“The rose of farewells is a rose that will set you on the path toward healing”
Marilyn Willett Heavilin
I asked myself today, “Lori, how did you grieve?”, and emotion quickly zapped through my body like lightning. I realized I’ve never reflected back on how I grieved…for a reason. A reason that I need to re-visit, because I believe there are answers I’m looking for in this memory. Just a quick flash back of the days, weeks, and months I spent lying in bed, refusing to see daylight, paralyzes me for a hot minute. Or remembering that feeling of anger that would run through my body, and make me feel as if my life was being threatened.
Does this mean I’m not done grieving?
Now, this is when my brain says, “time to start journaling”, so here I am. Questions that I can’t answer about myself is an immediate trigger that it’s time for me to dig deep. And these moments make me anxious and nervous. Speak the truth, even when your voice shakes, right?
I call myself “The Outspoken Rose”. I hope the more outspoken I am, the better I can connect to you, to let you know, that you are not alone. My right arm is covered in tattoos…and they are roses. The roses are symbols of those that have come into my life, made a tremendous impact, and then departed in their own ways. The roses are also a reminder that it’s OK to let go, as the writing across the inside of my arm reads, “Let Go Let God”.
They say everyone grieves in their own ways, in their own times. From what I have experienced and witnessed, this is very true. There is no “right” time frame or “way” to grieve. I believe I will grieve forever. My heart will never totally heal. But I also believe there are those who find a way to turn adversity into personal power. It’s a moment when we finally realize that death or any other form of loss is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. And like that, we start the journey of personal growth, to find the light inside of us, so that we can give back to those who struggle like we did.
I have always been in and out of long-term relationships. The average of the five longest relationships I have had is three years. My longest relationship is just shy of five years and that was my very first boyfriend. Today, I have not dated anyone since 2014, coming up on three years, the longest I have ever been single. There is still something terrifying to me about dating and relationships.
In the year 2007, I ended a relationship with my long-term college boyfriend, whom everyone loved and adored. It was by far my healthiest breakup as we are still great friends today. My family wasn’t happy when I told them I ended the relationship, but hey, it’s my life, right? Per the number of long term relationships I have had, my age, and the average duration of these relationships, I’m sure you can guess that I was one of those girls who jumped from relationship to relationship. Yep!
I had recently graduated from college and started my first “real” career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I made a ton of new friends here and decided to go out with them one weekend. Hell, I wasn’t in a relationship anymore, time to mingle! And mingle I did. I met a guy. And we began a relationship shortly after.
Do I wear a sign around my neck that says “This girl only accepts relationships” or what?! I’m like a magnet to commitment or something…
I remember sitting behind my desk, in a cube, at Enterprise and feeling excited to tell my parents I was in another relationship. As I write that, it sounds like I needed their permission or something…
I call Mom. She picks up the phone and I tell her I’m dating someone new. She responds, “That’s great! What’s his name?” and I excitedly responded with his name.
She replies, “What kind of name is that? Where is he from?”
I reply, “Iran”.
She finally replies, “It’s one thing to be friends, but you can’t date someone from Iran. They have different beliefs, different values…” and she went on for a few minutes. At this point, I felt like crawling under my cube and hiding. But I was equally pissed off. That was a racist comment and I didn’t like it one bit. The voice in my head said, “and this is why you live three hours away“.
She said I needed to talk to my father about this. I thought, “Ok, he’s always on my side, no problem”. But this time, he wasn’t. He also lectured me saying Mom was right! And that’s a big deal to me. However, it was my life, and I’m 24 years old, I can make my own decisions now. Phssh…
But this was harder than I thought. As months went on, they literally wanted nothing to do with my relationship. It also didn’t help that when I finally coordinated a dinner for my parents to meet him, he didn’t show up…great first impression. I remember that day so well…
In the summer of 2008, I lost the first person I was sincerely close to, my pawpaw. My dad’s dad. He was the absolute hands down funniest man I have ever encountered in my life, to date. And when I heard the news, the first thing that came to my mind was how my dad was handling this. They were best friends, always together, always a show.
And my dad didn’t handle it well. At the same time, I had lost a tremendous amount of weight, I was at my lowest 105lbs. You could see my rib cages. When my dad saw me the weekend of the funeral, for the first time ever, he told me he was worried about my weight. I looked ill and unhealthy. He had fear and disappointment in his eyes. This is another day, I remember so well…
However, I was in my “rage” stage. That stage where you’re just like, “Yeh, yeh, yeh….whatever!” and you’re seriously not open to taking anyone’s advice and you just became a young adult, living on your own, with your first real job…thinking you’ve got it all together. All I wanted to do was get back to Austin, Texas, to spend time with my boyfriend.
So off I went.
Four months later, on December 24th, 2008, I received a text message as I was driving home to be with my family for Christmas Eve. It said, “Lori, I’m so sorry for the loss of your father.”
OK…that makes ZERO sense. I just talked to him. He was hyper and hilarious being his crazy happy self. There’s no way that text was meant for me. They sent it to the wrong Lori!
I finally get a hold of my brother who tells me to “pull over” and explains that dad had a heart attack, and was gone within minutes.
I couldn’t breathe. I had to hang up immediately. I had to scream, panic, throw up. I pulled over quickly, jumped out of my car, and puked my guts out.
You can’t predict a heart-attack, but there sure as hell are things you can do to prevent it. And one of those things are take care of yourself. I was later informed my dad had stopped taking his diabetic medication and blood pressure medication. To this day, I’ll never know why.
As I walked into my home that dreadful day, the first thought that entered my mind was, “Oh my gosh how will Mom handle this?! What do I do? Is this something someone can get through? Ever?” The next morning, Christmas Day, my brother and I went up to the funeral home to make arrangements, pick out the coffin…things I had never even imagined doing…especially on Christmas day.
Friends, family, and people I didn’t even know filled my home for days. My boyfriend at the time even flew down from Austin to be supportive, even though he wasn’t very well liked, I needed him.
This one lady, Shirley Sylvia, gave me a book called, “Roses in December” with a genuine note inside that said, “I know saying I’m sorry about your dad is not very good, so I found this book years ago and it has brought comfort to a lot of people who have lost someone they love. I hope it helps you too.” Looking back, that was the most valuable thing anyone did for me. The most memorable. So, if you are looking for tips on how to help someone grieving, you may try giving them a helpful book with a hand written note as such!
After a few weeks off work, I gained the courage to head back to Austin and get myself back to work. I remember the day I was finally supposed to go back… I woke up that morning, in pure terror, and actually went number two in my pants in the middle of a panic attack. I swear to you, never done that before, and I’m embarrassed to admit this to the public. But it happened, for real. There is no way I was ready to go back to work. I called my mom for help who then called my boss at Enterprise to explain what was going on. I needed another week off and it wasn’t a problem with my company at all. They understood. I’m so grateful for that.
The next weekend happened to be my 25th birthday weekend. My boyfriend was arranging a birthday party for me at a night club and many friends from my hometown were driving down for birthday support! For the first time in weeks, I was kind of excited. I love when people visit me!
After two beers, and a shot or two, I blacked out. Super skinny, lack of appetite, and a wrong state of mind to drink alcohol in the first place is exactly what this night turned out to be. A disaster. I woke up the next morning, no boyfriend. He had packed all his things from my home and left. He had turned off his phone, no way to get a hold of him to know if I had done anything wrong? What the hell happened?
Days went on, never heard from him. Phone still turned off. Oh, that feeling you get when a phone goes straight to voicemail…
For the first time in my life, I felt like I was hitting absolute rock bottom.
My mom drove down to Austin to help me. We packed as many of my things as we could, and I went back home to Houston with her, and officially took a leave of absence from my job. I needed major help, and I couldn’t do it alone in Austin. I needed my family. The ones who were going through similar pain. And the ones that told me to stay away from him in the first place. Don’t you hate when your parents are right? I sure do.
Fast forward a couple weeks…
I start receiving calls, texts, voicemail, emails, tagged in social media posts, you name it from my now ex-boyfriend. The one that disappeared on my birthday, a few weeks after my dad died. There’s no way I could answer or respond to him. The thought of how could anyone do that to another human being repeated over and over in my head every time I saw his name.
My previous relationships have always been back and forth, back and forth, and it usually was me anxiously waiting on “him” to call and want me back or want to talk. But this time, I couldn’t pick up. I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t answer. He was apologizing over and over, dedicating songs to me via Facebook, asking for my forgiveness. I kept ignoring. Which was also killing me inside. I really needed some peace and distance, and I wasn’t getting it.
About a month later, I had the strength to get myself back to Austin. Again, I was nervous, but I had been out of work for over a month now, and I had to try to get myself back into a normal routine. A few days of being in Austin, the ex-boyfriend showed up at my house and wanted to talk. I let him in. He cried and explained how sorry he was in person. He said he loved me for the first time. I believed him, and we got back together.
The worse decision I’ve ever made for myself, was this one. If I could RE DO anything in my life, it would be this one.
For the next few years, we dated for a month, broke up in rage for month, dated for a month, broke up in rage for a month. It was a very consistent routine that lasted for a full two years. In these two years, I have never been called so many horrible names in my life, in front of many people, and treated with such dis respect. I was humiliated over and over again, in front of his friends and mine. So badly, that my friends gave me an ultimatum. It was him or them. They couldn’t watch me go through this anymore. My guy friends wanted to fight him every time I brought him around for how he treated me, so I stopped hanging out with my friends. However, I rarely saw my boyfriend either. But, I still choose him.
So, who did I really have? My bed. My dark room. And my Xanax and ambien, the pills prescribed to me to treat anxiety and sleep after my father passed away. I also had my therapist, who was getting calls from me on the regular. The only person who would listen to my pain that I was repeating over and over again for years. I went from hating those visits to I don’t know what I’d do without her.
And I still stayed with him. For some reason, I couldn’t let him go. I cried at the top of my lungs on a regular basis when we were broken up, refusing to leave my bedroom. And when we were together, it was pure anger and hate, fist fights, shoving, terrible name calling. I called in sick to work at least one or two times A WEEK, for years! There is not a single positive memory I can retain from the two years following my dad’s funeral. The mental abuse was detrimental to my overall health, and I didn’t learn this until many years later.
Our relationship finally ended in early 2012. I had been praying for this day, for the strength to leave, on a regular basis. It went something like this, “Dear God, I’m stronger than this. Please help me walk away. Please help me see the light.” And while it wasn’t immediately, God did come through, and I finally walked away forever.
But my challenges were just getting started. I still hadn’t grieved the loss of my father. I did everything I could to avoid thinking about that dreadful Christmas Eve day. The bad relationship was a great excuse to take my mind off the true source of my pain. Focus goes where energy flows.
If I could summarize the years 2009 – 2012, I would say I cried in my bed, 75% of the time. I was popping pills to put me to sleep, so days would go by faster. In fact, I would overdose on my medication in hopes it would knock me out for days. I was a zombie. I was severely depressed. I put all of my focus into trying to make a terrible relationship work, for the sake of not having to focus on the loss of my father.
In order for me to move forward, I needed more change.
So I walked away from my job at Enterprise. My close team had witnessed so much pain, so much sadness, so much anger come out of me, I was embarrassed and I needed a clean start. I was a broken record there, I couldn’t even make it through a full work week without calling in mentally ill or crying through the day. This damaged my confidence significantly. My confidence in being an adult. My confidence in being good at something. Clearly I wasn’t good at relationships or handling my emotions.
Which is when I found my new career in technology, and I put my head down to my personal life, and became the best damn sales representative in the entire division. I started making more money than I knew what to do with. When I did engage in personal activities or conversations with family members, I seemed to get into lots of arguments. Some arguments that lead to people writing me completely off, and still today, are no longer in my life. I also became immune to pain. It’s like I built myself a brick wall around my heart. For the next few years, I will openly admit, I was a mean, yet very successful, human.
My anger level had reached an all-time max, and the only way I knew how to hide from the anger was to work as hard as I could and avoid all people outside of work. When I say anger at an all-time max, I’m talking throwing beer bottles at people’s heads, as hard as I could. The simplest comment or smallest thing would throw my brain into a war zone.
I knew I couldn’t drink alcohol. I wasn’t mentally nor emotionally stable. So I stopped partying, and I worked instead. Any opportunity I had to work, I took it, it’s where I was excelling. It’s where I was doing good. It’s where I was looked up to. I felt I had lost everyone and everything else. And I definitely lost myself. My success in my new career was fueled by pure pain.
When I finally recognized this in March of 2016, I made the biggest decision of my life to date. And that was to quit my job, and start me. I couldn’t live like this any longer. God has big plans for me, and it was time to start the discovery phase of my life.
I did finally read the book that nice lady gave me when my dad died called, “Roses in December”. It may have taken me years to pick it up, but after reading it, I realized I had been so angry with my father. It was now clear, I felt it, that I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve because I was so mad at him. He left me behind. He could have taken care of himself. I could go on and on, but it wouldn’t bring him back. Then I asked myself, “Lori, how could you be so angry at the one man who cared about you more than anything in this world? The one person who always had your back? Why are you mad at him?” And I realized, I want to be more like him, he’s a hero, he’s my hero. He’s my coach. He’s a leader. This book helped me grieve.
It took me years to visit my Dad’s grave, and most recently, I visited him to finally get the closure I needed. It was the best feeling, emotionally hard, but extremely necessary for me to let go. Everything I do today, where I am, who I am becoming, is because of him. Now, I walk outside each morning, look up in the sky, and that reminds me he is watching me and rooting for me, just like he did on the sidelines. He wants me to dominate my health so I can live a full life, and not be cut short in my fifties.
I grieved for almost 8 years, without seeing the light.
Four years in severe mental depression and four more years thinking I finally grieved, but in reality, I had turned that depression into massive anger, built a solid brick wall around my heart, and developed a crazy career drive. I taught myself how to numb the pain and become a “fighter”. However, that did me way more damage until I finally saw what was happening to myself. By numbing the pain, I also numbed the joy in each day. I have found, you can’t numb bad feelings without numbing the good feelings too. It’s unfortunate.
By believing I was a “fighter”, I found myself always looking for a “fight”, “debate”, healthy or not healthy. I was consistently ready to defend myself. The language patterns we use in our own minds, the things we only say in our heads, we end up believing regardless if they are good or bad. For example, if we believe “life’s a battle”, we are always expecting a fight, or looking for one but if “Life’s a dance” or “Life’s a party” we may be expecting love and connection. It’s a weird thought process, I know, but if you think about it, it’s true.
This theory has created a strong belief for me and that is: What you speak (silently to yourself) you become.
For the last year, I have chosen to live my life differently. I built new daily routines for myself and now have a firm daily ritual that I complete every morning, before I do anything else. It consist of gratitude, meditation, affirmations, and exercise. But sometimes not all in that order. I have incorporated daily prayer as I work on growing my Faith and building a closer connection with Jesus Christ. I invested in my health and hired a life coach and personal fitness trainer. I invested in Anthony Robbins seminars. I now work for the health company, Reset Yourself, who was a big piece of my journey of self-love, self-compassion, and helping me understand nutrition and what my body needed to help me feel good again and prevent future health issues or concerns later in my life. All of these activities, new ways of living, and coaches and courses combined are the reason I have made so much progress. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in ONE single year.
Somehow, someway, I have found a way to use adversity to my advantage. To transform it into this personal power, and it is my “why”, my purpose. I want to live longer than 52 years old. I don’t want to go from a stroke or heart attack, or any other disease. I don’t want to jeopardize my health as my dad did not take care of himself. All I can do is educate myself, create myself, and lead by example. Not to just my family, but to anyone who wants to change their lifestyle for the better.
Today, life is about creation. It’s about discoveries. It’s about the journey. It’s no longer about the battle or the fight.
The grieving stages aren’t easy, and we all do it differently. I aspire to help others who are in my shoes, have been in my shoes, or are going through adversity themselves. I hope to help them find the light in their most difficult times. I promise there’s light waiting to shine deep in your heart.
And to those who had to deal with me during those eight years of grieving on the dark-side, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for understanding and just simply being there. And from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry to anyone and everyone I hurt along the way.