Shedding My Skin

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Everyone deals with grief in their own unique way. It’s part of what makes us human: we all must forge our own paths, and no two will be the same. Trial and error. We don’t have a definitive manual on how to live. We do the best we can.

As for grief, you can’t ever really prepare for it. Even if you read about it and watched others experience it, none of that will prepare you for the moment in which you are flung into the incinerator of your own grief. It’s one of those things where you have to be there to know how badly it hurts.

Always the schoolteacher, I felt it was both cathartic for me, and possibly helpful to others, to be transparent about what I was going through. No point in hiding the reality of living, even the messy, ugly parts. Sharing the experience helped me to not bottle up shame for a fate I did not choose. I have written many essays about my experience with my husband’s death. I wish we could all be more open with each other about life: birth, death, and all of the ups and downs in between. Instead, we tend to sugarcoat reality. We divert our eyes. We feel compelled to perpetuate a facade, to only post our best moments on social media, to swallow the depth of our pain and hide our innermost vulnerabilities out of fear of being societal anomalies. Somehow we forget that in the end, we all harbor the same fears. We all feel the same pain.

I suppose it was easier for me to be open with others since I already felt so raw and exposed. Since making the decision to be transparent, I have had no regrets. In fact, I’ve experienced a wonderful unintended consequence of meeting many interesting people with their own stories about pain and suffering. To know that I live in a world with perfectly imperfect people who are hungry to connect with others is something I feel hopeful about. It reminds me that I am not alone. You are not alone. We are all bumbling through life no matter how old we are.

It has been 14 months since that fateful day that made me a widow. I have experienced many stages of the tumultuous ups and downs in my journey with grief. It really is an out of body experience to witness every part of your being convulse in the most unimaginable ways. But lately, for the past couple of months, I’ve felt something new.

It feels like I’m a snake shedding my skin.

Apparently, snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth. It also enables them to get rid of parasites.

I love it.

I’ve been on summer vacation. I recently went to Europe for 3 weeks and had a lovely, rejuvenating time. I wrote my heart out. I had way too many superb cups of cappuccino, strolled in amazing parks, saw beautiful art, learned interesting history, ate delicious food–all things to overfill my cup of living bliss.

Then I came home, and things started to feel weird. The serene, balanced feeling I had come to enjoy gave way to a new restlessness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first.

I craved change, so I started making change. I changed pictures on the walls, putting away old family pictures that included Kenneth, and replacing them with new family pictures. Ordering a new patio set. Re-decorating. New color. I had to have more color! De-cluttered. Threw away clothing I didn’t want or need anymore. New bedding, with cute pillows and new crisp white sheets. Splurges on myself. New paint. New goals. Lots of writing. More writing. Playing with the kids. Exercise. New traditions. Doing stuff. Lots of stuff. Filling every inch of my life with the things I love, with people and experiences. I felt an insatiable thirst for living spreading inside of me.

All of this was the complete opposite of the horrifying bowels of the earth I dwelled in last year.

But it’s more than the physical changes. There are changes inside of me. The aching I used to feel, the longing for my old life, has largely gone away. The intensity I felt missing Kenneth has faded, and he has become a person I used to know. We’ve settled into the routine of our new normal. I’ve learned to appreciate the various aspects of my new life, like the changes I’ve done around the house, the people I have met, the decisions I have boldly made all by myself, and the fears I have bravely conquered. I’ve worked my butt off for all of it. It is mine, stitched together with my blood and tears, and I am proud. I own it.

We’re going on our annual camping trip soon. I’ve been thinking about all the things I love about the outdoors. Giant redwoods trees with trunks so thick I can’t wrap my arms around them. Rings marking the years of existence that stretch far back in the history books, dwarfing my time on this earth. Boulders bigger than my car, layers of sediment that took thousands of years to build up, weathered by erosion, each one uniquely shaped. Seasons that usher life in and out, make growth and re-growth possible, disaster, beauty. Early summer: snow melting, flowers and green foliage sprouting from a dormant ground, tender leaves stretching upward toward the sun. Animals emerging from hibernation with their babies, foraging for the bounty of summer to sustain life and a promise for tomorrow. Life cycles. An existence always teetering on the edge of death.

In the wilderness, life is sacred. It is fleeting and it is fragile. In the city we easily forget about these truths, but in the wilderness it clings to your skin and hangs over your head, and you have no choice but to savor what is in front of you. You focus on the essentials: food, water, shelter. Everything else is secondary. There is liberation in the simplicity.

It makes me think about my own life.

I once feared letting go of what was, of changing, of getting further and further away from the reality I once lived. Now I have learned to welcome the impermanence of life. It is beautiful and it is bittersweet, but it offers promise in unexpected ways, and in the end, it keeps life interesting and meaningful.

The silver lining: not all is lost. Everything I feared losing is still inside of me, buried beneath new layers, part of the foundation of what makes me uniquely me. It is exactly what has contributed to making this improved version of who I am.

Right now, I am shedding those final remnants of toxicity of my former self: anger, resentment, sadness, forlorn hopelessness that used to keep me awake at night. I am no longer scared, although it was okay to feel scared. We can’t be ashamed of having feelings. It is what makes us uniquely human.

But we can’t give in to our fears. We have to keep moving forward. We have to keep our eyes open to the endless ways life is fulfilling and worthwhile.

I will shed my skin over and over again until I take my last breath on earth. I still have so much to learn and experience. Every day I get stronger, more resilient, and more excited about the possibilities in my future.

This is a happy place I couldn’t even imagine last year. I am eternally grateful to be here.

3 comments

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  1. Marta

    This post is amazing!!! It is very inspiring. You are so right. This process is different for everyone and you have come a long way. Happy to see you are making the changes you need to continue to move forward.

  2. Karl

    Do you think you’ve reached the acceptance stage of grief? I like the analogy of the snake shedding skin. Neurons in the cerebral cortex, are not replaced when they die, and neither are people.

  3. Maryann

    Teresa…You have worked so hard to get to this point and by sharing, and expressing, so many feelings that all of us who are grieving experience, you have helped so many. Thank you, and enjoy your camping trip and the rest of your Summer.

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