Grief’s Collateral Blessings

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Not because today marks nine years since losing Aly. Rather, the feel of the cool sheets, my sleeping hubby next to me, and the warm sun filtering through our bedroom window felt too peaceful to disturb.

So I laid there and allowed my mind to wander over the past nine years. I replayed that night in the field when I sat next to Aly, how I held her warm hand while strangers on scene surrounded me with love. How Jamie called for an update on the fender-bender only to learn his youngest daughter was covered by the stark white sheet of death.

How we made our way home as the full moon gave way to dawn, wondering when we’ll wake from this nightmare.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I would survive.

In those early days I didn’t think I could endure the agony, and many days I didn’t want to. The pain is beyond any words in a college textbook.

How could I learn to live with Aly in my heart instead of my arms? I didn’t know. But whether I liked it or not, I was about to learn.

My playbook of grief begins with a fog of shock so strong, I don’t remember much. The next few chapters are filled with wailing, gnashing of teeth, and spewing vile words. I then embarked on a desperate search for comfort, for relief from the agony. The end of my playbook remains unwritten but the rawness has softened and the current chapters teach that my heart can hold joy the same time as sorrow.

There are many lessons and chapters in my playbook, but the most surprising of all is the one about transformation. In the early days we don’t believe this is possible. How could we? We can’t see past the pain. But as the rawness softens and our coping skills strengthen, we move into an unexpected—and often positive—transformative phase.

What I didn’t know nine years ago that I know now is that Aly’s death was the gateway to many blessings.

My circle of friends has expanded to strangers around the world who speak all loss languages. This taught me that the foundation of mankind is love.

My skillset has expanded to things I didn’t know I could do. This taught me that limitations are self induced, and I can do more than I think.

My compassion has grown in ways I could never have imagined. I learned to see outside my own pain into other hurting hearts, and how helping them helps my own heart to heal.

My gratitude has evolved into an intentional mindset. This taught me that being grateful is a powerful healing modality. The more grateful I am, the more gratitude I have.

Am I grateful for Aly’s death? No. It’s a hellacious journey. But I am grateful for the collateral blessings. This taught me that there is more to grief than meets the eye.

Nine years ago I didn’t want to live. But others held that light of hope when I had none. This taught me the importance of sparking, igniting, and shining our light for those in the darkness behind us.

I’m often asked whether the pain ever truly ends. One cliche is that we don’t get over grief, we move through it. I don’t believe we move through it. I believe we learn to carry it with us as we move forward in life.

To answer the question, I do believe pain eases. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. The timing might be different, but don’t give up. Life’s second act will be different, but enjoy the moments when the pain isn’t as suffocating and you’ll find that you don’t have to choose between sorrow or joy. The heart has room for both, and eventually the joy will grow.

Nine years ago I didn’t believe I would survive losing Aly. What I didn’t know then that I know now is not only would I survive, I might actually like—no, love—life.

I love you, Lovey.

Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell
08/05/18

The Others

Her body sank to the floor, her shoulders heaving with sobs. I knelt down, wrapped my arms around her and rested my cheek on her soft hair. I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.

I saw her again the next day, yesterday, at the top of the escalator. When our eyes met, sobs once again overtook her body. I couldn’t stop her tears but I did know the power of a hug from one bereaved mother to another. I held her right there on the spot, oblivious to others coming and going. Because in that moment, nothing else mattered. Nothing else but her grief. And my love for her, for a stranger.

I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.

Some wonder why those of us who are years down the road attend grief conferences. Don’t they remind us of the darkest moment of our lives? Why would we want to revisit such pain?

Because when we help others we help our own hearts to heal.

These conferences remind us how far we’ve come.

They remind us how much we’ve changed for the better.

That we’re the hero of our own story by holding the light of hope for those who have none.Hope

Grief conferences recharge our batteries in ways nothing else can. We meet others who speak our loss language, and become lifelong friends based on that alone. Politics, religion, nor socioeconomic backgrounds do not matter here. What matters is that hope is ignited, shared, and protected.

I’m home now, having climbed into bed next to my dear sweet hubby before daybreak this morning. My body is weary but my heart is content. Physically I didn’t do much at this conference, but spiritually I gave all I had. And I’ll do it again next week, next month and next year.

I may not know all their names but I know their pain. When we lose a child we become The Others. And when I hold another Other in her darkest hour, all is right with my world.

I am grateful.

-Lynda Cheldelin Fell  XOXO

Missing Mom

When we lose an aged parent, many chalk it up to the natural progression of life. But does that mean we miss them less, or we shouldn’t grieve their death? Meet Judy Taylor, author of Mum Moments, whose authentic emotions to her mom’s death put her on a path to self discovery—and discover new friends in unlikely places.

The power of self advocacy

Grief Diaries
It started as a small sore on her nipple, about the size of a pencil eraser. My oldest sister Layne made an appointment with her primary doctor. She was put on oral and topical antibiotics and told to go buy new bras.
 
Three days later Layne had an appointment with a different doctor for an unrelated issue. He asked why she was on antibiotics. When she explained, he immediately recommended she get a second opinion. She left that office and walked over to her gynecologist and asked for the soonest appointment. A retired R.N., Layne explained the situation and requested a biopsy.
 
Layne saw the gynecologist the next day. He wasn’t alarmed but clearly Layne was. She was sent to a female surgeon for a biopsy, but the soonest appointment wasn’t soon enough. Living with autoimmune disease taught Layne to become a seasoned advocate for her own healthcare. She had an appointment for a biopsy the very next day.
 
When she arrived for the biopsy, it was two days before Memorial Day weekend. The nurse made it quite clear that they were working her in. Finally Layne was called back to an exam room. The surgeon looked at the sore on Layne’s nipple and said, “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. This doesn’t look like anything bad but let’s do a biopsy just to make sure.”
 
On May 31, Layne’s surgeon called. When the doctor calls, it’s never good news. “You have breast cancer.”
 
Two of us four girls have now been diagnosed with breast cancer. Our little sister was diagnosed nearly 12 years ago with stage 4 breast cancer with bone mets. She was just shy of 37 at the time of her diagnosis. Layne is 58, and her cancer is Padget disease, a rare form of breast cancer. Genetic testing on both sisters were completely negative.
 
I’m sharing this in hopes it will save others. Layne had a 3-D mammogram eight months ago that was completely negative. Most doctors treat nipple sores with multiple rounds of antibiotics without success. By the time the true diagnosis is uncovered, the cancer has advanced. Thanks to Layne advocating for herself, it was caught early and she has a better prognosis than most.

I’m sharing this in hopes it will save others. Layne had a 3-D mammogram eight months ago that was completely negative. Most doctors treat nipple sores with multiple rounds of antibiotics without success. By the time the true diagnosis is uncovered, the cancer has advanced to a poor prognosis. Thanks to Layne advocating for herself, it was caught early and her chance of survival is much higher.

Self-Advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself and be a partner in your own healthcare. Most of us had both reigns over to our medical team because we expect them to get it right. But just like any profession, doctors are humans who are subject to fatigue, emotional stress, family life, and more. Exercise your right to understand. Seek answers, ask questions, probe possibilities. Listen to your intuitive side when making decisions. Stay informed. Knowledge is power.

When your life is on the line, be at the helm of the team.

-Lynda Cheldelin Fell, Grief Diaries
Grief Diaries

Why suicide isn’t selfish

In light of Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain‘s deaths by suicide, I’m struck by the harsh comments by those who don’t understand. Suicide is not a crime (thanks to modern law), and it isn’t selfish. It happens when pain exceeds coping skills. Just as people with heart disease sometimes die from a heart attack, depression is a mental illness that sometimes leads to suicide.

It’s important to understand that suicide can also happen in the absence of depression, like a teen or young adult in acute pain from overwhelming circumstances they can’t see past.

If you haven’t lost someone who died from suicide or know someone who survived a suicide attempt, it can be hard to wrap your brain around it. But judging someone else’s actions when you don’t walk in their shoes only brings more heartache to the loved ones left behind who now face a lifetime of shame and stigma.

My heart is broken for all families left struggling in the wake of suicide, and serves as a good reminder to embody simple kindness. One hello can change a mood. One hug can change a day. One act of kindness can change a life.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Text HELLO to 741741
1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and open 24/7.

 

Grief Diaries

A Final Goodbye

Grief Diaries

One magical moment in the summer of 1969 changed my life forever. A chance meeting. A spark. A love that was meant to be. A love that defined me. A love I will carry with me forever.

In 1964, my husband arrived as a first year teacher and basketball coach at my high school. I arrived there as an eighth grade student. No one—especially us—would have ever guessed that five years later we would fall in love and marry.

We were blessed with a son in 1976. In 1982, we moved to Las Vegas and, after a year of coaching, Vern went to work at UNLV’s sports arena. After twenty years, he retired to open the Orleans Arena. Vern was an amazing teacher, fabulous coach and inspiring mentor to many.

Vern had back issues that flared from time to time, so we weren’t initially alarmed when the pain began in 2006. However, when he got to the point where he could hardly walk, I convinced him to see a doctor. A CT scan was done but didn’t show anything, so Vern was sent to a physical therapist. And he got worse. We finally begged his primary physician to get insurance approval for an MRI. We weren’t home too long after the procedure when the doctor called and said, “My God, man, you have a tumor on your spine.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words.

We met with the surgeon early the next morning. A small room. Vern in a wheelchair, me on a stool, the doctor showing us the MRI scans. The tumor. The hot spots. Spinal compression fractures. And so many lytic lesions. Multiple myeloma. Cancer. Metastasized. Not a good prognosis.

And so it began, four plus years. Surgeries. Mistakes. Rehab. Physical therapy. Infections. GI bleeds. Pleural effusions. Pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism. Chemo. Radiation. So very many blood transfusions. Colostomy. Kidney failure. Dialysis. He went through so much. And then there was nothing more they could do to him. For him.

Grief DiariesVern’s final days were spent at Nathan Adelson Hospice. No more pricks and prods or waking him up for rounds. He was peaceful. I stayed with him twenty-four hours a day. And those final four days were a gift. He spoke very little the first two days and then was silent, but I have no doubt at all that he was able to hear my words.

When the death rattle arrived, I gently slid into his hospital bed, held him close and spoke to him until he slipped away.

Written by Dianne West in How to Help the Newly Bereaved. Dianne’s beloved 69-year-old husband Vern died from multiple myeloma in 2010.

Grief DiariesGrief Diaries