It has been 10 years since my life changed.
Ten years of emotions—sadness, pain, confusion, anxiety, depression, fear—that led me to where I am today. A 27-year-old woman with a purpose.
It’s been 10 years since I lost someone very important to me. Someone who made me feel seen. Someone who made me laugh. Someone who made me feel like I could be myself. Someone who cared for me more than I deserved.
How do you go 10 years without someone who you once felt like you couldn’t imagine a day without?
My grieving process
There are five stages to the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve read so many articles about grief, and this one by Cleveland Clinic does the best job explaining each step of the process.
I know it can be hard to read about grief. Sometimes it seems like you’re being told how to feel. How to “grieve appropriately.” So instead of telling you how you should feel, I’ll just talk about how my 10-year experience with grief has played out in the hopes that it helps you with yours, too.
In the months following the accident, I can’t tell you how many times I reached for my phone to text Lexi. It was almost involuntary. My brain couldn’t fathom that she was actually gone.
Something would happen, and in my head I would say, “Oh! I gotta tell Lexi about this!”
It was a fleeting moment of hope. It’s hard to describe. It was like for half a second a world without her didn’t exist. I would get a sudden burst of bliss, then it all came crashing down.
I would glance at my phone and feel the unbearable weight of reality. I can’t tell you how long this stage lasted, but this series of events definitely happened more than a handful of times.
It is so easy to be angry after you lose someone. You have all of these emotions churning inside of you, and anger is one that feels like a relief to let out.
I was so incredibly angry.
At God for even allowing this to happen. At the railroad tracks for being designed so horribly. At the car for being so damn fragile. At myself for not doing something to stop all of this. At everything I could possibly place blame on.
I even lashed out at those around me. Picking fights with my loved ones for no apparent reason. I didn’t know grief could affect me so deeply.
The thing about anger is that it’s so easy to get trapped here. Anger allows you to feel something, and after a loss it may be the first time you are feeling something in a very long time.
But the last thing you want to do is ruminate in your anger forever.
Bargaining was the step that I didn’t even realize I was going through until after I experienced them all. For me, this was my “if only” phase.
If only we would have went somewhere else that night.
If only we would have just watched a movie.
If only we didn’t go back out.
If only we were more careful.
If only. If only. If only.
These were reoccurring thoughts that had my mind stuck in June 3, 2012 for a very long time.
I would argue that the “depression” stage isn’t a stage in itself, but an underlying feeling through this entire process. I think that the experts just put it at this point because you have gone through every other stage already, so this is all that’s left.
You have felt all the feelings. You went from not believing that they are gone to coming face to face with the harsh reality. You are out of anger and your brain came up with as many “if only” statements as humanly possible, so now you just feel empty.
I think this is the stage that varies so much person to person. For me, I felt overwhelming sadness in waves. And it would be all-encompassing. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone.
It’s so hard to pull yourself out of this stage, and it can be scary for you and those around you. Reaching out for help is always an option, and there are grief counselors that can help you through this and reach feelings of acceptance.
Don’t ever feel like you need to get through this stage on your own.
When you are wrapped in the arms of grief, it seems impossible to imagine a life where you aren’t constantly impacted by your loss. And I think that’s because we have a skewed perception of what acceptance looks like.
Acceptance isn’t moving forward with your life unaffected. It’s not forgetting about the person you lost. It’s learning to live with that loss.
You’ll still feel sad, especially around the anniversary of their death, their birthday, holidays, and big moments in your life.
When Tyler and I were moving into our house, I unpacked a picture frame that I hang in memory of Lexi, and I burst into tears. I felt this overwhelming sadness that Lexi would never be able to move into a home of her own, along with guilt that I was able to experience this moment in my life.
Even now, writing this post, my heart aches with memories of Lexi. I stopped typing at multiple points to scroll through photos of us and read old texts. There’s still an emptiness in me.
Memories keep them alive
Through your journey with grief, the most difficult thought that crosses your mind is the idea that you will never see that person again. It’s absolutely crushing.
Sure, people tell you that your person is always looking after you, but that doesn’t feel the same. Some people will say that you will be reunited in the afterlife, but what kind of life will you live if you are always looking toward the moment you are no longer walking the earth?
I’ve found comfort in keeping Lexi alive through my memories of her.
I smile when I think about the countless sleepovers I had at her house. Taking pictures on her camera all night. Spending the summer by her pool. Vacationing in Hilton Head. Sitting on the shoreline and talking about life. Mall trips. Movie nights on her bedroom floor. Walks through my neighborhood. Our deep conversations. All of it.
The memories I have of Lexi fill my soul and make me feel whole, even just for a moment. They keep me going on my hardest days, and remind me that I was so lucky to be able to create those memories with her.
Let your memories serve that purpose for you.
Moving forward after death
Time—time is the answer. I shake my head at myself as I type that. I can’t tell you how long it took for me to accept Lexi’s death. All I know is one day I realized that I was okay.
Think of grief as a drop of red food coloring in a glass of water. When the drop first hits the water, it completely takes it over. The color quickly expands through the liquid, turning the clear water into a deep red.
Now, add some water to the cup. For a while it still looks the same, but as you add more and more water, the color goes from red to pink. Think of the water you are adding as the tools and resources to help you through grief. Family. Friends. A grief counselor. Coping techniques. The more water you add, the clearer the liquid in the glass becomes.
But it will never be the crystal-clear water it once was. There will always be a pinkish-red hue to it, but in the end it’s still water.
You will always carry your grief with you. It is now part of you, but it doesn’t encompass your entire being.
You are not your grief.
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