I cried in the shower tonight. I guess I was hoping that the hot water and the sound of silence would somehow magically soothe my hurting heart. But the longer I let the heat warm my body and felt the water pound against my back, the harder I cried. I rested my head against the shower wall hoping to find my inner calm. But, I didn’t. Instead, in my shower of tears, I discovered something else. Grief, pain, and loss made a re-entry into my emotional orbit. A perfect storm. A trifecta of emotions.

Most days, I’m okay. I’ve done my best to manage my grief, and perhaps that’s where I went wrong. Or maybe not. It did, after all, lead me to write.  

But here in the stillness of a cold January night a few days shy of the day five years ago when my world came crashing down, I feel incredibly raw. I’ve stripped down. I am naked with emotion. I am tired of pretending to be okay, when in fact at this moment, I am not. Beneath it all is a daughter who merely misses her mom, although there is nothing simple about it. The complexity with which I feel scares me yet it is also somehow freeing. 

I fight to understand the intensity with which the floodgates have opened. 

I retreat because it is easier to carry this storm in silence and the deluge of my heart; all the while knowing that letting it out – even in the sanctity of my own four walls – is a pathway for continued healing. 

I still long for the day when I can talk about my mom’s passing and the connection we had without that lump forming in my throat and tears welling in my eyes. I’ve found it makes some people uncomfortable and that others don’t understand. And I don’t expect them to understand. Then again, I’ve been quietly comforted and happily reminded too by sharing my story. The latter, of course, telling me that in finality there is also a beginning.

Grief, pain, and loss are strong emotions. They mix like an exquisite cocktail, and as you sip it slowly and with intent, it quietly packs one hell of a punch. It can leave you dizzy, unsettled, and numb. Your head may hurt, and your eyes may swell from the tears that won’t stop. It is the supreme hangover for which the only remedy is to work through it.  

I question the flood of emotions that ransack my heart so randomly – and unexpectedly. And so I sit here and cry some more. A part of me says that I should stop. Enough already. Let it go. That other part of me – the one who knows that self-care is essential – allows me to feel this. All of it – as ugly and as thick as it is – because I am a human whose emotions and feelings run deep.

And despite the trembling that accompanies my acknowledgment is knowing that it makes me feel better to feel this. I suppose the tears allow me to acknowledge these feelings. The tears make it real and allow me to continue to heal. I am consoled by my non-judgemental canine child who nuzzles close to me and whimpers softly – his way of saying “its okay momma, I’m here.” 

I don’t quite know how to explain how I feel. I suspect it is different for each of us. But for me, pain and sadness are a vice grip, and at times, it is difficult to breathe. Until it isn’t. I can’t explain why now, after almost five years, the sadness still invades my heart. But, I suspect it is because I loved her so much. I used to think that I had to apologize for being sad, for feeling what I am feeling and for embracing my vulnerabilities.

But I don’t. And I won’t.

The loss is genuine, as is pain and sadness. We all experience it, and we all work through it in our way. Some of us are more compassionate toward others going through it and some of us not. I can’t begin to understand what makes us all tick or why one person deals with it one way and me another. But for me, it is this right here.

I am stripping away the layers.

I am feeling with every ounce of my being. It’s who I am.

Admittedly, I’ve wished that I wasn’t such an emotional being. And, I’ve tried. But I didn’t like wearing that facade. It doesn’t mean that I am weak. I am not fragile — just the opposite.

I found my strength in my pain and loss.

I found my voice in my pain and loss.

But most of all, I found my way.

I’ve learned, from my mother mind you, to be resilient. And while she always told me “don’t let the turkeys get you down,” I have to admit that I sometimes do. But, I’ve found, in those times that I can see my way through and pull myself back up.

Why? Because like she always said, “You’re made of good stuff.”

I have to admit, however, that at times, I’ve tried to deny and hide my feelings masterfully. Escapism seems like an excellent tactic until that moment when you are alone and all those emotions that you compartmentalized so well show up on the doorstep of your heart. You wish that you had a restraining order to keep it a safe distance away — a way to protect yourself and insulate your feelings.

But that’s not who you are really. And deep down, you know it. So why deny it?

Most of the time, I am okay. My life is good and filled with so much love. I am quite blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by such an encouraging, supportive and loving tribe. They are my people. They are the humans who keep me in check and remind me that it is okay not to be okay sometimes.  

Still, when it creeps back in, I find myself pretending that I am fine when, in fact, I am not. And I know deep in my heart that by saying I’m not okay, that it isn’t an admission of weakness. But it’s hard to let it out when you feel like you need to be strong. I realize now that I don’t always have to be. 

The truth is that I started writing this a few nights ago — a night when I didn’t feel strong. I felt tired, defeated, sad, and numb. I was a volcanic eruption of emotions. At the time, there was no rhyme or reason to what I was feeling, and I didn’t deny my feelings either. I let myself feel everything I needed to as the week played out. It was important to me to roll with it and acknowledge how far I’ve come, even when I don’t see it right in front of me. 

It’s now Sunday, January 20th. It also happens to be my birthday and the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. And, it is my first birthday without my dear Aunt, who was like a second mom to me and who left this earth this past August — a bittersweet day for sure made better by the love and support of my husband, family, and friends. 

I miss my mom deeply. I think about my dad and how this must be a hard day for him too – and for my brothers and sisters-in-law. And yet, my heart is happy knowing that she is in a better place and reunited with her sister – always partners in crime.

Oddly to this day, I can recall the exact moment when I knew something was wrong. It was shortly after 1 pm, and I felt a deep, intensifying pain. I was trying to enjoy my “healthy” birthday cake – a fruit stuffed watermelon – with my co-workers, but I didn’t feel right and was unsettled the rest of the afternoon. I would learn that evening from my husband and dear friend what happened. And I can tell you I have never felt such intense pain and loss. 

I can share with you now that the last words my mom spoke to me that day were “Happy Birthday, sunshine.” But I never imagined it would be the last time she would wish me a Happy Birthday. All the more reason to write this today as there is no promise of tomorrow.

I’ll never forget the sound of her voice and especially that day when it was softer and weaker. The guilt I felt after learning about her death because I knew from her voice that day something wasn’t right. Funny, I think she did too.

But, if my mom taught me anything, it is forgiveness. And love. And humor. And strength. But most of all courage. And she defined the latter, especially that last year.

I asked myself whether I would publish this or whether it would remain a draft. But, I feel compelled to share my story. I cannot deny that this week has been taxing. My sadness nearly consumed me, but my tribe helped me through as did an unexpected story about my mom shared by a loved one.

When I take a step back and put it all into perspective, I realize that this is part of the process. This process is part of growing and learning and finding your way. At times it is ugly but within that ugliness lies beauty – even in the perfectly imbalanced chaos of life.

While it may seem like everything is snow covered and cold right now and that the blah days won’t end, I know that they will. The sun will come out, the snow will eventually melt, and there will be new growth — all good things in time.

I see things with brighter eyes today. And while I am sad and missing those two amazing women, I am also grateful and happy for this life that I get to live. It’s not perfect, it’s not glamorous, and it hasn’t always gone in the direction I intended. But it is mine, and I am glad that I get another day to appreciate all of it.

I have this wonderful outlet that I would never have had the courage to pursue had it not been for my mother’s passing and the gifts of wisdom she left me.

So, as I sit here and look out the window at the freshly crested snow and the barren trees, I am reassured that I am where I am supposed to be for now. I know that the emotions I felt the other night – the vacancy that was within me – wasn’t that at all. My heart is full but not exempt from feeling. I let myself succumb to it, and I am thankful that I did because it led me here and despite how low I felt, it opened my eyes.

It’s a new day and another chance. And for that, I am ever so grateful.

So, here’s to the angels watching over me and guiding me through. I know you are with me every step of the way.