After I hit the one year mark of my husband’s passing, my girls and I commemorated it with a shared experience…a representation of our family of 4, as it was. I remember that day being one of peace, and while indeed sad, it wasn’t that bad at all. The “bad” was the anticipation of the one year that made leading up to it almost unbearable. The “one year sinces”: one year since we left for Alaska, one year since the strokes, one year since he last spoke, one year since he fell into a coma, and so on. The “one year sinces” were tough to take, and because he was a terminal cancer patient, his last year was chock full of them, each one a memory hit of torture.
At the time of the one year anniversary, I was actively participating in an eight-week long spousal loss support group. The support group’s timing was just right for me in my grief process because I needed to talk to others who were experiencing the same issues, and not only be heard and understood, but to believe that I wasn’t alone in how I felt about everything.
By mid-October, the support group ended, and we were all on a post-group high, talking by group text message for a few days. I hadn’t felt that good in a long time and thought maybe…just maybe…I’d start feeling like a human being again on a regular basis. The group experience was a drastic morale booster for me.
Because my birthday was coming up, I asked if anyone in the group would like to do a skydive with me. I wanted to skydive for my birthday…my own Kickstarter Campaign of sorts. I wanted to kick-start my next year with an adrenaline rush that I hadn’t known since I was a 19-year old Army Cadet at the US Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. A couple of other group members wanted to join me, and the remaining ones wanted to come and watch.
The actual skydive day was a great day. It felt good to do it and share the experience with these fellow grieving folks, one of my daughters, and even a 92-year old WW2 veteran. I hadn’t been that excited about anything in a long, long time. I kick-started my healing process from my deep pit of despair over my husband’s death.
At least, that’s what I thought I did.
What I learned is that this kind of grief doesn’t work like that. At all. You don’t kick-start yourself with a dramatic event like skydiving and propel yourself into happiness or even out of grief and sadness and despair.
Instead, the skydiving kick-start propelled me into a false sense of wonder and well-being. It suspended my grief process overall and even led me into some ultimately harmful distractions…simply because I felt better (at first)…and I completely disregarded my own emotional and mental vulnerability.
Reality is that all the demons are still very much residing within, and they don’t care about what I’ve been through or how far I thought I had come. They don’t care how much post trauma I’m contending with in my head. They don’t care about my suffering and all the emotional fragility still present, making me susceptible to the kinds of choices that contribute nothing but more unnecessary pain, loneliness, and confusion.
The kick-start provided a wonderful high, a day to remember for sure, a happy memory. However, when the monsters of depression and anxiety came back with a vengeance, after all the distractions were at last unmasked for what they were, I wondered why I bothered to try at all.
Several months went by, and my grief remained in an ebb and flow of superficial highs and cavernous lows, until one day, I realized my Kickstarter Campaign of skydiving on my birthday was a total failure. I hadn’t kick-started anything. I just had a fun day thinly disguised as a big defining moment. The at-times overwhelming struggles related to my loss, with the numbness now long gone and no longer protecting my big, bleeding, beating heart sidelined me for an embarrassingly long time. Even my youngest daughter was frustrated with how weak I was.
And then one day, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks. Some may call it an epiphany.
Kickstarter Campaigns while in the throes of grief are otherwise known as daily decisions. They aren’t defining moments. They aren’t dramatic events. They aren’t big choices. They aren’t pomp and circumstance. Instead, they are when I wake up and say to myself, “Today, I am going to the gym and running 6 miles instead of 5.” “Tonight, I am going to a writing class to become a better writer.” “Today, I am going for a skydive with a friend to feel the rush of a freefall at 120 MPH.” “Today, I am cleaning the balcony so I can sit out there and enjoy the view.” “Today, I am taking the dogs to the vet.” “Today, I am going to choose to embrace the fact that I am truly alone in this world.”
Kickstarter Campaigns are just the tiny campaigns that make up daily living.Of making the decision to live through each day. And not just live through each day…but live each day through. On some days, it’s skydiving or a big trip to a new destination or adopting a kitten that you name Kona. Other days, it’s taking the car to the dealership for a recall or getting to work without spilling coffee all over yourself or sitting down and reading a good book just because you want to.
And the best part? The only person who needs to invest in your Kickstarter Campaign is you. And she is enough.