As I have been forced to contemplate loss and grief on a level that I didn’t want to and certainly didn’t ask for, I’ve also been forced to contemplate moving on and everything that it means to me and for others. As we all experience loss in our lives, we have to navigate a path to move on from that loss. We continue to carry it with us forever, I don’t think we shed it entirely, ever in fact, but we do need to figure out how to carry it and how to package it.
I embarked on a certificate program at American University last year, called LEAD (Leadership, Empowerment and Development) created by Iris Krasnow, a journalist, and journalism professor at American, and NY Times best selling author. She created this program for those of us that are finding ourselves transitioning – whatever that means to each of us. But through this program, I have been continuously challenged as I come face to face with my own personal obstacles of which I have several choices on how to handle them. I can stay barricaded, I can go over them, or under, or I can move through them. As I have come to realize, this becomes a choice, and in my case, not an easy one.
For our first class, Iris sent us our syllabus prior to our first meeting. It was a long syllabus. I found it daunting, actually. I didn’t know what I was getting into. There was a lot of trepidation, to be sure. But one of the first things I read on my new syllabus was a quote from Anais Nin, an author herself.
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Huh? That was my first reaction. I didn’t even know what it meant. So I skipped it. But then I read it again. Then again, and after a couple of weeks it really started to seep into my clouded, sad, and confused brain, and something happened. Well, for starters – I finally got it. I finally got what it meant. It actually forced me to step outside of myself and be a spectator to my current experience and existence and put it into context on how it relates to me and what it actually means to me, and for me. Once the light bulb went off and I understood the deeper message, I thought “Oh great – now what am I supposed to do with this new insight.” If only I had a shoebox and a shelf I could house it in. These epiphanies are killing me.
As I have found out time and time again, that my mode of survival, because at this point in my life, the instinct became simply to survive and just keep moving. But as I tried not to lose my mind totally over this grief and despair, surviving sanity became the goal. Just don’t lose it totally Sharon, stay focused, just try. Just for a little bit. I continued on that mode for over 3 years. Just simply trying not to lose my mind, because as insane as I felt, I knew if I gave over to all of the grief all at once, I may go over a slope I couldn’t get back up from. So I tried. I tried to stay sane. As the years went by, I have found myself getting more and more productive, but there has been such a huge element missing. I was only going through the motions, but not living. Not really anyway. On the outside, maybe it appeared that I was figuring it out, but the reality was, I had nothing figured out. Absolutely nothing. Except how to get through a day, not great, mind you – but I could now make it to midnight. That was huge. I had no real epiphanies, no real ah-ha moments that were going to change my life and move me on to a different place. It just wasn’t happening. But two things did occur that started to change my perspective somewhat. First, Kara sent me a book, by Becky Aikman, called “Saturday Night Widows.” When it came in the mail, I thought: Oh God, this could be grim. But it was a pivotal book for me. Aikman, lost her husband and decided to interview other widows who had lost their husbands for differing and varied reasons. None of these women were friends so there was a risk that this group could, or even would, meld into something – anything, really. Each one agreed and committed to one Saturday a month for a year, to meet and talk and share their experiences as Aikman chronicled the process. It took a few sessions for all of them to come together and gel to where they were starting to impact one another with their shared experiences in grief and loss. But it was through this book that I realized, because I read it in black and white and not because I had this insightful event on my own, that moving on is a conscious decision.
The other, without a doubt, has been my experience in this LEAD program. With Iris leading us, mentoring us and putting crazy quotes like this in our way for us to decipher and figure out, trip and stumble over, like in my case, and eventually, also in my case, as we came to understand what they mean to us individually. Thank you Iris. You stumped me – for a while anyway. But you’ve pushed me to consider so many things that maybe I wasn’t prepared for, but the nudges to try to get me to consider and acknowledge – anything really, has been profound. Thank you Iris, for taking me by the hand. Thank you, for moving me through the tunnel.
So as I have read and re-read this quote a hundred times, I am constantly contemplating it and just what exactly it means to me and for me. For starters, I am learning how to do all these “firsts” on my own. I am learning how to live a different life without Wes, without the constant of what had been my normal day to day, and the life I didn’t want to walk away from – ever. But in reality, I was doing everything the same. Living the same, going through my day to day the same, without Wes, to be sure, but as if he was still there right beside me, along for the ride. The problem is, he is not. He is not right beside me. Not like that anyway. I am alone, but still living in the years of magical thinking. That’s just a fact. Until Iris. And until Anais Nin. Now all I have to do is figure out and analyze what the hell I’ve been doing for the past several years and how do I straighten out my thinking and how, how do I get out of the bud.
Through all of this, I have realized that by staying in the mode of “Wes and me” where I have been residing quite comfortably I might add, results in me living in the realm of false realities. My reality was that old comfortable shoe that I didn’t want to toss, because it was so familiar to my foot that I didn’t want to throw it out. I won’t throw it out, by the way, but I will try on a new one and see what kind of traction I can get. But keeping in my protective mode, there are risks, inherent risks of staying tight in the bud, for fear of trying to blossom.
I guess the question becomes – blossom into what? Become what? I don’t even know who I am anymore. I have been straddling two different worlds for so long now and not doing very well in either of them. But I came to realize that my years of magical thinking were keeping me cocooned for a reason, clearly because I didn’t want to move on. Again, I still don’t, but as protective as the cocoon has been, it’s also been amazingly painful in there as well – and lonely.
As a snake sheds its skin, it’s what every person dealing with loss must do at some point as well. Shedding that skin leaves you vulnerable – wide open to the outside, which is why we have this unyielding need to self protect. But that’s also at the point where the risks to remain tight in the bud becomes more painful and at some point, even tragic. At this crossroads, the risk to blossom becomes less of a consequence and more of a relief. The ability to release this energy force for the good, rather than trying to contain the emotional currency as our shelter, opens up a realm of possibilities for each of us and lays the groundwork for growth, and in my little world of Sharon, I call that hope.