My husband and I had just finished dining and gaming in the Paris casino, one late April night in Las Vegas. We laughed together as we pushed open the doors to Las Vegas Boulevard. I was immediately overtaken by the sound. Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” filled the air. My eyes darted around as I tried to spy the source of the music. My husband’s hands clasped my shoulders and turned me toward the fountains across the street at the Bellagio. I had never witnessed anything as striking. I vowed to always remember that moment.
Twelve years later, I am a single mom to three children. Divorce, and the death of my husband, are but memories. I’m three years into being a business owner, and my children and I power through loss, stress and frustration. We are quick to recover and regain our strength in difficult times.
Recently, I found myself stumbling more than usual. Any opportunity to have a happy-hour meeting to blow off steam was accepted. I ordered more pizza than I had in the previous six months. I found myself angry at anything that didn’t happen exactly as I wanted it to, and for the first time in months, I was sick and forced to take time off work. One morning after I dropped my son off at the bus stop for school, I drove home and was fully present to the fact that I was about to snap. I grasped at all the tools I’ve been given over the years to normalize my emotions and make myself feel better.
I felt as though I was being overly dramatic when my mind flooded with a string of dates from January to February, over the years, dates I had left my husband; I had filed anti-harassment charges against a former acquaintance; my ex-husband, the father of my girls, died; I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with my third child; I left a job I had loved . . . the list went on.
I thought of a friend who has dedicated many years to the art of grief. For me, grief had always felt like a sign of weakness, an excuse to feel sorry for myself when what I really need to do was to change my focus and work harder. “What if she is right?” I thought. Just then, my phone rang.
“How did you know to call right now?” I asked. She laughed at my greeting and then listened as I told her what had just occurred to me. She said something that one hour before I wouldn’t have believed, but now recognized was absolutely true: “The body always knows.”
For 10 years I’d been running away from a deep need to grieve my losses. I’ve always known grief to be uncomfortable. It had seemed unbecoming of the strong person I have had to be. I have had no time for grief, but it no longer mattered what I had time for; grief was going to rob me of the time it needed whether I wanted it or not. It would present itself in unhealthy behaviors, as illness, and would subconsciously steal my joy and progress if I didn’t take some time to dance with it. It was only a matter of moments before all of this sank in and I broke down sobbing. I had never looked any of these losses in the eye, and it hurt.
I acknowledged the loss of companionship, I acknowledged the loneliness that was present in my space, I felt the pain and pressure of being single and raising children alone, I cried over missing my old life. I experienced every feeling I’ve ever suppressed, and instead of feeling bad about myself, I could see my hurt for what it was. I wanted to give myself a hug and say, “It’s going to be okay.” Until that moment, I had never experienced compassion toward myself. The recognition of the need for self love was an epiphany.
When I was void of tears and ready to get up off the couch, I decided to go about my daily routine and get myself dressed. I was in front of the vanity when I flipped on the music. Enya softly played and I felt comforted and content. The song changed and my world stopped: “Time to Say Goodbye.” I saw my reflection in the mirror and the tears streamed down my face. As I welcome the powerful experience of grief and compassion into my life, it is indeed time to say goodbye—goodbye to the pain I’ve carried because I hadn’t grieved my losses, goodbye to the shame and suffering, goodbye to the misconception that led me to believe that grief was anything less than healing and powerful.