I was pretty quiet on social media and here at my site last week because we were dealing with a family tragedy. Dealing with loss is ridiculously difficult and I don’t know that we ever get good at it. My first response was to try to compartmentalize what had happened and continue to do what I do, flap my Superwoman cape and delay dealing with the fallout. But I could not. And I decided it was a disservice to my circle, my audience, and myself for me to try to fake it. So I didn’t. Let me explain.
Normally, I develop monthly themes for content that I am going to create or share and then on Sundays I plan content for each week. But on a recent Sunday when I would have been planning, I received the unspeakable news that one of my cousins had been killed. And in that moment, I felt almost completely lost.
I say almost, because I had enough presence of mind to focus on supporting my family first. His mother—who had lost her young son, his grandmother—who had raised him and hence lost a son AND a grandson, and my mother—who lost a grandson. (Don’t worry about all the familial connections, biology does not determine relationships, the connections between people take care of that.) I felt unspeakable pain and sorrow. I don’t know if it made it worse that he wasn’t ill, that someone had killed him, but it was all so much to bear.
After the initial shock wore off and I was confident that I had done all I could do to support these amazing women who have been part of my village, I then felt a new crushing blow. I remembered our final conversation, and the last words I had spoken to my cousin. I told him, ‘I hope you will keep in better touch now, because you need to know me’. You need to know me. That phrase haunted me for days.
Bringing My Ghosts into the Light
When I said it, we giggled, we hugged, it was an ok moment. But in my grieving mind, the words stood out as arrogant and not as loving as I wanted my final words to be. Of course, I didn’t know those were the last words we would ever share, but we never know. And I believe in the power of words and really wanted to believe that he didn’t take them the wrong way and cover it with laughter, that he didn’t think I was judging him and that I thought he was anything less-than-perfect, exactly the way he was.
I wanted to take them back and I felt so angry and full of regret because I couldn’t. I was so full of regret that I didn’t have anything in me to give my circle or my audience. I could hardly eat I was so full of unspoken affirmations and encouragement. I was so full of ‘now I will never get to…’ that I felt physically heavy and couldn’t even begin to do many of the things I felt I needed to do last week.
But in spite of all that I accepted the responsibility of creating the funeral program and working with my mom and the funeral director to take as much weight off his mother as we could. I believe in dark moments, the best we can do is to use our God-given gifts to help others. I usually take for the granted my ability to use words and technology to paint a picture, but at this time, I was glad that I seemed to be able to do some things on autopilot while my mind swirled with pain.
No Time for Faking the Funk
I am not trying to be a downer here, I’m simply being as authentic and honest as I call others to be. How could I possibly I talk about being powerful and conquering obstacles, when I was feeling that broken? Becoming a woman of influence is not for the weak or the phony. Being fabulous isn’t always pretty and that’s ok.
I suspect in this last week some of you dealt with different yet similarly devastating situations. Maybe you endured the death of an oft-promised, long-awaited, new career opportunity. Maybe you regretted not saying something to a loved one or speaking up for someone who needed your support. Maybe you desperately wished for more time to get ready to do… something. I know you grieved and figured out how to cope, just as I had to.
And part of the journey here is not for me to appear to have all the answers but to fearlessly share the answers that I do have and for us to find some new answers together. Right? It is ok to acknowledge that we have moments, even days that are less than powerful. The trick is not to stay in that place but to claw, fight, cry, heal, do whatever is necessary, and climb back to the place where we resume our journey.
For me, the beginning of the climb back to full power came the night before the funeral. On Thursday evening, after one of the most stressful days I can remember in a long time, when I had finally gotten all the photos and videos together and delivered the funeral program to the funeral home, I had one of those breakthrough moments. I actually heard my cousin, Tavian, laugh.
Don’t reach for the phone to schedule an intervention, I know it wasn’t really him. But that shift occurred when I started to move away from the stranglehold my last words to him had on me, and move toward remembering the fuller story of our lives and relationship. And then I realized what I said to him was true. He did need to know me. Let me repeat that—He needed to know me, BUT that wasn’t the end of the story.
I Need Others and They Need Me
I needed to know him too. Realizing that and exhaling the breath I had been holding for days felt so good. In truth, there are people who need to know me just as there are people I need to know. Think about it, aren’t there people who need to know YOU? And by the same token, there are people that you need to know. Why else should you show up and tell your story except that there are people who NEED TO HEAR IT. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, there’s a lot right with that. The connections between people are what makes our time here purposeful, fruitful, enjoyable, and blessed.
While I know I will continue to have sad moments as I reflect on his too-short life, I will also be comforted by memories of the time we did have together. And I met some amazing people at his funeral who I would likely never have known otherwise. Like the 4 young men who drove all night long, 17 hours, from Iowa to North Carolina, just to say farewell to their friend. Those men touched my heart like nobody’s business!
I appreciated their love for my cousin and their stories about what an awesome man he was so much that wanted to buy them a pony. And then there was my cousin’s half-sister, who I only recently found out existed, who is a beautiful, powerful spirit who gifted us with these words…. Love Harder . That’s good stuff.
So I don’t have Tavian, but I do have other ‘gifts’ as a result of his life. I firmly believe that his sister and I will keep in touch and learn much from each other in the days to come and I’m confident that one day I will understand why his death had to be the event that connected us. But until then, I’m releasing the regret and silly guilt about how my last words may have been interpreted. I’m comforting myself with the more recent memories of my family being together, holding on to, laughing with and loving each other after the service. I’m hunting up photos that I haven’t seen in years to remind me of just how much I have to be grateful for. And I’m feeling grounded and powerful again and ready to create and share new content.
What about you? Have you recently buried or let go of something? How will you be different as a result of that loss? Let’s do this exercise together. Let’s think of 3 ways this week that we can Love Harder. I’ll start: This week, I am going to tell at least 2 people each day how much they mean to me even if they don’t understand or return the sentiment. It’s going to be so much fun loving on people and seeing how my encouragement affects them. Your turn! What are you going to try? Let me know in the comments below!