Finding Gifts in Grief
If someone had told me early in my grief journey that one day I would write a blog about gifts in grief, I would have thought they were crazy. First of all, when Ashley died in 2001, I didn’t know what a blog was, so there’s that. But, the mere thought that I could get to a place where I could write in any forum about the topic of gifts and grief would have seemed ludicrous. In those early months of grief, I could see nothing but endless sorrow, pain and hopelessness.
Grief at that time produced nothing but more grief. Grief was bigger than me, stronger than me, it was intimidating and scary. Grief was a burden I was being forced to carry, a weight I was saddled with … there was absolutely nothing about grief that was good. People would try to tell me that one day things would soften, they would say that if I helped others and kept Ashley’s memories alive in my life by talking about her and sharing my story that things would change. I did not believe any of this.
When I released my first collection of songs on grief and loss (Ashley’s Songbook) in 2003, I certainly didn’t see this new music I was creating as any kind of a gift. When people would say “it is so wonderful to see you turn something so tragic into something so healing” …when I would hear those words, I would literally want to punch the person. In my mind, at that time, there was nothing positive or healing about anything. I viewed my music merely as a survival tool, it was a necessary process I needed to do to help me work through pain in an attempt to stay alive.
When I was new in grief, all I could see is loss. It was everywhere, it was in everything … life had gone from color to black and white without Ashley in it. It took everything I had just to take the next breath, walk another step. It was in that darkest part of the valley of grief where I met and bonded with others who faced my same struggles. Little did I know then, that it would be these people walking the valley with me who would become an anchor I could cling to, a building block I so desperately needed to help me imagine the possibility that I could one day find my way back to the land of the living.
My dear friend (who I met through grief) Donna Goodrich presents a very popular workshop at conferences on the gifts of grief. The feedback from grieving parents who attend her workshop is eye opening. Many attendees walk away with a fresh perspective and an appreciation for the “good” things that have come into their lives after such a “bad” thing has happened. Donna helps people recognize that the memories left behind, the friendships made and the new set of priorities we have after loss truly can be seen as gifts. We still hurt and grieve, but we also find gifts along the way if we are open to receiving them.
Things have changed for me in a major way over the years, in my tech abilities and in my grief journey. Today, I not only know what a blog is, but I also listen to these things called podcasts. Today, I am writing this blog in Plymouth, Michigan at the home of some dear friends I met through grief. Tomorrow, 3 men who are dear friends I met through grief will be sitting with me fulfilling a bucket list wish as we watch the Michigan Wolverines play football along with 110,000 other fans at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Tomorrow night the wives of my friends and others I know through grief will meet up for drinks and a dinner sure to be filled with laughter and fun.
Today, I can look back at the 18 years since Ashley died and see a vast array of wonderful gifts given to me through my journey of grief. Amazing people, beautiful experiences and true friendships have come into my life. Grieving is a lonely process, but the people who grace my life took great care to assure that I did not process my grief alone. Together we share our stories, hurt together, laugh together, cry together … and together we have found ways to celebrate our loved ones and honor them by accepting the gifts we have been given on this path.
I am a fortunate griever, I have been given the gift of this ministry which gives me the honor of sharing my music and message in cities all across this country. As I bask in the wonderful experience of this weekend with my Michigan hosts, I will look toward the sky from the Big House and say “Ashley, you are good … thanks for this incredible gift” … Grief hurts, but it doesn’t have to win … our loved ones left many gifts for us to help us on our way … I believe we can only find these amazing gifts if we keep moving forward and looking for them.
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