When you finally have your schedule and routines back, grief pops up at the damnedest times. Sort of like accidentally scratching a scab you know will now become a scar.

There seems to be that one day when you can finally breathe knowing that all the shit you’ve been through since your husband died, the world seems right.

Right? right. Grief meltdowns, you don’t control me anymore.

I’m skiing toward the 5-year mark, and the uncertainty of whether or not grief will catapult into my daily life seems, for the most part, not to happen too often. But then, there’s that day, where it’s so regular and non-threatening, one little shift happens and the grief demon rises.

This past Wednesday I started training a new client. A very kind person, who is trying to get back on track with their health. They are in the medical field and understand the importance of eating healthy, alternating weight training and cardio, and of course, committing to the process for consistency.

Enough of that diatribe, this particular client has a unique job. So during our chitchat to pass the rest time, I asked them,

“So, what kind of doctoring do you do?” I grinned while setting up the next exercise.

“I work with gastro primarily— like stomach, intestines, and…”

“And liver.” I cut them off and my toothy-grin collapsed into pursed lips.

Their eyes brightened, “Yes! Liver.”

My mind raced, and my stomach twisted. Of all the people in this capital city, of all 250,000 people who occupy Montgomery County, what are the odds to have a liver doctor as my client?

The universe works in strange ways, and I told them about my husband and how he died from a rare form of liver cancer. They knew all about the cancer and said how rare it was. I know, I know. But this strange occurrence, I don’t think was an accident. It’s a sign.

It set up my grief trap. It was the bait, and then Friday arrived.

Friday morning I met with another potential client about training. This person told me about their missing gallbladder and gastro surgery.

Excuse me. What?

Yes. Gastro surgery. You know, stomach, intestines and liver area of the body. They continued to tell me about the scar they have on their torso.

The grief bait had a nibble.

My husband had a massive scar on his stomach from his liver surgeries. It was nearly 7 inches long, from his rib cage to his belly button and then jetted out to the left to make a hook. Except to me, his scar looked like a J.

I didn’t see the potential clients scar, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. All day, I thought about my husband’s scar. How I traced my finger along it asking if he could feel? Or when he would catch me looking at his scar, and he would be so embarrassed by it. He saw his scar as a flaw, but I loved it because he had a J for Julia in the middle of his body.

I loved his J scar, and frankly, as time pressed on since his death, I don’t think about his scar. I think about the good times we had and how blessed I am to have found and shared a love with him. And how I’m ready and excited to get married again.

But the conversation about the scar unraveled my peace of mind. The darkness locked inside of me permeated through my skull and down my spine and festered deep inside of me. So deep my blood vessels and marrow weren’t spared from the familiar numbness of grief. My heart broke knowing his life was cut short by an evil there is no cure for.

My head spun as I bounced from gym-to-gym-to-gym swallowing my tears and pretending everything in my life was going according to schedule. My body started to feel exhausted before the sun went down, because of the energy I was using to quell my grief monster that was screaming below the surface.

When the day was over, and I finished my last class, I smiled. I got into my car, rested my hands on the steering wheel, gave a deep sigh before the demons poured out of me.

Grief is unsuspecting, unforgiving, and even with years separated, this storm of hell can rip apart months and years of defenses against it.

But I feel better because of it, and I was able to be me again.

But the me I am now will never be the me who was with my husband. That me died next to him.


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Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Navarre, FL.

To contact Julia, please visit her website or visit her Instagram for health tips at @juliasteiercoaching