A most incredibly sincere amazed and blown away thank you.

WordPress has informed me that it is Afterwards’ second birthday!

It took me a long time to start this blog. Before I lost my mom I had spent much time writing opinions and sending them out into the internet abyss. And though it took courage, it did not require the amount of mental and emotional energy that this blog would ask of me. Especially that first post.

With her, I lost a very precious source of confidence. Somebody to read my words and tell me they were good. Somebody to tell me that I was good, no matter what. The process of opening myself up here has tested this drying well; but then, it has filled it up.

Sometimes I write regularly, sometimes I don’t have the words to say, sometimes my energy lets me down. I have been blown away by the support I have received anyway; by the trust you show me when you take my words to heart and when you share your own stories with me. Thank you for caring about my words; thank you for considering them to have weight; thank you for being kind and vulnerable enough to let me into your world. Thank you people from 95 countries who have crossed spacial barriers to connect with me from across the planet. It is more than I can understand.

I hope you know how much you help me to heal – your eyes and hearts are profoundly changing my life. Thanks for the adventure.

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It Lives in the Little Things

Today I read a letter from a daughter to her mother who had passed away of breast cancer. You can read it all here, but I wanted to share one paragraph in particular with you. Anyone who has ridden this roller coaster may relate to these words:

“I wish I had paid closer attention. The things that really matter you gave me early on—a way of being and loving and imagining. It’s the stuff of daily life that is often more challenging. I step unsure into a world of rules and etiquette, not knowing what is expected in many situations. I am lacking a certain kind of confidence. Decisions and departures are difficult. As are dinner parties. Celebrations and ceremony. Any kind of change.”

The size of my sadness doesn’t always correlate with the seeming size of the hardship. Yes, the big things are difficult – it’s heartbreaking to miss the intensity of her love; I miss her aura; I miss normal life. But at the same time, these are the things I had 26 years to take in. I know them well, I can still feel them when I close my eyes.

“It’s the stuff of daily life that is often more challenging”.

This is why the battle seems unrelenting some days. Because grief lives in the little things. And everyday there is a new little thing to face. New things to know, new decisions to make, new things to experience, without her.

To understand this is to realize that it will never be over. And this is not to bring hopelessness, but hope, and grace. It means realizing that you are a champion right now, when you make it through a day of little things. It means knowing that you will become more and more skilled at facing these daily moments, and after awhile these accomplishments will bring a depth to your life that you wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Grief lives in the little things, but life has it’s home in the little things too.

To my fellow residents in the Afterwards, love yourself, right now, right where you are. This is my pledge to myself today. I will be proud of myself for making it through all the new that today threw at me. And I will consciously seek to notice the little things of today which presented sparks of life.

Wired to Fight

We always want to protect those we love, don’t we? Grief generally feels like it’s about us – our pain; our void; our not knowing how to get by – but many parts of it stem from the fierce instinct to protect our loved one. I had no idea this was true until recently.

It was almost the third anniversary of losing her; I was outside pushing a lawnmower, earbuds in, enjoying some time with my thoughts. I don’t want to say I heard a voice… it was more that some words interrupted my daydreaming. There were only two of them: I’m okay. The phrase wasn’t audible, but it certainly felt outside of my own thought process. It brought to mind a picture of my mom – peaceful and calm, looking at me with a smile, repeating, I’m okay.

It wasn’t as mystical of an experience as it may sound, but the words carried a lot of power. They offered me a reassurance that I didn’t know I needed. It hit me that for three years I’d been unable to let go of the fear I’d felt for her. It wasn’t conscious, but I’d been fervently trying to protect her since she closed her eyes that day, clenching on to things that would have affected her here on earth, carrying them as my own battles. It would pain her to miss this, she would be hurt by those words, it would break her heart for us to move on in that way… Is she at peace? Can she see us? Is she okay with what we’re doing?

Jennelle, I’m okay.

I believed it.

We are wired to fight for our own, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful human qualities. But, with loved ones lost and loved ones still around us, there is also a time at which we need to let go; to know that we are not the hero – we are not in control. No matter how hard it is to believe, we must know that things outside of our power are sometimes more powerful than us – sometimes the brave thing is to let go of the fight.

Releasing these things has allowed me the space to confront my own battle (a very scary, messy lot of fears). Instead of fighting for two of us, I am able to accept the idea of her walking along side of me, helping me to navigate the course. I am free to keep living; to keep moving forward, and even to enjoy it.

Mom & I

The Years Go By

Special occasions are said to be most difficult during the first year. They are hard; you don’t know how to go about anything, you don’t know how it will feel, you miss them. So much.

The second year was almost more difficult for me though. It’s the second year when you discover they are really gone, and always will be. The second year I thought okay, she’s missing things now! That was the hard part.

The third go round feels different still. But, as far as I can tell, it brings with it a much greater amount of peace. You learn how to make them a part of things while they are absent. You understand a little bit more fully that they are here, and that happy occasions don’t deserve to be sad occasions forever.

On this, my “third” birthday, I wake up feeling happy and alive. Hopeful. She’s closer now than in the past two years, this can only mean bright things for years still to come.

Being Okay with Being Happy

I have felt bliss. The kind of happiness that has made me completely content in the moment. I’ve taken a breath that is deep and smiled as the wind brushed past my lips on exhale. I’ve closed my eyes and felt peace invade every fibre of my being.

When we lost her, I remember asking in disbelief did I actually feel that way at some point in time? When somebody leaves you, a ubiquitous fog of resistance rolls in that makes it difficult to even think about feeling truly happy again. Maybe it’s a fear that it will end, or the distrust that it’s real, or guilt…

I want to feel happiness, but if I feel it I will be saying I don’t need her. I will be saying it’s possible to be just as happy without her. I will be saying that I don’t care if she’s gone.

The vocalizations are often quiet. Sometimes they are only heard when you are completely alone; when the nagging void is eating you up inside and nothing can soothe it; when you realize your heart isn’t as full as it once was. They come in whispers, almost too small to distinguish but loud enough to keep happiness at bay.

When life first goes awry, it’s possible to chase some form of happiness based on the statement “he/she would want you to be happy.” Or, “they are gone, but you are still here…” True enough statements. However, regaining real contentment and happiness takes much more. It means fighting the inherent notion that a smile endorses the tragedy. It means accepting the frustrating concept that you can feel joy when they aren’t here. It means making peace with the one who is gone.

The last one has been the kicker for me. There has been a single knot existing in my stomach, the one that won’t leave its post; the one that’s duty is to protect mom and I. It guards our relationship from the elements. This instinct, however, is not what will conserve my bond with mom. What will is giving the knot permission to relax.

Starting on the journey to relaxed knothood required what almost felt like a face-to-face conversation with my mom; a point in time that I told her I love her and lamented that nothing is the same without her. And I listened to her voice that said I am loved in return and that it will always be that way. I am a good person. I am a good person if I’m sad and I’m a good person if I’m happy. Even without her. I needed to close my eyes and hear her say it.

When one of your favourite people isn’t in this world anymore it shouldn’t be possible to feel unconstrained joy. But against all odds, it is. The ability to heal, for things to be regenerated, for second chances to be so common, these are things which amaze me the most about the world. Actually accepting these gifts is another story. Time helped; a “conversation” with mom helped; and remembering, imagining and including her in my present happiness has been crucial.

It is so subtle. Perhaps you’ve never thought out loud I would be unloving to let a bounce enter my step or a belly laugh live in my stomach but it’s something that I think holds a lot of us back more than we know. Though the resistance to happiness is just a part of the process, and will continually materialize in moments that are the most precious of life experiences – the ones he/she should be part of – I think it’s true, they would want us to be happy. My mom doesn’t want another life to end because hers did, and frankly it would be selfish to let it be that way.

Being okay with happiness has been one of the longest processes in my own experience, but it is such an extremely important end to chase. Two and a half years into the journey, I’m eager to honour my mom with smiles and closed eyes and deep breaths, allowing her, and happiness, to be part of every fibre of my being.