Experts talk about grief like it's a textbook you can read through or a 12-step program that as long as you follow the route and hit all the points of interest along the way - you can “get over” what ails you and move on. What we don't hear is that grief can come from dreams that never happened, cousins that were never born to play with your kids and an Auntie that my kids only got to hug in heaven as she hand-picked them for me.
Grief leaves life-long ripples.
Today marks 22 years. Twenty-two years since the day all the side windows in my purple RAV4 were blown out before I left for one of my last of 21 classes for my BSW. A social work degree that would then take me another 6 months to complete. I believe the blast happened when Dawn's soul was ripped from my world, it actually caused visible, physical damage - that's truly how connected we are.
I wouldn't hear the devastating news until I returned home that day when a stranger stood at the top of my stairs from victim services and the crush of child loss filled my mom's eyes. I can remember collapsing on the back deck as the words whispered past my mom's lips and I can still hear that empty scream that one only experiences in terror and my eyes even now fill with tears.
THE GIFTS SHE GAVE
Time doesn't necessarily heal all wounds…
It just fills the space in between with memories to cover over the gash. And there I am lucky. It's there we have a choice over what kinds of memories we cover it with because grief can also be an amazing bond-maker too. When you experience trauma you don’t always want to describe what that trauma feels like to others in order for them to “get it” - you know? And that too is why a lot of people don't know what to say to someone in grief.
And then came Glenn. Or like we like to joke - Dawn and Glenn's dad conspired to get us together.
When Glenn and I met, one of the things that comforted us both was that we could heal each other in silence. We knew what the biggest losses felt like. We didn't need to try and describe it or quantify it. We took comfort in that. It's probably one of the biggest bonds in our marriage. April is a hell month for us - Dawn’s anniversary on the 6th and his Dad’s on the 14th. We are very gentle with each other and grateful that this year he is home.
GROWING THROUGH GRIEF
In trauma, we also try to make sense of the situation in order for the loss to have some kind of meaning or purpose. Man, for years I have grappled with this one. I have picked purposes that had good intentions but it's time to let them go. I have found a purpose that I feel fits and would make Dawn proud.
Keep in mind, it's taken me 22 years to get here… grief is a lifelong process.
Dawn and I were yin and yang. We were miracle twins born 19 months apart. Mom and Dad only had me to keep Dawn company in the structure of our family - as Dawn was an “oops” born 8 years after my brother. So, having essentially two sets of kids - it was always Shonna and Eric and then Dawn and me.
Dawn was my protector, best friend, best rival, my mom at times, confidante - you name it. We were tight. She was also the rebel and I the straight and narrow. She had all the fun and lived life… and I cried over homework. She engaged EVERYONE at family events and I had stress asthma attacks and anxiety in my room. But she loved me through it all.
When she died a huge piece of me died too. A tether that she had given me to my family was cut. My connection was gone. And so I remember my brother driving me to the funeral home the day before her ceremony - and I can remember sneaking a picture of myself into her casket before the cremation.
For years I would wish it would have been me in there instead. And my purpose became to live life for her. The movie that saved my life was What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams because suicides don't go to heaven. And Dawn’s symbol of a ladybug became something I built my creativity around.
In my art, I signed my pieces with a ladybug within my name. I have ladybugs tattooed on my body. My daughter's middle name is Dawn and her nickname is LLB or Little Ladybug. I had a business name of Ladybug Creations. Ladybugs adorn my house and my garden.
What I started was a purpose in living for my sister became a realization in that there is a life to be lived. I can't hear the word sister without the gaping whirlpool sound beneath me gurgling its presence.
Covid has been a huge blessing for me in that it has allowed me to slow my life down enough to listen to my heart (thanks also to my husband for being an amazing provider and kicking ass with the UN) and I saw that I wasn't living life to its fullest as much as I was buying time until I got to see her at the end.
I need to fly. It's a miracle I can still fly. This little body of mine has taken quite a beating and has been through a lot. But here I am still nurturing, still loving, still creating… My story still going on.
I'm a bumblebee.
The bee symbolizes brightness, community and personal power. They hold the power of service which I believe is one of my greatest gifts. Bees represent the interconnectedness of all living things.
Now with Dawn's spirit by my side and her gifts of the ladybug - the importance of lightness, abundance and fulfilled wishes…
I'm finally ready to be present and go after the nectar of life!!! What this year and Dawn has taught me the honey is:
Being a Mom. It's one of the toughest, most exciting, boring, loving, hated, thankless, thankful, hats of all trades and skillless jobs I’ve ever had. When I became a true entrepreneur last year in coaching to have that fully flexible schedule for my kids I felt like I was failing. I had stepped out of the constant chase and anxiety-causing mantra world of fall-forward to being able to be there for my kids and my husband… and… Me!
I'm writing, I’ve painted and I’ve even read books for FUN! I only coach a handful of clients at a time and our connections are really meaningful and the impact I have made with each one has changed my life too and I’m so grateful for their time and trust.
This next year will be about completing my book and finding a publisher. Truly jumping into a speaking career. And writing about and researching what an international lifestyle looks like for a FAMILY… not just a deployed husband.
It's time all 5 of us take the leap (yes, I am including our fur-baby in the leap too). So stay tuned, keep reading and watching, learning and loving… we are in for a wild flight!