When Surviving’s All You Can Do

First published on From Surviving to Thriving on June 18, 2016

I’m still reeling, as I know many people are, from the horrific, heartbreaking massacare of 49 people in Orlando, Florida last weekend. Many others have written and spoken more eloquently and knowledgeably than I ever could about the tragedy and how it’s affecting and will continue to affect the people who directly involved, as well as their friends, family and community. My heart in particular goes out to LGBTQQI everywhere, though I can’t understand the heartache and fear and pain this brings to you, but know that I stand with you and will do all I can to end homophobia in all its forms.

The #OrlandoShooting has spawned a whole new set of bereaved parents, siblings, lovers, partners, friends, spouses, grandparents, cousins and other extended family of those killed. Losing a loved one to murderous violence brings a particularly intense and lasting kind of trauma and grief. And with this new reality, more people who will need to learn how to cope and (eventually) move forward with their lives now that their beloved ones are gone.

Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries—these special days and milestones can be particularly hard for bereaved people. In March of this year, my daughter Naima would have turned five years old, and in August we will honor her on the 5th anniversary of her death. Five years. I can still hardly believe it’s been that long since I held my child in my arms. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, others it feels like a lifetime away.

We have also just passed Mother’s Day and are about to celebrate Father’s Day in the US tomorrow. While my husband and I and many other bereaved parents and parents with no living children (like us) have our own special traditions and rituals for these holidays, they really just frickin’ suck. There’s really no other word for it. Over the last four years, I’ve learned how to survive all the different holidays and special days, but it’s not easy. This past year for the winter holidays, my husband and I faced another challenge on top of the usual holiday stuff, as we had to live in temporary housing while we waited to move into our new house, and the stress of the renovations and such around that time had gotten me very near my breaking point right around Christmas.

On days when things get really hard, when I have a bunch of house stuff to do and my Christmas shopping isn’t done and I haven’t been eating well because I’m too busy, it’s hard to get up out of bed and do everything, because all I want to do is lay in bed and cry.

Because if my daughter were still here—playing at my feet or nagging me for a snack or talking my ear off—I feel like all of this stress would be just a little more bearable, that all of this would feel like it had some kind of purpose.

Instead, it can feel like just a load of shit to have to get through because I have to, for some reason, even if I wish I could just hire someone else to do all my work for a week and go cry and remember my babies and take care of myself. Or better yet, I wish I could just have my babies back so that I could feel like my life had some real meaning again.

On days like that, I try to remind myself that it’s okay to ‘just’ survive sometimes, that I don’t have to be perfect, that I can’t be perfect, that if something falls off my plate because I just can’t do it, then so be it. My mental health is more important than my ego (though my ego often wins).

But what is surviving, really? It’s different for different people, and on different days. Surviving can be:

  • Just laying in bed and watching TV
  • Calling in sick to work and doing something that you find nurturing and healing
  • Cancelling all of your appointments and going to the movies instead
  • “Faking it” as much as you can at work, school, etc. until you get home and burst into tears
  • Calling a friend and asking for help with housework, or to bring you food or something else comforting (though the further we get from or losses the less I feel people are willing to do this)
  • Eating comfort food that you know is bad for you (in moderation if possible) just for a day or two
  • Taking a mental health day and going to the beach or somewhere else beautiful in nature

The common denominator is at the end of this, you are still alive, still here to fight another day, and that you did whatever you needed to do to get through this one. And sometimes, that’s all you can really do.

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