Just over four years ago, my world crumbled. In one last breath, with my sister and I at her side, my mom died. She was my world. She didn’t just suddenly pass. She had suffered a gut wrenching 2 year fight with colon cancer and I watched every second of it. It wasn’t pretty on any level. Despite my family’s uncanny ability to always be the Mary Poppins type, her death left me very angry.
I hated cancer and I was pissed off at the world. At the time, the way that I dealt with this pile of emotions was to simply put up walls and focus on being everything that everyone kept telling me that I should be. I had to be the strong one for my dad. I had to be an example to my kids. I had to be the grounding force for my sister. In trying to deal with the sudden drifting that my own life was doing, I found that I was dealing with everything the exact same way. I would tackle it. Head on. Without thought. Without my usual passion. I simply existed the way that everyone expected me to exist.
I had never dealt with losing my best friend or my mom before, so I didn’t know what in the heck I was doing. I did what I thought I should be doing to help me process all of these new feelings that I was having. I read books on grief and loss and tried to grieve in text book fashion.
I spent time being sad and crying. There were days when I couldn’t put on clothes, or comb my hair. After that, I got angry and the world was my punching bag. No one understood me and because they didn’t, I was even more angry. After that, I hit the ‘woe is me’ period. I didn’t have friends whom I could speak to about anything because they all still had their moms. No one could fathom any of my feelings or what I was dealing with. Finally, I cried some more as my “true grief” hit. Stage 2. Reality. I like to refer to it now as “the point when I realized that I wasn’t doing things by the book anymore so I cried more than I ever did” stage. This was about the time that my family got together for the holidays for the first time without my Mom. We all tip toed around feelings and emotions because no one wanted to talk about any of what we were feeling. Being sad was just something that my family has never been good at. We all departed that Christmas, saying that we felt better having been together. While that may have been partially true, I mainly felt even more confused and alone because I wasn’t crying as much as my sister and I didn’t walk around looking like the zombie that my dad was.
My grief didn’t look like theirs.
At some point after we stumbled through our first holidays without my mom, I realized that I wasn’t really angry at cancer. I hadn’t cried in days. I didn’t feel the need to conquer every battle being fought on the earth. I just felt NOTHING. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t depressed. Aside from not being able to pick up the phone and call my mom every day while I had my morning coffee, I was almost feeling normal.
The more normal that I felt, the more I worried that there was something wrong with how I was feeling because, according to those books that I had read, for a girl that just lost her mom 6 months prior, I shouldn’t be HERE yet. Shouldn’t I be sad for longer than this? Shouldn’t I still be curled up in my bed, wearing my pajamas while rolling my mind through reruns of sad Mom and Daughter movies? If I was as close to my mom as I thought I was, I shouldn’t be ok yet. Right?
I realized that in my attempt to do everything right, I had been pigeon holing myself. I was trying to work through feelings that no one else on this planet had ever had by doing what other people, most of whom didn’t even know me, my mom or how our family operated, told me to do. Grief can’t be wrapped up into a perfect little package and defined. In fact, most things in life can’t.
I realized that it was high time for me to get through my mom’s death on my terms. The only way I knew that I could accomplish that was to first learn how to let go of the expectations that others were putting upon me. I had to find a way to be completely ok with being ok no matter what anyone else thought. This didn’t just apply to dealing with the loss of my mom either. I realized also, that I was allowing myself to be pigeon holed in other areas of my life as well.
The problem with that picture perfect fairy tale is that life rarely happens like that.
We have to learn how to deal with divorce. Smile at back talking teens who don’t care about college. Our cars get wrecked. Our houses burn down. Our moms die from cancer.
Every single of one us is our own unique being. More and more people are discovering how to live outside of the norm. (Hello tiny houses, vegans, homeschoolers, ARTISTS) So why then, do we try to wrap up our own emotions into someone else’s package of what they should be? If we are going to shed the stereotypical labels in some areas of life, we need to let them go in ALL areas of our lives.
If we feel angry, we should be fully accepting of the anger and not have to worry that people will think we are crazy. If we don’t want to have kids, or live in the suburbs, we darn sure should feel like we can make that call without facing ridicule. And if we feel like laughing when the rest of the world thinks we should be sad, we should be perfectly ok to enjoy a giggle without feeling like we are doing something wrong.
We are working so hard to be individuals in this world yet most people still have an emotional need to fit in. We spend so much time worrying about what other people think of us that we forget to LIVE. We are rebelling against the very things that we are trying to stand up for by doing this. By allowing ourselves to feel and think as individuals, by being ok with being exactly who we are, right this very second, wherever that may be, we begin living a life of freedom…and happiness.
We need to shed the labels and expectations that the world places upon us and that we have placed upon ourselves. We need to step back, look around and learn to be ok. Right here. Right now. We need to embrace our lives. The ups and the downs. So what if we want to snuggle a bunny rather than a Labrador. That difference, that freedom to be exactly who each of us are, is what makes this world such an amazing place.
Let go. Live free. Be happier.