Failing Forward

walkthroughthefire

This week marks the end of a seven year journey that my husband and I have been on.  On Friday of this week, we will be closing down our business, a business that we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into.  We didn’t come to this decision lightly.  Closing our business effects more than just us, it effects our kids, our staff, our suppliers and our customers.  We held on for as long as we could, but the fact is, we just couldn’t do it anymore.

The last two years of our lives has been harrowing.  If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I have been suffering from anxiety, depression and grief.  These take a toll on a person, physically and mentally.  I had a breakdown a few weeks ago and was housebound for two weeks and I walked a very fine line between giving in to it and fighting back.

Fighting is hard and I’m tired.  There were only three things that kept me from giving up; my husband and my two children.  They kept me tethered to this world when all I wanted to do was disappear into the ether.  I can’t see beyond the bleakness that consumes me, but they can, and I hold onto them in the hopes that their belief in a brighter future is what will get me through.

There are so many negative emotions associated with closing a business and for someone like me, who has way too many negative emotions to start with, dealing with this failure is like stepping on a landmine.  My whole world is about to explode and I don’t know what will be left in the aftermath.

One of the hardest things to cope with is the fact that I know that I am about to become fodder for gossip.  I have lived my entire life feeling the judgement of others, never measuring up to what those around me thought I should be and now I am proving them all right.  The fact that these people, so-called friends and family, will look at us and judge us and then use our story to titillate the ears of others, hurts, but what can you do?  People love a tragedy and my life has become very like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Nobody ever goes into business thinking they will fail.  This was not our first business, not the first time we failed, but this is probably the hardest.  We survived for seven years, sure we made some mistakes along the way, but seven years is a pretty good batting average for a small business.  I know that we’ve done everything we can and now it is time to let go.  It’s the letting go that is the hardest.

How do you let go of something that you have lived and breathed for seven years?  How do you get up in the morning knowing that there is nowhere to go, not even a reason to wake up?  They tell me that my stress levels will go down and my health will improve.  They give me reasons why this is a good thing, why this is a positive move, why I will be better off when everything is finalised.  I want to believe them, but right now, I can barely see the world beyond Friday.

I don’t want this to be the end of my story, and I suppose that is a good thing.  It means that I, at least, have a tiny ray of hope that I can go on.  I want to rise from the ashes, like a phoenix.  The legend of the phoenix states that the bird that rises from the ashes is more beautiful than the one before.  I want that.  I want to be able to rise out of this mess and be better, stronger, happier, healthier.  Isn’t that what is meant by failing forward?

Maybe in a month’s time I will look back and know that, although it was hard, we did the absolute right thing.  Maybe I won’t even recognise myself as the same woman who sat here and penned these words.  Maybe I will have found a new dream.

Or maybe it will take longer than a month.  The point is that it is in the rising after a fall that determines the future.  I may not feel the strength to rise right now, but I know I will.  One day.  One day in the future I will feel strong enough to lift my head and look to the horizon and dream of what the future holds.

I look forward to that day.

A Grief Observed

I have just finished reading ‘A Grief Observed’ by C.S. Lewis and found my very own thoughts and emotions written there.  Things that I was too afraid to articulate for fear of being judged were put down in black and white by a man who has long been held in high esteem.  His unflinching look at his own grief after the loss of his wife has prompted me to take a look at my own.

Up until recently I believed that grief was something that happened to me.  I have since been disabused of this notion and have been informed that grief is, in fact, something we need to actively participate in.  This was a revelation and has meant that I have now been setting aside time to look at my grief, examine it, delve into it and understand it.

Writing has certainly helped me make sense of the emotions I feel and acknowledging that I have to take part in this grief rather than let it happen to me has opened an unexpected door.  This was reflected in C.S. Lewis’ own writings when he says “It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier…You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

I have thus far felt that I had to wrap myself in a cloak of mourning to truly honour the memory of Kari-Lee, but what I have found is that when my heart is lighter, when my mourning is less, my memories of her are clearer and my honouring of her memory is more authentic. “…passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis) It is as though when we try to hold too tight, we actually lose our grip and it becomes more about us than about those that we mourn.

But I don’t say this to discount times of mourning and sorrow, for they too are needed.  We need to allow ourselves the time to feel what we feel, to let our bodies process the emotions that such a loss initiates, but we cannot live in those moments for the rest of our lives.  And it is tempting to believe that we can never be truly happy again because of our loss, but how does that honour the ones who have gone?

“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous.  To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing, after he’s had his leg off is quite another…He has ‘got over it’.  But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis)

I think this passage sums it all up quite nicely.  Life does go on but we are forever changed.  That doesn’t mean that we can never be happy, just that we are different and that our happiness will also be different.  We can’t be afraid of our future, of perhaps finding ourselves happy or laughing and then thinking that we have somehow dishonoured our loved one.

“At present I am learning to get about on crutches.  perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg.  But I shall never be a biped again.”

There is so much more in the short book and, although I know others haven’t, I have gotten a lot out of it.  The raw honesty of his writings has helped me face the rawness of my own and to face them unashamedly.

agriefobserved

Alis Volat Propriis

tattoo

Yesterday marks a major milestone in my life.  It has been twelve months since my daughter in law died.

It has been a long and horrible year, there is no other way to put.  My family has been pulled apart, my life has been turned inside out and I feel completely wrung out and done.

I suppose I felt that if I could just make it to the twelve month mark, then it would get easier.  It was like a beacon in the dark storm that I have been journeying through. I have held on to that magic number waiting for the moment that I could finally breathe and say that I made it.  It has been twelve long months and I have fought the good fight and now, now it will get easier, now I will turn the corner and things will get better.  But today has shown me that that is not the case.  Nothing has changed or become easier just because the magical twelve month mark has passed.

To people on the outside, I probably look like I’m doing ok.  I get up every morning, I go to work.  I’m productive, in fact I’ve written eight books this year.  I’m sociable at work, I smile, I even laugh occasionally.  But my grief is still with me, hanging over me like a black cloud.

Some days are worse than others.  Some moments are crippling, others steal my breath with pain.  Sometimes I feel like there is hope, that the future is something to look forward to and it is to those moments that I cling, they are my lifeline, they get me through.

Grief has changed me, and I don’t mean the type of change that is temporary.  I kept waiting to wake up and feel like my old self, to feel like the person I was before, but I’ve come to realise that that is never going to happen.  I am profoundly and irrevocably changed.

This is surprising for me.  I didn’t know what to expect, really.  I knew, theoretically, about the different stages of grief, but I didn’t understand that when you reach the end, you don’t go back to being the person you used to be.  At each stage I have been changed, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but always changed.  I don’t even recognise the person I am becoming, I don’t know who she is, and that is probably the hardest thing.

People have told me throughout this journey that everyone grieves differently, but it has always been said with an undertone of ‘you’re not doing it right’.  I have found myself at times thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m allowed to feel this way’ and it has made my grief confusing.  I am only the mother in law, I only knew her for a relatively short time.  We had a good relationship, but didn’t have a profound relationship, we were friends, but we weren’t best friends.  She was part of my family and I loved her.  I still don’t know how I am supposed to feel, I don’t know if I am doing it right, I just know that there is a hole in my heart where she should be.

audreyI have come to understand that that hole will always be there.  Whoever else comes into my family, there will always be a Kari shaped hole in my life.  That doesn’t mean that anyone else is less important, it doesn’t mean that I will love others less or that there will be no room in my life for new people, it just means that I will always feel like something isn’t quite right, like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece.  But I’ve come to realise that sometimes, like great pieces of art, we are defined more by the negative space in our lives.

It has been really hard to put these feelings in writing.  I thought I would do it yesterday, but I couldn’t, they were to big, too raw.  Even today it is hard to pull them from my heart.  I am so full of emotions that I don’t know what to do with them all.  Much like this blog post, they are jumbled and confusing with no real form or structure.  A metaphor for my life perhaps.karilee

I spent yesterday hiding from the world, apart from one particular outing.  I did something that I never thought I would ever do.  I got a tattoo.  There are many reasons why this tattoo is significant to me, but the main reason I got it was to have a physical, permanent reminder of Kari.  The words say ‘Alis Volat Propriis’ and it means ‘She flies with her own wings’.  When I think of Kari, this is how I think of her, flying free.

Midnight Ramblings

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Grief is my constant companion

He stands behind me and a little to the right

With his left hand on my shoulder

He is present in every conversation

Every decision, every moment

Sometimes his hand is soft and light

Other times it pushes me down with the weight

Sometimes his hand is comforting

And sometimes his hand causes me pain

We are bound together, grief and I

Forever destined to walk together

For better or for worse he is with me

My constant companion

Standing behind me an a little to the right

 

It is the middle of the night and I can’t sleep.  My thoughts stray to my daughter in-law, Kari-Lee and how much I miss her.

It has been just over six months since she left this earth and still I find it hard to believe that she is really gone.

I have watched my son grieve for his wife and it has broken my heart. I watch him as he struggles to find the man that he is now that she is gone. I watch as he struggles under the scrutiny of those around him, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to let other people down, afraid to disappoint them. I offer him my words of wisdom, such as they are, but I have never walked in his shoes and I don’t have the answers he so desperately seeks.

I remember when he was young and he would be full of questions about the world. He would ask me why the sky is blue and I would tell him why.  Not some made up story, but the real reason why and he would look at me like I was the most amazing person on earth and he would ask me how I knew these things and I would tell him it is because I am a mum and mothers know everything. Now he knows that that is not true.

With Mother’s Day just gone, I feel like I have failed him because I can’t give him the answers he seeks.  I couldn’t protect him from the hurt and the pain he is going through and I can’t protect him from the eyes of those who watch and judge him. What good is a mother who can’t protect her son?

I also have another son who is trying to blaze a trail in his life, growing into a man and finding out what that means.  It’s like watching him try on different suits to see which one fits and I want to point to one and tell him,  “That is the one,” but I can’t, he has to make his own decisions, he has to find the one that feels right for him, regardless of what it looks like for me.

And I worry about him. I worry about the grief he is feeling with the loss of his sister in-law. He is the strong silent type and I worry that he is too young to deal with such a thing.  I want to protect him from the harsh realities of life and death and love and hurt, but I can’t.

We mothers birth these babies and we nurture them and give them sustenance from our very own bodies and then they grow and grow and eventually grow away from us. And that is good, and right, and what they are supposed to do, but still it hurts to watch.

When they are little we kiss their hurts to make them better, but how do you mend the broken heart of your child? How do you take their grief and their pain from them? How do you stand by and watch them suffer knowing there is nothing that you can do to help?

I rail at he injustice of it. There are people in the world who do bad things, intentionally go out of their way to hurt people. There are cruel and nasty people who live long and fruitful lives.  Why did my beautiful daughter in-law have to die and these people still get to live? A question for the ages. I know that Kari-Lee is not the only person who deserved life, I know that there have been countless senseless deaths of innocents, I know that there is evil in the world that steals the lives of good, honest, hardworking people.  There is no rhyme or reason to it and those of us left behind are left wondering why?

There is no answer to that question and yet we must go on.  We must go on doing life even though it no longer makes sense, even though we don’t want to. The only options left to us are to give up hope or to live in a way as to honor those who have lost their lives. Kari-Lee lived large, taking every opportunity to experience everything life had to offer. She fit more living into her twenty five years than I have in my forty two and that inspires me to not give up hope.

I don’t know the end of my story or my sons’ stories. I will never be able to answer all their questions, as much as I would wish to be able to. I will never be able to protect them from the hurts of the world. The only thing I can offer them is a soft place to land when everything becomes too much and a hope for the future.

2015 – Make it Count

Make it Count

Happy New Year!

It is January 1, 2015 and I am doing what most people are doing…I am looking back.

I had high hopes for my 2014, there was so much potential at the beginning of the year and I decided I would grab it by the short and curlies and run with it.  We had so much to look forward to – our eldest son had just gotten married, we had two thriving businesses, our youngest son was chasing his dreams in the UK and we were looking forward to being empty-nesters and pursuing opportunities that we missed by having children so young…our life was good.  I wrote a bucket list of the things I would like to achieve in the year and I set to with gusto. But life had other ideas.

My 2014 was not the year that was promised to me in those first optimistic blushes of sunrise on New Year’s Day…my 2014 is a year that I wish had turned out so differently – from near devastating financial issues to the absolutely devastating loss of our daughter-in-law – my 2014 was not the year I thought it would be – but it was life and I lived it and as much as it was painful and horrible, I would live through it again if I had to.

I wish with all my heart that things had turned out differently.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that Kari-Lee had not died – I would do anything and everything in my power to stop that from happening, but if I had to live last year again – without any changes to the outcomes – I would, because those precious months with her are like pearls of great price.  Her life and her death has taught me so much and forever changed me.

Last year I wrote a list of things I wanted to achieve during my 2014, twelve things in fact, and of the twelve I only achieved three, but that is ok.  It is ok because at least I tried.  We often look at life as destinations and milestones rather than looking at the journey as a whole.  Kari taught me that.  She taught me to appreciate every breath, every step, every attempt.  She lived with the knowledge that her life had an end date that was a lot sooner than most, but she didn’t let it stop her.  She took risks and never let an opportunity pass her by and she never let fear stop her from living. That is what I want to do too.

It won’t be easy.  My family and I are still in the grips of grief and we struggle daily with the hole in our lives, but I don’t want to give up on living.  I don’t want to let this next year slip by without appreciating what I have got – a chance to live – and I want to make it count.  I want to make Kari-Lee proud as she watches from her window in heaven.  I want to have a life that at the end I can say, “I did it all.”

This is a song by One Republic that we played at Kari-Lee’s funeral.  This song captures the essence of Kari’s life.  This is my theme song for the next twelve months – maybe for the rest of my life.

Broken Shards

grief

I expected the world to stop.

I expected the world to pause…to take a collective breath…to notice.

In that moment, right at that very moment, I expected there to be some sort of acknowledgement from the universe that you had gone.

But there was none.

We, who witnessed you stepping into heaven, knew you had left this mortal coil, knew that you had walked into eternity, knew that you had left your frail mortality behind, but there was no acknowledgement from the universe, no shudder from the world that it had lost one of it’s souls, no pause to notice that we had lost a bright light, a shining star, a gentle heart.

My heart still beats, my lungs breathe, my eyes blink…shouldn’t something have changed?  Shouldn’t there be some sort of outward appearance that part of my heart is gone?  Shouldn’t there be a mark on me to tell others that we, the world, have lost a precious soul?  Shouldn’t the world mourn?

But the world still turns.  People go about their daily lives, unaware.

I stand apart, the world a blur of movement around me, and I ask why.  Why does life go on around me?  Shouldn’t it just stop?

I feel like I am moving through honey, the world around me in hyper drive while I struggle against the resistance.  Sounds come from far away, muffled.  I am cocooned, my life seemingly out of time and space, drifting, unable to find purchase, unable to find stability and unable to care.

I expected the world to stop, just for a little while, just so I could find my feet, just so I could come to terms with living without you.

But it didn’t.

And so life goes on…without you.

And I am trying to keep up, trying to keep my head above water, trying to do what the world expects me to do while inside I am breaking.  Inside I am a mess of smashed dreams, shattered wishes and fractured hopes and every movement causes me to brush up against those broken shards and the pain is renewed, relived.

I expected the world to stop, just for a moment.  I expected the universe to pause, to make an adjustment, to prepare itself for life without you.

Because how can this world keep turning when you are not in it?

Living the Dream

We all have a dream.  It is what makes us get out of bed in the morning, it is what keeps us going through the hard times; that hope, that belief that one day, someday, our life will be different.  We all dream of a better life where there is no pain, no struggle, no hardship…but what if you have found your dream and there is still pain, there is still struggle and there is still hardship?  Does achieving your dream really mean that you get to coast for the rest of your life?  And really, what does “living the dream” actually mean?

I am a romantic; a visionary.  I dream a lot of dreams and see visions of the future as if they were real, but the reality of achieving those dreams and realising those visions is not what I’d imagined.  The work doesn’t stop when you achieve your goal, when you hold that dream in your hands, in reality, the work has only just begun.

This happens to me time and again.  I work toward my dream, I sacrifice and suffer for my dream.  I work through all the obstacles with my faith and hope intact until finally, finally, I have it in my hand and I am left bewildered, astounded and a little miffed.  This dream, this vision that I have worked and strived for that was supposed to make my life easier has totally exploded in my face.  I have achieved my goal, but instead of feeling like I have won the race, I feel like the race has only just begun.

You see, all that striving, all that sacrifice and suffering that I lived through and persevered through to reach my dream…that was all just training.

In the past when I have reached this point I have given up.  I have looked at the reality of the dream and have wondered where I went wrong.  This wasn’t what it looked like in my vision.  In my vision, when I had achieved my goal, it would be all smooth sailing and it isn’t, so, that must mean this isn’t my dream.  I have been side tracked somewhere along the way and although this looks like my dream, it mustn’t be it because if this was my dream it wouldn’t be so hard!

What I am now starting to realise is that achieving your goals and reaching your dreams does not mean the end of the struggle.  All that went before, all that pain and suffering and training is just preparation for living your dream.

My son is a runner.  He has a dream to run a marathon.  He trains every day…he runs every day.  He has spent months running.  He tries to run further every day and he tries to do it in a shorter amount of time every day.  He is continually pushing himself past pain and struggle to train his body and his mind for the marathon.  When he finally stands on the starting line for that marathon he will have achieved his dream…but to live that dream he is going to have to put his body through more pain and more struggle than he ever had to while he was training.  Achieving the dream is not enough, he needs to live the dream; run the marathon and reach the finish line.

Living the dream is hard.  We see friends post on Facebook that they are ‘living the dream’ when in reality, they are on a holiday or it is a snapshot of a moment where they feel an accomplishment.  That is not living the dream; that is enjoying the dream.  Living your dreams is about getting your hands dirty; rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in.  It is not easy and it is not always fun but…there are moments, sometimes only rare glimpses when you feel that this is what you were put on earth to do.

So many dreams are aborted too early because of the pain and struggle it takes to achieve them.  Other dreams are abandoned just after they are finally born because the reality of the dream did not match the vision of the dream.  Like a mother giving birth, the pain of the labour is soon forgotten when you hold the baby in your arms.  For that moment all the struggle has been forgotten as you look at the miracle that you hold.  But that is just a moment.  The reality of having a child is very different.  There is still pain and struggle and heartache as you rear that child.  Living your dream is the same…there is more work to do, not less.  There are more obstacles to overcome and holding onto to your faith and your hope is more important than ever.

As I write this, I am living my dream and I am realising that it is really, really hard.  There are moments when I feel accomplished and fulfilled, but there are still times when I feel completely overwhelmed and inadequately equipped.  There are days that I ponder the saying ‘be careful of what you wish for’ and then there are days when I can’t imagine doing anything else.  There is a constant tension, a pulling in opposite directions and a very fine line between success and failure.  Living your dream means making hard decision, it means growing as a person, it means doing things that scare you.

Living the dream is not rainbows and lollipops, sometimes it is more rain than rainbows and more cavities than lollipops, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.  Yes, living the dream is hard work but what would you rather do?  Living someone else’s dream is harder and living with no dream at all is even worse.  Yes, living the dream is hard, dirty, sometimes frustrating, heartbreaking and tough, but when you hold that baby in your arms and look into his adoring eyes, even if the house is a mess and you haven’t showered in days, it all melts away when you realise that you are, in fact, living your dream.

Photo Credit: iStock