On Guard (Unraveling Grief)

Grief is like an out of season mosquito. You think you’re fine, but out of nowhere it gets you.

I like to think of myself as a very open and warm person. If you met me, you’d probably think I’m nice.

But let me warn you…I have a guard up. We’re all walking wounded – that’s part of life – and we all have ways of handling the twists and turns life has thrown at us.

I was 9 years old when I watched my grandpa die in my front yard. My life was squeaky clean before that, all rainbows and unicorns (literally – hello, My Little Pony). The most traumatic thing I had experienced was allergy testing.

But trauma is relative.

In one instant, I watched the people who were supposed to be in control… lose their control. I watched my grandpa, who was just sitting at my dining room table holding my hand while we prayed the night before, struggle to breathe and fall to the ground. I watched my mom and grandma using an epi pen and performing CPR, to no avail.

I watched his eyes roll back.

When my parents came home from the hospital that night, smiling because Pop-Pop was in heaven… that’s when the walls went up. That’s when I learned an important lesson.

Life as you know it can change in an instant. So don’t get too close. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t love too deeply. Hold everyone at arms’ length. Disconnect.

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I lived like that for a long time. I struggle to be present in emergency situations to this day. The little girl who witnessed her precious grandpa dying likes to pretend she’s in a movie, watching everything from behind a screen.

However, I am learning to flip the script. As a mother, I am learning that there is another way to respond to grief.

I can lean in. I can treasure the moments. I can fill the days with quality time and cuddles and kisses that I won’t get to have one day when they grow up. The statistics on death are pretty amazing. 1 out of 1 people die. All our days are numbered. I can’t control when and where it will happen, but it will, for everyone in my family.

My dad almost died from a heart attack a few years ago, a reminder that life is so very precious and taken for granted. Though I still probably haven’t said things to him that I should, I savor every moment he shows up at our door to take my boys to get some GMO’s at McDonald’s or the donut shop. I soak up our family dinners. I take LOTS of pictures.

Sometimes, late at night, I lie awake with the panic creeping in like the tide, thinking about who will die next and how will I respond. Will I shut down? Will I be present? Will I raise my fist at God? Will I turn to Him for comfort?

I can’t know the answer to those questions, and I can’t jump into the future. But I CAN be present in the present. I can give those who I love everything I have… for the time that I have it here on earth. It isn’t long.

28 years ago today, a little girl watched her beloved Pop Pop leave this earth. She still walks with a bit of a limp. But that limp caused her to grow stronger in other ways, as she learned to live each day with gratitude – and purpose.

What will YOU do today to be present with your loved ones?

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