A Grief Recovery Project Post
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
This quote found me early in Dan’s diagnosis. I don’t remember who sent it to me. I promptly forgot about it as I was far too busy trying to defeat Cancer and Death. It reappeared after Dan died, probably given to me by one of my grief counselors. And this time the truth of it bitch-slapped me. Grief feels like fear.
Grief was terrifying. It was unknown. Grief was the monster hiding around the corner that I couldn’t see but knew was waiting to destroy me. As time passed, somewhere in my pain-addled brain, I decided that if Grief were like Fear, then maybe overcoming my Fears meant I could figure out how to defeat Grief. Or at least survive it. Hello new Grief Recovery Project. Come to Mama.
Telling Fear to F@#$ Off
So I started writing down the things I feared. Not a lot mattered after watching Dan die, so it was a pretty short list. Things like profit-loss statements, who was going to sit in the Governor’s seat, funding for the latest clinical trials for Parkinson’s Disease drugs, and the start of the zombie apocalypse didn’t even make the list. Not that those things aren’t still important to me. No, this list was about those things that instill fear in the pit of my stomach. You know the ones, the scary things that freak out your reptilian brain and raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make your palms sweat. I remember laughing bitterly at the realization of how much time I’d wasted worrying about things in the Before.
I was also profoundly grateful that I was aware of it now and could make the most of the time I had left on this planet. So before I left Boise, I’d narrowed it down to my top three and set about the business of flipping them the bird. Not an easy task, but it seemed less daunting than battling the all-powerful Grief monster. And who doesn’t love a good project plan? I may be retired at the moment, but there is nothing like a good spreadsheet with charts and graphs to bring a smile to my face. Don’t judge me.
Step 1: Put myself in the environment where I’ll have to face said fear. Gulp. Okay. Up in the air or in the water were good environments for two of my top three fears. And while I started this GRP before leaving home, traveling alone in another part of the world meant I had no one to talk me out of whatever it was I was signing myself up to do, especially since many of these adrenaline-filled-death-defying activities were spur of the moment decisions.
Step 2: Complete an activity that involves telling Fear to f@#$ off. Crying like a little girl is allowed (and may have actually happened). Having fun is encouraged. Doing it is what matters. Some of these challenges took a long time to complete, but I haven’t backed out of one yet. Yay me!
Step 3: Survive. Acknowledge that while the Fear is strong, I am stronger. Laugh like a mad scientist about it. Document it. Have an expensive whiskey and toast my ninja level survivor bada$$ery. I have survived all of them so far, even when they don’t always go as planned. Nobody tell my mom about the bumps and bruises I’ve acquired along the way as I’ve scrambled up and over rocks or tall buildings, tackled water beyond my skill level, and schlepped down dark foreign alleys in search of adventure. Thanks!
Step 4: Find another Fear-related activity to conquer. Repeat all four steps.
A friend asked me awhile back if my doing these fear defying acts meant that I had cured myself of them. When I said they hadn’t, he wanted to know why I bothered. I had to think about how to put that in to words.
Somehow while I was focused on defying my fears, my surviving transformed into thriving. And with each check-off from my Fears list, the Grief monster shrank a little more until it was just a Griefmoji. It’s there, and can still bite, but it can no longer destroy me. And I’m no longer afraid of it.
So I guess that would be my answer. I defy my fears because they impede my ability to Live Now. And since I know first hand how short this life can be, I refuse to waste a minute of it. So no, challenging my fears doesn’t make them go away. My stomach still hurts, and my lungs try to jump ship when I look down over the edge, but my heart squeals with glee when I go over anyway.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Surprise Step 5
I wrote this post a while back, and as it got closer to being published I realized that there was now a Step 5 that I hadn’t anticipated.
Step 5: Let it go.
Say what? What about the project plan? The spreadsheet? The charts and graphs? As I’ve come to terms with my grief and my new happiness, I’ve found myself less and less afraid of my Top 3 List, and the drive to “conquer” them has diminished with that fear. I know my inner circle is relieved to learn I’m not actually an adrenaline junkie. That’s not to say you won’t see me having crazy adventures, it’s just that now they’ll be purely for fun.