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Grief is…the edge of panic

October 30, 20234 min read

Grief is…the edge of panic

Last week I had a blog post already to go. Before posting it I decided to take advantage of the sunshine and grab lunch to go and take the dog to the dog beach. After picking up my lunch, while wandering to the beach, I had a fleeting thought “I love my life”. Before my son Ben died, I used to have that thought often. I really did love my life. Since he died, I’ve thought it twice. That was the second time. So I was thinking about writing a blog post about that and enjoying the feeling however fleeting it was. And then, I fell down the stairs on the way to the beach.  

I fell really badly. To the point I couldn’t walk and my body went into shock. I managed to get to a stump I could lean on and put my head down so I wouldn’t pass out. I let the dog go because he was frantic to get to off leash play time and I was worried he was going to pull me over. I had nothing in me to give him so letting him go play while I figured out what to do seemed like a good idea. 

I texted my daughter to let her know I needed a ride home and gathered myself. I couldn’t see the dog from where I was so I hobbled to a log further onto the beach so I could see him and put my leg up. As I sat there, crying from the pain and shock, I noticed that the message to my daughter hadn’t gone through. I waited and checked again. Still no. She’s a millennial. Her phone is always with her and never off but the message was not going through. I called her. Her phone would only FaceTime and she wasn’t answering. That must mean, my panicked brain told me, that something was catastrophically wrong. I could not deal with that. Then the panic hit harder and I went into the ugly cry. What on earth was I going to do and how was I going to survive if something had happened to her. 

Then I realised I couldn’t see the dog. I hobbled further onto the beach and still couldn’t find him. So, my thinking became, something catastrophic has happened to my daughter and someone has stolen the dog. And if something catastrophic hasn’t happened to her, I have to tell her the dog is gone. So there I stood on one leg looking for the dog, begging the message to go through, trying not to faint. 

And the thought hit me…I just want my life back. That’s a thought that comes to mind often. I just want my life back. And I can’t have it. Ben is gone and life means learning how to live with that. Missing him, building memories without him, carrying on in a life that still doesn’t really fit. It struck me how tenuous all of that was, how easily I could hit panic. I never felt panic before he died. I knew everything would be ok. Now I know that can change in an instant and you have to start over. On the beach, in that moment, I couldn’t see how that was possible. How could I again start over? Most days I feel like I’m doing ok. One moment at a time I’m learning how to live. And in that moment, it felt like every step I had taken in the past 18 months was gone and I was back on the phone with the police learning that Ben had died. 

Everything was fine, of course. The dog was playing with some dog friends on the other side of a pile of logs. Kathleen got home and got my message when she hit the wifi and came to pick me up. I’m on crutches while my leg mends and spent much of the time this past week with my leg elevated contemplating that slide to panic. I feel stable most days. I’m able to let the emotions that come flow through and hold that everything is ok, that no matter what happens I can find a way to carry it forward with me. When I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that in this moment I am safe, I am supported, and I am loved. Now I need to find a way to know that when something goes wrong…when the fear hits. Learning to live again means learning to pivot and change focus when the catastrophizing comes. To let it flow on by and not get hooked. 

What do you do when the overwhelm comes? If the stability you’ve built on your grief journey falls away what is your go to? The more we talk about it the more we can see that what we are experiencing is normal and that we are not alone. Grief is isolating. It can feel very lonely. I hope reading about my experience leaves you feeling less alone. I hope it helps. 

Photo credit Margot Stewart-Lee

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Through her insightful teachings and thoughtfully designed programs, Suzanne offers a path guided by emotional intelligence and real life experience to address the full spectrum of the complex emotions and consequences of grief while expanding the capacity to engage fully with life post loss. Her heartfelt approach also honours the depth of loss through the invaluable practice of cherishing and expressing love for what has been lost and experienced.

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