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Dear grief,

I won’t even try to pretend you haven’t changed me. We met four years ago now, and I have never been the same. You showed up the moment my mom slipped out of my life, as I watched a monitor tell me that her heart had beat for the last time. Since that moment, you have ranged from lurking just over my shoulder, to smothering me so heavily that I think I’ll never again come up for air.

Ours was a very unhealthy relationship in the beginning. You made me tired, and so incredibly anxious. You made me so disoriented, losing days and weeks at a time while I drifted through them, functioning only enough to be what my children needed and little else. I let another glass of wine be a little too comforting at times, and I escaped to empty rooms to cry so that my too-young little girls didn’t have to watch me fall apart.

You caused me to lose friends, too. They were so afraid of you that they didn’t even want to look at my relationship with you. So they drifted away from me. They even told me they did it on purpose, because seeing me meant seeing you. And you are so very intimidating and miserable to be around. Sometimes you took their words from them, crippling their ability to know what to say to me. You didn’t bother to tell them that saying anything, and sometimes even nothing at all, was just fine. Because those of us who live with you sometimes just need to sit quietly and know the people in our lives still love us, even when we’re broken to pieces.

In the beginning, I let you steal my confidence and my willingness to try. You made me simultaneously fear tomorrow, yet feel desperate to live life to the fullest, because life is short. I was afraid to try new things and fail, because you’d be whispering in my ear when I did. You would tell me that I am less whole now, and that if only my mom were here, I could accomplish anything. You made even the slightest disappointment hurt so much more.

Our relationship made me want to change, yet at the same time stay exactly the same. I couldn’t stand to look at the familiar things around me, because I saw my mom missing in those places. I also couldn’t bear the idea of filling my time with new people in the time I had always instead spent with my mom. I wanted to be the person she remembered, living the life she remembered. Maybe just in case she came back.

You made me into someone I didn’t know, all after losing the person who knew me best.

But you aren’t new to me anymore, and I am not afraid of you anymore.

I’m not tired anymore. Because learning to live with you has given me endurance and strength I didn’t even realize I had. And while I may still get anxious, I know that my anxiety is valid, and that I have earned my low points and am allowed to have them without feeling weak.

I am not disoriented anymore. Because now I know how absolutely valuable it is to live in the moment. I know that you can still make me scared of the future, but I also know that loving the moment I am in, and the people I am with in those moments, takes away the crippling power you used to hold over me.

And I don’t let the wrong things comfort me anymore, because I know they are only temporary “fixes” to long-term problems. And it’s OK if my daughters know that I miss their grandmother and cry for her. Because I also share stories with them, and teach them that they, too, can come out stronger from heartache and disappointment.

You may have taken some friends, but you have taught me to be a better friend to people who are also living with you. And I have found new friends, and connected with old ones that knew me before my heart broke. And those people fill my heart up, and make me thankful that I was willing to try to let others in. People who stand beside you and welcome even your broken pieces are priceless.

You broke me down into someone I didn’t recognize, but then I re-grew into someone I know even better than I knew the old me. This one isn’t intimidated by you one bit. I have a healthy respect for how powerful and crushing you can be, but I know I can now face you without being afraid of how you make me feel.

I know that I will never truly be free of you, and I have finally started to come to terms with the fact that learning to live with you is not an accomplishment that will give me my mom back. That time with her is over. But you haven’t broken my faith, so I know I will see her again someday.

And I haven’t gotten here to this place of being “OK” alone. God and the people He has put in my life help me feel stronger than you, even on those low days when waves of grief come rushing back in and threaten to sweep me away. You have taken plenty, but what I have gained in learning to live alongside you can’t ever be taken away. Those lessons and that gratitude are things even you can’t have, no matter how long you stick around.

You may also want to read:

A Letter To My Mom in Heaven

For As Long As We Love, We Grieve

My Dad’s Death Still Haunts Me

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So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Hannah Angstadt-Gunning

Hannah is a former full-time working turned stay-at-home/homeschooling mom. She is a contributing writer and co-editor for Columbia SC Mom’s Blog. You can also find her at her blog, Palindromic Musings, where she writes about living with and navigating through grief, and on Twitter.  She is passionate about writing, painting, social justice, wine, and raising strong women. Hannah lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two young daughters, and is an alumni of the University of South Carolina and devoted Gamecock fan.

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