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Sandra Walker Headshot

Now I Am Proud, Now I Am Grateful

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The Boston Marathon bombing changed something in me. In many ways, I unknowingly internalized that day and tied it to the day of my accident. Running races. My first 10k. The excitement. How hard you work to get to that goal. How hard you push to get to that day. How I never imagined in a million years that I wouldn't finish, or for that matter, even start. How my husband, Glen, like the victims in Boston, was just a bystander to my accomplishment. A supporter. And now he's gone. Forever. For honestly the first time since the accident, I blamed myself for his death. I began to feel deep levels of survivor's guilt. If I hadn't been focused on running, if I hadn't wanted to do that race, if I would have trained more and waited, if I, if I, if I...

My previous post on tragedy is honest. It is where I have been for months. Living on hope.  However, as the day carried on, hope began escaping through the sieve of my life and I felt deeply saddened, deeply alone, deeply hurt. Once those feelings took hold, they got darker and began to spin out of control. For the first time since the beginning of this grief, I was caught in the very middle of a cyclone that I no longer wanted to fight. Depression is something I greatly battled as a teenager. After becoming a widow and suffering a traumatic brain injury, depression has tried so hard to overcome me and that day, I let it have control... for a moment... The next day, I had a counseling session and because I was still in that dark place and not talking, a friend drove me there and went with me. My counselor started asking questions and I wouldn't look at her or speak to her. She was asking what had started these feelings. I wouldn't speak. So, she asked my friend how many days had this been going on and what he thought had started it. He began telling her about the trial and a few other things and I said, "Boston." I didn't even know it until that moment, but I said it again without looking up, "Boston. It was Boston." In the following hour, I began talking and we unfolded a lot of the feelings I was having and the counselor explained how Boston had re-traumatized me and brought me back to the beginning of my grief. At that moment, I began to heal again. In a new way. In a way that made me want all that life has for me. I began really looking at my grief and this journey and all that I have been through and learned and all I have to still get through. I began looking at grief honestly.

Grief is so tangible. Grief has texture and color and pulse. When I was a kid, we went to Yellowstone. I was 8 and I have never forgotten the way that the sulfur mines looked or smelled. The surface would be smooth and then all of the sudden it would begin bubbling like crazy and steaming and hissing. Somewhere along the way, I kind of combined the sulfur mines and the geysers in my memory. My grief looked like these memories this past week. It has been smooth, calm, and then it simply began bubbling and steaming and eventually exploded like a geyser.  My logical brain tells me that this is expected and normal, but my emotional side is not accepting of that. My emotional side began to believe that I will never feel better, that I am bound to feel depressed for the rest of my life. These valleys are deep, they are dark, they are cold and they make you want to lie down and quit. When you can't even see the light, feel the warmth, why would you climb out of the valley?

As I have continued to write, I have wanted no more than to be honest in my grief. There is really nothing pretty about it. Grief has been mucky, smelly, bubbly, hissing, screeching... and then out of nowhere, a clearing, a calm. Very early on in my Grief Share, I remember one of the women talking about what grief has looked like for her and I immediately had a picture of what grief looked like for me in my head and because I am a very visual person, I have never forgotten that image. Grief is like a circle in the middle of your life and in the beginning you are stuck to it and in it and you know of no other way to be. Living in the grief becomes safe and normal. Then, slowly, you begin to move away from it a bit at a time.

The next time you move away from it for a bit longer, which is miraculous, but the fall is a little harder. This pattern continues as the time away lasts a little longer and you feel a little higher. The falls become harder and steeper though. You begin to see that although the falls are hard and sudden, they do not last long. You visit with the grief for a bit less and instead of it feeling like your normal, it feels uncomfortable. The uphill battles are no longer so arduous. They are there, but you have done them before so you believe that you can do them again. You know what the mountaintop looks like. You have been there. You want to go back. So you begin climbing. Eventually what were once mountaintops become the plateaus of your life. Plateaus that you get to claim, that are yours to live on. The grief will always be there and you may have a sudden fall or you may just need to peer over the edge and remember what it looks like. After all, it is yours to own as. Grief does not have to own you.  Grief is yours to own. As I sit on this plateau after climbing out of a very deep valley, I am at peace. I peer over the edge and look at the jagged rocks and curves of the climb and finally feel proud of myself. I used to peer and just be afraid of going back and ashamed for having been there, but now I am proud. I am thankful. I am grateful.