Grief comes on like waves in the ocean, a riptide that can drag you dangerously out to sea. It’s like a train barreling into you when you absentmindedly step off the platform and onto the tracks, and it’s also a slow burn that ebbs and flows. It is a maze and a puzzle all in one, it is a blank, silent wall, but also so loud and obtrusive, you cannot find space on a graffitied wall in a downtown city.
Losing something can create grief. Losing a job, losing a pet, losing a child, the word “loss” encompasses all of these to varying degrees. But there is light at the end of this tunnel, even when you’re feeling like your heart is going to explode from the effort to outrun the grief train.
Resilience is that light. Resilience is maneuvering through these trials as we try to live our best life. Finding something to hold onto that gives you hope, happiness, a purpose … this helps create a resilient soul.
My name is Sandy Lee, and I am resilient.
From a young age, I have endured so many trials including grief, loss, sickness, and abuse, and I’m still here. I am not just functioning, I’m THRIVING! I want everyone to know that this is possible! Working through the maze of grief is not only possible, but a reality in my life. As a child abuse survivor, ovarian cancer survivor, a mother of four babies in Heaven and now a woman living with childlessness, I feel that I have packed in my fair share of grief, but I am not in charge of the serving size.
What have I learned? I’ve learned that we are not in control of this, any of this. We can fool ourselves into thinking we can control things, but the harsh reality is that we could die right NOW. Because I am aware and actually OK with this realization, I’ve been more adept at rolling with the punches. Knowing that I can try to make plans, and these plans may or may not come to fruition, has given my mind freedom. I make loose goals and I have never been a fan of action plans. It makes my ADHD brain hurt when my motivation extends beyond my ability to visualize and attack my goals, so contrary to all of the successful motivational speakers who tell you to visualize yourself being here or there or doing this or that, I have a different theory: Become extremely grateful for the here and now, live in the moment, love all the moments that link together to become your life. If you have children, cherish them and think about the amount of stress and anxiety that is placed on them to “be successful,” “make something of themselves,” “take care of me when I’m older” or “be better than I ever was.” These are all amazing aspirations that you’ve shared with them, BUT they are a different person than you, and frankly, you had your chance. Teach them resilience, to roll with life’s punches, to not do everything for them, because when it comes time and you’re not there, who’s going to do it for them?
I was raised by parents who were not the loving parents I would daydream about in elementary school, and because of this, I had to learn to be resourceful and be my own person. I beat my own drum, and it did not look like everyone else’s. I took a summer job at age 14 and never stopped working. I moved out of my parents’ house as a senior at age 16 and worked at Taco Bell until 1 a.m., going to school the next day, all while making it into the National Honor Society and staying on the B Honor Roll. I accomplished that, and while my parents may have taken credit, I knew I did what I wanted or needed to do without their encouragement or approval.
When I was a senior in high school, it was time to talk about college. I didn’t know what I wanted to be or do, but I wanted to go. I approached my mother, and she simply said we couldn’t afford it, so I gave up the idea. Then later, as I started my junior year, my mother began her own college career. It taught me that not everyone is in your corner, and sometimes you’re your only cheering section. As my mother spent nights in another town to study and attend classes, I cared for my younger siblings. I would get them up in the morning, walk them to and from school, then get dinner ready for my father and siblings. I’d do homework with them, do my own homework, get them bathed and have things ready for the next day. It was too much, and I slowly melted into myself. Luckily, I later happened into people who actually supported me and encouraged me to attend college. Before these saints entered my life, I learned that I had to be there for myself … that is resilience.
You may read this and feel sorrow or pity for me and the things I’ve faced throughout my childhood and adult life, but I don’t. I grew immensely in the resilience arena; I have become UNSTOPPABLE. If I want to do something, I do it. If I want to achieve something, it’s because I want to achieve it. I feel like I have figured out how to escape the maze, the mystery of grief and have come out the other side.
Despite this feeling of resilience, I do have my moments where the grief is overwhelming, but because of the self- soothing, the independence, the knowledge that no one else can make me happy, I can navigate and even direct some of the outcome of this grief into my own version of success.
I want you to know that if you are going through something that has you in despair, you believe there is no way you will make it out of that tunnel while this train is barreling down the tracks towards you. Stop for a moment. Breathe in and breathe out, this too shall pass. I see you, I hear you, you matter, you are important to so many people. But most of all, you are NEEDED in this world, you have a purpose. And if you let go of the steering wheel as I did, you may find that purpose without even trying to make it happen.