Riding the Waves of Grief and Change

One thing I can always count on, is change.  I don’t always like change. Although it is often hard and scary, embracing change is how we grow. This weekend I have grown. It has been lonely, beautiful, frustrating, hopeful and filled with waves of grief strong enough to stop me mid-thought, reducing me to tears, regardless of location. Some of those were big, ugly cry, tears.

Six months ago today, Richard transitioned out of this world and into eternity. Sometimes it feels like 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 hours or 6 years.

Just about every year, during October, Richard and I would pack up the dogs and provisions for the day and drive up north to see the various shades of red, orange, green and yellow the leaves offered before falling to the ground. Fall has always been my favorite time of the year.

A year ago, knowing it would probably be our last autumn together, Richard wanted to go up north to see the colors with me one more time. His energy was very limited at that time so the typical 12 hour road trip was out of the question. We were just going to go as far as his body would allow.

In those days, he would sleep between 12-15 hours a day. It’s just how his body worked. ALS  and chronic pain would steal so much of his energy there was only a short time each day to engage in life. It would take a couple of hours for him to get out the door with the waking up process, tube feeding, medications, and getting dressed. Though I was there to help with those things, he wanted to do as much as he could on his own.

I remember watching him make his way down the wheelchair ramp, legs twisted from the crumbling bones in his ankles, knees and spine. Rarely would he let me take him down the ramp in his wheelchair. Knowing the chair was awkward and heavy for me to lift it in and out of the car, he didn’t want to have to use it any more than was necessary. As I helped him into the car, he apologized for the late start, thanked me, smiled, and laughed at his struggle to get his legs in the car.

We set out on a beautiful fall day with blue sky and white billowy clouds. The trip would include him singing made up songs to make me laugh, eating Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins, drinking diet Pepsi and drooling. As usual, we talked about life, death, dying and gratitude for what remained. It was going to be a great day according to him, regardless of how he felt. We enjoyed our familiar favorite valleys and high scenic overlooks to view the colors.  Richard fought the then common excruciating headaches during part of the trip. Still he didn’t complain, just said he needed to close his eyes for a while. Because of a late start, we only made it as far as Ludington for the sunset. It was beautiful.

Yesterday, I loaded up the dogs along with some necessities and set out for the annual color tour, on my own. It was really hard, I just knew I had to go. I pushed past my grief, loneliness and uncertain future to embrace the annual color tour alone. I did not wish Richard back with me. Thinking of watching him in pain again is beyond what I can bear.

Part way through the trip, I discovered why I needed to go this year. Richard lovingly pushed past his pain and weakness so I could enjoy the colors last year. He didn’t want me to miss out and knew I wouldn’t go without him.  So now, I cannot and will not, allow grief to keep me from embracing life even if it’s lonely and hard.

Sixteen of our 17 years together were really hard relationally. After many years of competing with his addiction, I had to let go of him. My heart just couldn’t take it anymore. I never stopped loving him. Once I love someone, I don’t know how to stop even if the relationship changes.

Eventually, Richard fought to come out of hiding in he dark world of addiction and learned to choose life in reality. Much like how the dying leaves show their most stunning beauty at the end of their life, Richard came alive while he was dying. In that final year, the year his body was fading away, he was able to live out of the best of who he was created to be. He learned how to love and give his all to others. Holding on to everyday he could, he tried to make my life better.

Today, I am struggling with the heartbreak of the many lonely years I spent with him while he was caught up in addiction AND the loss of him after only one short year of him being “fully present” with me in our very unique relationship at the end of his life.

I have no regrets. Loving is risky but worth it. He was worth it. I got to know, first hand, miracles happen and change can be good even though it can be hard and scary.

May you embrace change even when it is challenging and filled with uncertainty. Without change, we cannot grow. If we stop growing, we die.

It’s a great day!

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