September 19, 2020
Just yesterday, I was on a morning walk with my Beagle. It felt like any ordinary morning — a peaceful, yet somewhat humid stroll around my neighborhood. Every so often, I encountered a jogger on a mission or a familiar face accompanied by another four-legged companion. And in between the occasional waves and standard morning greetings, I spoke with God aloud, thanking Him for another day of life.
My mind gently drifted from items on my daily ‘to do’ list to the cup of hazelnut coffee awaiting me at home to the simplicity of the still air. And for all intents and purposes, I felt centered.
Though I’d experienced the death of my mom nearly 8 years ago and my dad just 6 months ago, grief’s vice grip seemingly relaxed a bit and emotionally, my heart felt at ease. This was unlike prior mornings during which I was more tearful than talkative with God, longing for the past rather than leaning into the present.
… which is why I was so taken aback when out of nowhere, a startling memory popped into my head. It was a memory from late November 2012, roughly one week before my mom died, during which her thoughtful hospice nurse lathered my mom up in the bathtub and sang gospel songs alongside her. At that point, the evidence of my mom’s physical deterioration was clear, and understandably, she preferred my brother and I not to participate in her personal care. On top of that, she knew her days in this life were rapidly drawing to a close. So I stood in the distance, quietly peering into the bathroom and listening to the duo’s sweet harmonies.
Irritability arose within me first, followed by intense sadness.
There I was, pounding the pavement, thousands of steps away from my home, with tears streaming down my face. With each passerby, I tried my best not to appear so outwardly disheveled. On the inside, however, I was a complete mess!
After a string of attempts to save face, I finally decided to let the tears flow. If I had learned anything throughout the grief journey, I knew that grief and all of its varied expressions — in my case, crocodile tears, puffy eyes, and headaches — always wins. So I simply surrendered to the moment and about 10 minutes later, I regained my composure.
Don’t get me wrong though! I questioned why the Lord flooded my mind with that specific memory. Yet I focused on other beautiful and far less traumatic memories of moments spent with my mom. And boy, there were so many! This eventually brought a smile to my face.
So I continued along on the walk. And the next thing I knew, I saw an older African-American male riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle towards me. Burgundy-colored bike. Jazz music blazing in the wind. And the gentleman wore a black leather skull cap. Just. Like. My. Dad.
Now mind you, my dad passed away 6 months ago. March 23, 2020 to be exact. Yet there are still moments I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that I see him alive and well to this day. And once again, grief thrust me into a space of sheer pain and longing — elements so overwhelmingly common throughout the grief process.
With this newfound situation, I allowed my emotions to take center stage, attempting to control them even less than before. Partly because by that point, my eyes were already puffy and partly because I realized there was no stopping the well of tears associated with grief once they began flowing. At least not for me …
You have no choice but to care for yourself in the midst of grief, even when it tells you to lay there.
Or be alone.
Allow every. single. thing. to annoy you.
Or not enjoy the things you previously loved.
Yesterday, my act of self-love in the midst of grief was allowing space for my emotions to be released, focusing on what I needed in the moment over what others might think of me.
Isn’t this the essence of self-love … having regard for your own well-being?
So again, I put one foot in front of the other and continued on my journey home. As I neared my home, roughly two houses away from my front door, I saw my 88 year-old neighbor working in the yard across the street. And it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen his wife for several months, which I’d chalked up to the pandemic. They were a lovely couple who I’d often see waving from the mailbox or simply surveying their meticulous landscaping at the top of their driveway.
My dog and I stopped walking, and I waved hello. We spoke for a few moments about the sunny weather, their lawn, and how much I appreciated having him as a neighbor. Then I gently asked, “Where’s your beautiful bride? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
His response, immediately disheartening to me, was, “Well, I tried to keep her at home, but she’s just having such a hard time remembering things these days. When she was here, I’d leave home for a few minutes, and she’d wander off. So I made the tough decision to move her into a facility where she can be cared for around the clock.”
He went on to share how difficult it was to arrive at that decision. Without my asking, my neighbor noted a plan to get their existing home in order in preparation for a move. Curious, I inquired, “Where are you planning to move?”
He replied, “Sweetheart, I’ve been married to my wife for 67 years. I’m selling everything and getting things in order to be with my bride. I miss her and wish I could talk to her like I used to. The good ol’ days …”
And like me, he intuitively knew what he needed.
He needed to reminisce. Hold on to times past. Sit alongside the tremendous sadness associated with missing his wife.
His sharing forced open my emotional floodgates again, and tears began to well up in my eyes. He continued, “Sometimes, you have to surrender to the fact that love knows what it needs. And I need to be with my wife while I still can.”
I was so struck by his comment, almost feeling paralyzed as I stood at the end of his driveway. Why? Because not only was it profound, it was also right.
It can manifest in many forms — emotional release, a shift in lifestyle, a decision to fight for yourself, and so much more.
“What do you need?”
“How might grief create space for you to focus on you?”
“How can you extend love towards yourself as you walk along whatever journey life has you on?”
Grief has the potential to transform us and unlock self-love.