The shared experience of navigating love and loss is a tough process. Trying to walk the steps of grief is difficult to do alone. So while in the thick of it, you instinctively reach for anything or anyone that can give you a hand while making the trek. It’s a lonely walk, to be sure.
I’ve been a friend of Jane’s for eight years. She is the sister of my dear friend Carol and it is through her, that I became close with Jane. But our connection cemented when she lost her husband Mike and Wes lost his battle with cancer. Jane’s husband passed away a year before Wes, which meant she had already trekked this path of grief for a full year before I was confronted with it. She became my beacon for surviving this pain.
After Wes died, Jane came into my life more so than before and she held my hand. So many people held my hand as well, but she and I gravitated to each other because of a grief that was seemingly insurmountable. We both understood the other’s pain, which was so raw, that in some ways we became indispensable to each other – at least on my end. We both had incredible support systems but sometimes the most profound help came from each other.
I often talk about the importance of the singular step when walking through grief. Jane and I each had to walk those steps, alone, together and with help. But we began to realize those steps had value, even when we didn’t see the end game, or a goal beholding of a landing place. It’s called existing. It’s what you do until little by little and piece by piece our emotions find a home and a destination. It’s a process. We question those steps as to where they will lead, if they will lead and certainly if they will ever actually take us anywhere, namely, out of this hellhole called grief.
I remember a few weeks after Wes passed away, that Jane came over to see me. As we sat in my kitchen, I couldn’t stop the tears. I couldn’t stop the panic. The panic that was welling up inside of me and was becoming bigger than anything I could grasp or contain. Add it to the list. There were so many emotions competing for center stage, I could barely decipher one from the other. I kept thinking this can’t be real. I cannot possibly be living this reality. But seeing Jane there as she talked to me gently, forced me to realize that this truly was my reality, because it was her reality too, and she was trying to help me through it. I wanted to scream, but I held back because my son Jake was coming in and out of the room. I didn’t want to add to his heartache and worry if he were to see his mom become completely unglued. Those times of insanity, I tried to do in private. Although my neighbors may have heard the screams – primal as they were.
Holding back my emotions on this particular day, with Jane in my kitchen, became almost a Herculean effort on my part. But Jane told me that we don’t stop loving them just because they aren’t here anymore. She also said that they would want us to be happy. Maybe true, but that prospect, on that day, seemed counter to my emotions. There would be no more happiness in my world, I was certain of it. But Jane continued to tell me that we will start to create a new normal. She held my hand the whole time. It seemed like an out of body experience because I was denying my reality. But she was the living proof of our collective experience and she was there to tell me – we would make it. She held my hand that day, and so many other days as well, as she has quietly led the way. And she was right, of course – on all of it.
So many times, when I was at my lowest, in my closet or rolling around on my bedroom floor, I would think of Jane. I’d know that she too, was feeling the same pain over losing Mike that I was experiencing with Wes. I was able to comfort myself enough and propel myself vertical, simply by realizing that Jane was a year ahead of me in this grief game and she was still walking. She was doing it – she was trudging through. Because of her, I was able to garner enough strength to get up, stand up and move my feet. As foundational as that seems, in real time, in grief time, this became monumental. So many times, and it seemed like hundreds actually, I thought to myself – If Jane can do it, then so can I. I was sorry that she was the guide for my walk, and sorry for her grief. It hurt me so much to see her in pain. But she was instrumental so many times at my worst moments for getting me up and moving again. That is no small feat, and yet, she and I have been doing it, like so many others weighted down by the loss of a loved one, no matter what form that loss comes from. It hurts, that’s all I know. It hurts a lot.
Throughout Jane’s and my journey, we have been there for each other. Not every day or every month, but more in mind, spirit and proximity. When one might feel stronger at different points than the other, we have buoyed each other up. It has been a godsend, albeit painful. As each of us has moved through the grief and the processing of every minutia of it, we have been inspirational to each other as well. Being inspired is not the most readily available sentiment in times of grief. But through this experience, there’s been a profound understanding, reasoning and reconciling of our pain, which has been instrumental to our emotional health and well being.
For me, the loss of emotional control was equally hard to reconcile as I painfully distilled my grief. So many compounded realities taking place while competing emotions ran amok. I shudder to think about it all now especially when I consider how hard it all was to process and compartmentalize in my quest to reconcile. To the level that I’ve reconciled it anyway – that could be subjective, I realize.
But Jane has indeed inspired me not to give up, to try to stay positive, and to not harbor anger for this horrid thing that happened to our husbands. Jane has been the living, breathing example for me to find hope and understanding through all of this. She is a loving, kind, warm and wonderful person. I am lucky to know her and blessed to have her hold my hand, as I hope I have been able to do for her as well.
As Jane has taught me so much, she is doing it again. And it’s called moving on. Jane has grown up in Northern Virginia, was married and raised a family here, and now that her children have graduated college, married and are living in different cities, she has decided to make a move. She has sold her house and is moving out of a state that she has called home for her whole life. She is changing directions with determination.
This move she is making is incredibly bold and intensely brave. For those of us that have insulated ourselves in our grief, coming out of it and finding the strength and fortitude to move and literally start all over is incredible. She is pushing herself out of her comfort zone, one that hasn’t been all that comfortable since Mike died, but she is moving her feet and they are leading her once again. The difference this time is she has more of a goal in mind. A new goal. No more is it just about existing in this perpetual pain of loss, but this time there’s a true goal and mindset to find excitement in the journey and a desire to find contentment as the end result.
I read a quote by William Faulkner that said:
You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Once again, Jane is teaching me. Well, she and William Faulkner that is. But the lessons are that although it’s scary, being bold and brave is doable, even though we’re alone. She’s teaching me there is more out there for us and there is still life to be lived. By finding ourselves, our voices, and new directions, we are actually forging our energies to fully realize that our destinies into a new life are attainable and actually something to strive for. There comes a point where you have to jump the grief train and hitch a ride on the life train once again.
Sometimes those small steps end up being a leap of faith. Those steps are scary during lift off but incredibly empowering when you land. Thanks Jane – for showing me what it means to swim for new horizons. Thank you for the love and the inspiration. My best to you, my dear friend. Godspeed.