grief.
There is not a morning that goes by where those few impossible steps to the bathroom don’t taunt me. I push myself up to sit in bed and look at my wheelchair. It doesn’t get easier. I look at that chair every morning and take a few moments to acknowledge that having a spinal cord injury really sucks. And then I make a choice, every day, to get into the chair anyway. It is so important to make the choice to keep living but it is equally important to allow yourself the losses and the pain; give yourself permission to wait in your grief when it comes.
Sometimes, like in the mornings, the moments of loss are expected. I can give myself a bit of space and then put it behind me and move on. But I struggle to find that space when moments of grief come without warning. When I am caught off-guard by strong emotions or feelings of loss I find it difficult to give myself the permission that I need to wait in my grief and truly feel the depth of loss I’m experiencing. Instead, I try to ignore it or deny it all together with the hope that my warped perception will change the reality of my situation.
Strangely enough, my reality doesn’t change and denying the loss only leads to short tempers and prolonged sadness. I wish I could come up against the pieces of my life that have been taken from me and choose not to accept them. Like I have some ability to influence change over the things that are truly non-negotiable. I know that it is a power I don’t have. The only change I can influence is in my own attitude. I can persevere. I can cope. I can overcome. But I can’t truly do any of that without acknowledging the pain.
There are times when I think my I’ve got this attitude is actually working against me. When I feel myself start to break down I will try and convince myself that conceding is not how a fighter responds. I worry that I will disappoint people who expect me to cope. I convince myself I would be failing in my pursuit of happiness and strength if I give in to the fact that this still really hurts. But it does. It still really hurts.
Avoiding pain is a flawed defence mechanism that I have become pretty good at utilizing. The problem is it always catches up with me. And making an effort all of the time to be positive and strong is exhausting! Avoiding the heartbreak means I compensate with more energy in order to try and be happy. An important realization for me is that the admission to myself that there is still sadness – and allowing myself the space to wait in that sadness for a while – actually makes the process of building myself back up a lot easier. It reminds me that I have worked hard to overcome a lot of loss. And as important as it is to build yourself up, it is important to go back down and remember that there is a reason you are choosing positivity and choosing life. Because the alternative, being miserable with everything and everyone because life decided it was my turn to be dealt a difficult card, isn’t worth the time I’m lucky to still have.
We don’t always have to brave. Sometimes we can allow ourselves to feel broken. When the effort gets to be too much and I lose sight of why I am choosing positivity and happiness in the first place, it is okay to break. It is okay to mourn and remember and admit that you are still struggling. Functioning. Happy. But struggling. Yes, it is hard. Yes, I wish it was different. Yes, I wish I could still walk to the bathroom. But hard seems to be my only option and I can only heal from the losses that I’m willing to acknowledge and not ignore. When you take an active role in the healing process, the grief becomes easier. I seem to go through phases of understanding this concept.
I challenge you to wait in your grief with me. Wait in your pain, your anxiety and your loss. Don’t hide from the hard truths that life has put in your path because it is a good reminder of the fact that you are fighting. You are fighting so that you can be happy despite the roadblocks and the chaos and all of the things that hurt. I hope that one day I can reach a point of healing where I respect all of the losses I feel without needing to wait in those painful places; a point where I can know it is there but know that I have moved on from it. Until then, I will wait and acknowledge and do my best to play an active role in my healing.