Grief Grappling: Fighting for a New Normal

Author: Sandra Egts

Sandy Egts, Lighting candlesGrief Demands Attention

There is tremendous shock, confusion and even denial that accompanies sudden death. It is equally traumatic to watch the prolonged suffering of those you love. Regardless of how grief comes for you, it will. It is the great, dark hunter. You can't ignore grief. It tracks you down and demands its rightful share of your life, no matter what the circumstance.

Back in the early days, I was simply learning how to tell my story. I struggled to put into words what had happened to my loved ones and how to explain what had happened to my life. I felt as if each day were a long tournament because I never knew exactly how the opponent would present itself. As time progressed, I realized that the daily matches are actually training for the larger event of living without your loved one. Every day, there is some part of grief we must face in order to prepare for the next weeks and months. I might as well understand that I'm in a match where grief is my opponent for life. But my life can still be happy, hopeful and full of love. 

Grief Is An Equalizer

The recent Olympic games opened doors for us to see different styles of training, competition and triumph. People came from all points of the globe, bringing different cultures, traditions, languages, politics, faiths, obstacles and ideas to compete. Consider how this ties in with our own views of grief. 

By now, we've learned that death does not discriminate - everyone experiences it at some point. When it finally touches our lives, we don't all grieve the same; therefore, we don't always speak the same grief language. But our objective is the same - to get healthy and learn how to fully live again in the shadow of our losses.  

Step On The Mat

There will be days when you will feel strong and as if you can take on grief with no training. Maybe your grief shows up for an early workout session, and it seems easy. However, there are plenty of days when grief waits for us with a surprise training round late in the day when we are tired and weak. Some days we will best it, but other days it may get the best of us. This is OK.  

The point is that we step on the mat. We get stronger every time we learn to face the way our lives have changed. And we increase our stamina in knowing that while grief changed us, it only won the round, not the tournament.   

Finding Inspiration

Olympic training is about absolute commitment, strength and courage. It is inspirational. What an example of wanting something so badly that you spend hours every day training. The athletes represented in Rio worked tirelessly for their success, trained for it and sacrificed for the opportunity to compete. Can we do any less to honor our heroes? 

Nope. That's exactly what we have to do. Now we need to focus on daily training because grief grappling is not for the faint of heart.  

TAPS Is On Your Team

As any good athlete knows, in order to get through a multi-day event, marathon or other ultra sport, you need a support team around you. This is true even though it may feel as if our grief is an individual sport. We all need trainers, doctors, coaches and, most importantly, our fans. These are the folks you don't have to pay to support you. Their love and commitment to your healing puts them fully on your team. 

TAPS is also there for you. Whether they are on the other end of the 24/7 Helpline or welcoming you to survivor events, your TAPS family knows the grief journey is a marathon, not a sprint. They are there to cheer you on as you work daily to heal and find your way. 

TAPS resources are designed for people at all training levels, so don't be afraid to reach out. Don't try to be a superstar and go it alone. You'll burn out quickly. You need people. We need each other even in the calm moments when we aren't grieving. 

Sometimes, pride or insecurity may get in your way, but even Olympians have coaches and trainers helping them prepare for and compete at their level. This is your opportunity to receive expert coaching and encouragement. You will definitely have the opportunity to pay it forward, I guarantee.  

It's OK To Take A Knee 

Special dates, memorable occasions and holidays can all leave us depleted and tired. That is why we need to work daily to own our grief and build our stamina for the times when the loss and heartache wash over us. It's all right if there are days when you need to take a knee. In those moments, carve out just a bit of time for personal reflection and affirmation. This is one event for which there is a prize just for waking up to face another day.   

Take The Round

Loss will be with us forever. But our loved ones are also with us forever. This assurance helps us continue to commit to making our days better, even when they're hard. Is our training regimen helping us improve and reach our personal best? Hopefully, with regular grief work, you will find more days when you take the round. And, as I've found, sometimes the punches just keep coming. As soon as we face one loss, another seems to come. It's OK to acknowledge the difficult times as well as the ways you've found to be your own basic coping skills. Pretty soon, you'll be refreshed and ready to face the next layer of thoughts, hurt and uncertainty. 

In the TAPS family, you'll see people at all stages in the grief process. It may be too overwhelming to know how deep the field goes. We might start to lose hope, or we may be newly encouraged when we can step back, lower the pressure, and take it one round, or day, at a time. 

A New Understanding of Victory

Grief has no finish line, so we must commit to establishing a pace that is comfortable, and sustainable. The goal is to be present, to participate in the journey and to strive alongside other survivors. We'll become more mentally, spiritually and emotionally fit, and it will be worth all the hard work.  Our spirits will feel lighter and more joyful as we re-evaluate what it means to triumph through grief, if not "over" it.

So, if we see each other grappling with grief and it looks as if we're having trouble, reach out. The support of our team guarantees that we'll keep trying. The most painful events we experience can motivate us to become stronger, wiser and more resilient. Isn't that victory?

Sweeping out the cobwebs

Thoughts from the author

I tend to spend part of the fall season looking over the past year and taking stock. I reflect on this crazy existence by writing, by sweeping out the cobwebs in my my mind, by reflecting on what I have learned about life, love and loss.

Twenty-two months ago, my husband kissed me for the last time before succumbing to complications of lung cancer. It seems like it was yesterday; it seems like forever. I miss him more as time goes by.

I found this to also be true after losing my dad and grandmother, who both suffered for a period prior to their deaths. My dad suffered debilitating strokes in the last year and a half of his life. Grandma’s decline was over about three years. It took some time for all the good, pretty memories to overcome the sadness, pain, changes and suffering that were present at the end.

And, on the other hand, the very sudden deaths of my mother and son cut like a knife from the start. My mother showed no signs of illness when she died from sudden cardiac arrest at 62. My son was 33 when he died unexpectedly from service-related injuries.

These multiple rounds of grief have driven me to face my grief in a new way and formulate a plan to deal with this new normal. Weary with loss, I’m still working hard to embrace grief, give it its due and move past changes I never anticipated.

By Sandra Egts, Surviving mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Adam James White