I recently turned 39. My 38th turn around the sun was a year of grieving and healing, transplanting and adjusting. My 3-year-old daughter passed away in October of 2019 and just as I was beginning to get my feet under me again, COVID-19 hit. With her passing and the ensuing pandemic, the once frenetic pace with which I had lived my entire life - seriously, there was a time where if my calendar wasn’t filled from dawn to dusk I felt wasteful - crawled to a sluggish stop.
At first I thought being forced to grieve during a pandemic, where I was shut off from the world, friends, family and distractions, was the next cruel phase of my trauma. But now I’m able to see it as some sort of bizarre white elephant gift that has actually been quite useful. I NEVER would have afforded myself the time to reflect and process my daughter’s loss if I hadn’t been forced. I would have masked my grief with make-up and pretty clothes and attended all the events while popping dangerous amounts of Xanax to get me through. This is how I roll - go, go, go until you get sick or crash or both. But with COVID there was nowhere to go, no mask to hide under, no excuse to avoid my grief. Basically what I’m saying is that 38 has been filled with rainbows, sunshine and cupcake pooping unicorns. So, um, nowhere to go but up?
Dare I admit this out loud… I’ve actually felt optimistic as of late. Sure, the vaccine helps, as does the warming weather and signs of life returning to some new normal. But I also feel an internal shift - Kelly 4.0 is gearing up for the next phase of life. To get to this point was no small feat and if I’m ever going to take my own advice and celebrate the inchstones on the way to life’s greater milestones this feels like as good a time as any to recognize my personal progress. I’m pushing forward and working toward a greater goal, which is significantly more than I can say about where I was on my birthday a year ago.
April 11, 2020 my dearest friends in Chicago ordered a rather large, and slightly garish, smiley face balloon display which was assembled on the fence outside our condo window. We social distanced outside and drank plastic cups of Prosecco - from there I continued to drink whatever was in arms reach for the rest of the day hoping to blur out my grief in a continuous drunken haze. It worked, I had a great day - from what I remember. The day after my birthday marked six months since we lost Adelaide and that marker weighed heavier than the case of wine I had attempted to drink my way through - or the hangover that accompanied said case.
I can honestly report that I am in a much healthier place these days. My husband and I have made a recent pact to only drink socially and since we’re in a pandemic that is (unfortunately) rare. Leaving the house for any reason used to require multiple benzos and a long nap afterward. I couldn’t emotionally handle social outings two days in a row let alone two in one day without my anxiety catapulting to a critical level. I still require the occasional nap, and grocery stores remain a major trigger for me (grief is weird), but my benzo use is way down and being social no longer requires bed rest. I can see the progress I’ve made and I’m proud of myself.
This doesn’t mean I’m better: there will inevitably be dark holes I crawl or trip into down the road. I’ll never live without this grief but I can try to not let it be solely responsible for dictating my life. I still surround myself with my daughter’s pictures and watch old videos stored on my phone. I go back and read old blog posts and share memories with any available ear. I haven’t let go of her at all, she is just as much a part of my thoughts and my day as she was the day after she died. I do still cry for her most days but it’s not the debilitating grief it once was. As everyone said I would, I am learning to live with her loss (curse them all for being right!).
So, bring it on 39 - I am battle-tested and can likely manage just about anything thrown at me - but if perhaps we could pepper in a bit more good this year it would be greatly appreciated. I’m not asking for the cupcake pooping unicorn but maybe some more sunshine and uncontrolled laughter.
Thanks in advance,