Five years ago this week, I turned 30. My fiance had died just 3 months before, suddenly, and I was a field of shrapnel spread out for miles upon miles.
That week five years ago, I decided not to give up my 30th birthday. I decided instead to honor it, because I would only turn 30 one time and I still deserved honoring. With that, Drew’s mom and I hopped on a plane and headed West for the Grand Canyon. I decided if I was going to sit around and cry on my birthday, I was at least going to do it looking at something incredible that I’d never seen before.
It turned out to be the perfect and most sacred place I could imagine being that day. It was hard, no doubt, but it taught me something important. I made that choice not in spite of Drew’s death but because of it. I cast all practicality aside, and I followed my heart leading me to somewhere incredible. And there, on the edge of great canyon cliffs, watching the sun setting the sky on fire as it went down, I learned that I can use his death to lead my life better. I can harness that into experiences I would have never otherwise had. It was the beginning of learning to see purpose in things… perhaps a glimmer into lessons about love that I am starting to see in a deeper way now five years later...
It seems no accident that this month, an Afterlife conference happened to be going on in Arizona the very same week that Drew’s mom and I visited five years ago. She decided to go, and invited me along. And while we did not have the time to return to the canyon this trip, we did return to Sedona, which was where we had our first significant sign from Drew… quite literally written into a cliff wall along the trail. As we attended this conference about all kinds of spiritual topics from communication with spirits and ancestral guides to past life regression, I began to open up my heart and mind to that spiritual connection in a way that I have closed off from in the past few years. The cynical side of me has gotten pretty loud these days, and it hasn't left a lot of room for spirituality. In a way, this trip broke me open again. Not in a painful way like his death did, but in an expansive way. And in a way that makes me realize, it is time to begin devoting to my inner happiness and getting right with myself.
Returning this past week was surreal. As we arrived into the red rock canyon, it was even more beautiful than I had remembered. So much so, that I have to wonder if the shock I was in back then dulled my senses of this place. It was strange to return there and feel like we had been there just yesterday… yet at the same time, we are now in such a different place with our grief. I felt so unaffected by my grief in a sad sense, and instead felt only the joy with each sign that we stumbled upon - of which there were many.
The whole trip renewed my sense of faith in something greater than me. It renewed my understanding that we are all of one beautiful energy and connected to each other so much more deeply than we realize most of the time. That loving each other is in fact loving ourselves, and vice versa. I have known those concepts for years… but something inside me shifted this past week to actually feeling it and understanding it.
As I returned home, in time to celebrate my actual birthday with Mike and Shelby, I felt able to receive their love and the love of everyone in my life in a deeper way than I have in years. I honestly had not realized just how much I had closed my heart off in the past few years until this past week. It feels like an enormous shift, light a light coming on in the darkness. A clearing of the fog. I feel a fire inside me to keep on fueling this connection to my own soul, and to a spiritual realm, God, energy, whatever you may call it. To try new things and explore my own soul. For the first time in years, the scale has tipped… my desire to grow is finally outweighing my fear of changing.
This whole grief journey has continued to be so hard. As the years pass, I think that expectation to be “better” starts to build up. And since we get so accustomed to weighing our progress as widows based on that enormous milestone of them dying… maybe we forget that it doesnt really just keep getting better and better. Because life still happens. And other struggles still pop up. Old insecurities or unresolved issues totally unrelated to our being widowed can and will still wreak havoc on us. New people in our lives die, and we must again go back into the depths of ourselves to explore the lessons of this person passing on. And a myriad of other setbacks and struggles will continue too.
There will still and always be years that are harder and years that are easier. Years of stagnation (or, as I’m trying to see it, hibernation) and years of growth. Years that ask questions and years that answer them. Years of paralyzing fear and years of blazing courage. All of it is there to teach us about love. I think I am starting to finally get that in a deeper way now. Every single horrible, traumatic, painful, confusing, challenging event has something to teach us about love. We aren’t always capable of seeing that, but hopefully we have moments of clarity from time to time that help us understand… in times of struggle, the best thing we can do is keep our hearts open and focus ourselves on one question, “From this situation, what can I learn about love?”