I've lived in Florida for three months now, and my place—no joke—is a resort. When TJ moved into his Florida apartment some years ago, I visited and was astonished. Heavy gorgeous gates opened for us to drive into a castle-looking display of condos neatly arranged with palm trees and a clean workout center with cooled (yes, cooled) towels. There was a pool with aqua blue water and lounge chairs with neutral-toned accent pillows. This is paradise, I thought.
Five years later, I now live in a similar space where they fancy up the name to "elevated living" instead of the basic "apartment housing."
The entrance has gates. The pool is perfect, with aqua blue water and white lounge chairs where you can sit in the shallow part of the pool and listen to the water bubbling like a waterfall next to you. There are hammocks and palm trees. They collect your trash for you (just put it outside your door in the evenings between 6-9 p.m.). I have a balcony. A balcony! People walk around with fancy clothes and nice cars. I have neither, but nonetheless, we in here with the fancy people.
I am proud of my move to Florida. It was one of, in complete honesty, desperation. Where does one go when they've experienced the worst trauma they could imagine? It has been one year since my brother's passing, and the pain has not lessened. I have moved into a state of observing myself like a case study, researching every crevice of my broken heart and a shattered sense of belonging.
I've spent much of my time before starting my new position as the editor of a publishing company working on the final chapters of my book. Dismantling and examining every part of the aching grief that wells and pulsates inside of me. I write, I feel, I swim, and still, it feels like I do not heal. So, I embarked on more profound, further research.
I became the Jane Goodall of Grief.
Studying grief from every corner, watching it, observing it, allowing my body to be consumed and respond to the effects of grief. The heart rate that won't seem to slow, the disinterest in activities I typically enjoy, suicidal ideation, hair loss, weight loss, cracks forming in my teeth from clenching my jaw in stress and pain, muscles knotted along my back from tensing my neck and shoulders like if I could fight the stress and trauma away—I'd do it.
But I'm just 29 years old, I'm still bright, and my body is working healthily for the most part. I am the perfect young specimen without other medical conditions (besides injuries from the past). Every medical examination is a breeze as I draw a straight line down the "no" column for heart disease, cancer, and other common ailments.
I went to the local library and checked out books about heartbreak, grief, and loss. The librarian probably wondered what is going on with this girl, as I checked out a stack of books all about emotional pain, from Brenè Brown's Atlas of the Heart to Florence Williams' Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey. I was in therapy, but it didn't seem fully supportive. That's just the thing about therapy, you need to find the right therapist. I've had one out of the six, count them: one, two, three, four, five, SIX therapists, which was extremely helpful to me while navigating an awful breakup. Some of them I met with for months; others it was only a few sessions.
I've attended brain training, I've taken medications (Lexapro, Wellbutrin, and Prozac), and I have the daily works of practicing meditation, yoga, and journaling. I am taking Prozac, which has been a much better experience than taking either of the other medications, but that might just be my brain chemistry.
Before taking medication, being the holistic hippy I am, I walked into a natural health foods store. I spent $280 on the following: Lions Mane mushroom, thiamin, omega-3 and omega-7 fatty acids, L-theanine and GABA, and zinc picolinate for overthinking.
Similar to the library situation, the young Asian man behind the counter studying holistic health said that this was the perfect remedy for curing depression and anxiety. My brain issues. I said, "neat-o, man," and then I went to my boxing class that I've been attending 1-2 times a week and barely missed a week since TJ's passing.
I've taken the vitamins for about 30 days now, and I do believe they have been supportive—or maybe it's just all in my head? Either way, it's all in my head. That's the thing, is our brains are actually going through severe red-alert stages like loud alarms going off yelling INTRUDER, INTRUDER, INTRUDER, YOU ARE NOT SAFE. And the reason you're not safe is that life isn't safe. Life has dealt you some painful blows, and now, in the wake of the destruction, you're just trying to regain some balance.
While listening to Glennon Doyle's "We Can Do Hard Things" podcast, she shared a story from her childhood: In kindergarten, she was stressed and overwhelmed and, during class, crawled under a table and began to nap. Her peers thought that was odd, Glennon taking a nap in the middle of the day under a table and began to mock her and tell her to get out from under the table. Glennon feared the teacher would tell her the same thing—she had to get up. Instead, the teacher said to the other students, "Leave her alone! Let her rest."
Let her rest.
So, I'm here, in Florida, trying my best to rest. I have a partner who loves me very much, a beautiful space to be in, and a rescue dog named Goldie who, I kid you not, sleeps in her crate every night until my partner gets up to go to work, and she jumps up into bed with me laying across my back and shoulder, giving me kisses on my neck and cheek until I wake up.
I have a new position that is twice what my position was in Minnesota. We have a whole team of people, an editorial team, a social media team, a marketing team, a design team, an event team… the whole works… instead of all those titles falling under two people, and they're divided by a diverse group of 25 people. Mind you, this company is about four times the size as well, so there's much more work to be done, but nonetheless, it's about being able to focus more on your niche than managing so many other areas.
I am writing and finishing my first book.
An honest recount that I wake up sweating, sweating y'all, about how honest I am in this book. I wake up, heart racing, wondering if I should've been that honest?? Why am I bleeding my heart onto these pages for the world to see???
There's a lot I don't know, but what I do know is this: I have paid the highest price of love.
With honor, I wake in pain, I walk through the pain, and I seek endless remedies for my pain—because I have paid the ultimate price of love and loss. To have loved someone so deeply and wholly that it has wrecked me to every cell inside of me. I believe humans do make it through things like this, I am only one year in, but this is my grief journey. I think, sometimes, what I could do to go back and change things, and I come up empty, like diving to the bottom of the ocean (oh, also, that gorgeous Gulf is four blocks from this home) with a handful of sand and watching it all dissolve away into the water until you make it to the surface and there you are—empty-handed.
There are still so many wonderful things in life, and yet—there's always this deeper call—the same wonders that I begin the first chapter of my book with: life must be more than this.
It brought me to South Africa (and unwilling to leave), Peru, Tanzania, and even Greece. To seek a deeper meaning in life and why we must go through all the pains that this life brings. Why must there be so much destruction? I wanted to be able to heal it all, to take away all the poverty in the world, and bring hope to the ones experiencing such great traumas that I had never experienced before.
I am only 29, and I have no idea what is next. I dream of going back to Africa, my partner and I still have awfully long fights that end in us sitting outside, meeting at the same spot and understanding that we're still learning each other.
I wanted, after the past three years of physical pain from emotional hurts, to get some sort of relief from the rest of the pains of life. Haven't I experienced enough? How can I still need to deal with the daily pains of life? Shouldn't my relationships just be a breeze after such other hurts? Shouldn't I not have to wrestle with other issues? Shouldn't the rest of life just fall into place like I won the ultimate prize, I paid the highest price, and therefore the rest of my life should be easier? But it just isn't because that is not life.
To continue moving forward, as we all must do in the wake of grief, is to accept all the parts of this life. Even the ones that continue to hurt and pulsate so deep within me, I cannot even seem to find words to describe it (Me! Can't find words to describe it!), and instead of looking for life to be perfect and like that will somehow remove all the pain—I fully understand that pain is part of it. Pain is a part of life, and the issue is that we want to run from it. Like the way a cut itches and stings, while it heals, we cannot expect the process of loss to be a comfortable one.
And, with reverence for the pain and hope in the future, we carry on carrying all we must carry until we've processed it so that all we have left to do with it is simply to lay it down. And keep carrying on.