I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: I’ve just been through some of the worst weeks of my life. This past month really sucked. I suffered the worst panic attack of my life while on vacation with my family, only to find out two days later that my mother-in-law had taken a turn for the worse. She didn’t recover, and we said goodbye a week later. I’ve encountered a grief that is still overwhelming in certain moments, paralyzing and numbing. It hits at unexpected times and is completely exhausting. I’ve spent the last few weeks drawing my family close around me and just trying to get through day-to-day stuff.
During this time, I found myself in a lonely place when it came to family dynamics. As the only “in-law,” and the only girl, I didn’t have anyone in my “circle” when it came to what I was experiencing personally. It wasn’t appropriate to burden my husband, his brothers, or his dad with describing my feelings of loss, sadness and fear—they had all just lost their mother and wife and there’s nothing that could compare to that. However, I had just suffered the loss of my beloved mother-in-law, and without anyone else in my circle, I was left to navigate many of my feelings and emotions by myself.
I shared these feelings of isolation with a good friend who had also experienced the death of an in-law recently. She described it as being “lower on the grief totem pole,” and the visual was so appropriate with what I was feeling that it moved me to tears. Being in a position that was virtually unnoticed, but responsible for supporting all of those who were “above,” i.e. closer to the loss. That’s where I was, and the weight of supporting my family while walking my own children through the process of dying and also being the main communication hub for all involved…it was crushing me.
I reached out to my immediate family, desperate for support. I soon realized that the emotional and physical help I was seeking was not going to be something they were able to give. This led to feelings of frustration, of feeling unvalued, of being looked at as a burden. I think this was the hardest part of all. I felt more alone that before.
My friends became my family during this time. They offered to take my kids so I could be with my mother-in-law in her last moments. They checked in with me constantly, brought food, sent pizza. The dropped off flowers and beer. They knew I was too overwhelmed to answer the question “What can I do to help?” and they just DID. They were incredible.
In the meantime, I found myself in a constant “focus then go blank” cycle that went on for weeks. I would work hard on a work project, then find myself staring at the wall for 30 minutes, unable to move off the couch. I would go to the store to buy groceries or school supplies and then be worn out for hours. For my usual go-go-go self, this was maddening. What was HAPPENING to me?
And, it didn’t feel like depression. I’ve suffered from depression in the past, and I knew this wasn’t it. It was sheer exhaustion. It was months of being on edge, of caring for a sick family member, of not being able to plan for the future. It was my body trying to unwind, like a string that’s been coiled too tight, from the stress of walking my children through the process of dying and death. My physical self was trying to find its way back to neutral, and the process left my mind in a state where it sometimes just refused to function.
So I rested. I cleared my calendar of anything non-essential. I worked, then stared at the wall. I took walks. I read books. I hugged my kids and let them stay up late and play Fortnite and have sleepovers. I meditated. I cried. I checked out.
And I can’t say that I’m back to where I was before my mother-in-law passed. I can’t say I’ll ever be that person again. I have emotional bruises and scrapes and cuts that are just starting to form protective scabs. Someday, if I stop picking at them, I know they will heal and leave scars. But the blemishes are going to remain as a memory of the time that I just struggled to GET THROUGH.
I’m still sore. But I’m on the mend. Thanks for waiting for me to come back. Love to all of you that saw me through this time, hugs to all of you that have been there, and hope to all of you who—like me—will forever bear the scars of grief, a reminder that great loss comes as a result of great love…and the joy was worth every minute of pain.
Have you lost someone you loved? What advice do you have for me or others who might be reading this? And if someone you know if going through a time of grieving, click HERE to learn more about how you can help them through this difficult time.