39: I Chose My Way

39: I Chose My Way

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

I Chose My Way

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.

~Vicki Harrison

When my husband died in a car accident — just a few short months after my father’s death from cancer — my boss was very kind and told me to take as much time as needed. There was no rush; the position would be waiting for me when I was ready. But after a month off, I headed back to the routine and for a reason to get out of the house and back into society.

The chiropractic clinic where I worked was small. We knew our patients well, and they knew us. They knew my dad had died and expressed their condolences. They also knew about this latest loss, and I braced myself, gathering every last ounce of courage I had to go in and face the looks of pity, the averted eyes, the offer of hugs and condolences. I mentally prepared myself for all of it so I could keep my composure throughout the shift while keeping my sanity.

And so I sat at the reception desk, with a smile plastered on my face, accepting the kind words and the hugs, and ignoring the averted eyes.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened halfway through my shift. A patient came in and broke down in tears upon seeing me. As she bent over, she choked out the words, “It’s horrible. My husband died sixteen years ago. It doesn’t get any easier. It just gets worse.”

My welcoming smile faded. The tears I’d been holding back were seconds away from breaking through the dam I had created. “Excuse me for a moment,” I managed to say. I somehow made it the ten feet to the bathroom before the dam broke. I fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

A brave colleague followed me into the bathroom and held me while I sobbed. I will never forget her kindness and the courage it must have taken to follow me into the depths of my darkness. I will also never forget the intention I set at that very moment: I will never make someone moving through grief feel even worse. In fact, I will be proof that life does get better.

Of course, I had no idea what I had signed up for with that intention, or how hard it would be. But, oddly enough, every time I really did want to quit, someone would say to me, “You know, I don’t know how you do it. If I were you, I’d just lie down and die.” or “Whenever I think my life is bad, I just think of you and realize it could be worse.” My outward response was always a hint of a smile or a faint head nod. My inner response was, “I’ll show you. One day, you will want to be me.”

And so I kept going. I started doing things I told myself for years I couldn’t do. Some were baby steps. Others were big leaps. Like run a marathon. And go to raw vegan culinary school, which everyone thought was really weird. I detoxed, meditated, journaled, and moved when staying in the home I had bought with my late husband felt too haunted.

“Are you over it? You must be over it by now,” people would comment after a year out, two years, three. No, I wasn’t “over it.” I never would be. But I would not use my pain as a crutch. I was determined to transform it into something beautiful that would shine bright.

The tears continued to come, less frequently, more frequently, and then less again. When I thought I was safely out of the tight grip of grief, it would tap me on the shoulder. “Hey, don’t forget about me. I’m still here.”

Mistakes were made along the way. Lots of them. Decisions were made out of fear or trying to fit myself into a formula for living the best life, doing what others thought was right.

Then I started heeding the call of my heart. Trusting in my own inner voice — that little voice that had piped up on the bathroom floor, telling me it would get better. Urging me to trust, have faith and believe.

Sometimes, I got sidetracked, thinking success was in numbers or money, never feeling enough. Later, I realized true success was feeling good and doing the things that brought me joy. Success was having real heart connections with the beautiful souls who walk this planet with me. Souls who were navigating their own path of pain through devastating deaths, divorces, loss of health or sense of self and were determined to create a new path.

I’ve felt like a great success and an epic failure — all in the same day. I learned that’s the undulating path of life, and to roll with it with more ease.

It’s been ten years now, and I’m still working on it. When I lose my way, I step back and look through the lens of gratitude to see true success. Every little step (like getting out of the house and gathering courage to face the world while holding my grief) is really a big win.

I’m grateful for every breath.

And every smile.

And every hug.

And every soul.

I made my choice. I stand before you today as proof that it can, and does, get better.

~Aimee DuFresne

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