Do you know that feeling of running down a hill? Your feet go faster and faster, picking up speed as you try to catch up to yourself. The whole time you fear that if you try to stop you surely will fall.
That is what it felt like in the days, weeks, months and first year after my son died.
Ryan passed away on May 24, 2018, at the age of 17, after sudden medical complications. Our world imploded. Our lives shattered. I had an 8th and 4th grader and three step-children all looking to me to show them how to keep going. Somehow, with the crutch of my husband by my side, I did.
As I think back to those early days, it’s just a blur. I remember screaming and crying myself to half-sleep at night, only to start the next day taking care of everyone around me…pushing all of us to find moments of happy in our days, regrouping when the kids were around and repeating the cycle when the bedroom door shut at night and I ached for Ryan’s return. This pattern, both physically and emotionally, was how I lived that first year.
I kept busy working on our family charity, Warter Strong, in honor of my late husband (No, that’s not a misprint. My first husband had passed away just three years earlier) and now in celebration of Ryan as well.(www.warterstrong.org)
Encouraging my kids to grieve and feel.
Focusing on “doing happy”.
Planning a fundraising event in honor of Ryan’s 18th birthday last October.
Designing t-shirts for our first golf outing in May 2019, while simultaneously creating Ryan’s tombstone for his one year anniversary.
“Just keep swimming” as Dory from the movie Finding Nemo would say. That’s what I did. One foot in front of the other. Again and again and again. Feeling all the feelings-the sad, the happy and everything in between… but never stopping. Constantly thinking, remembering, planning, honoring and keeping a steady fast pace.
We made it to the one year mark and a month later, my two younger boys left for sleep away camp.
And then it hit me.
The non-planning and non-rushing.
All I had to do was focus on myself and sit with my feelings. While I was terrified by the anticipation, when the moment arrived I crashed into it with wanton abandon… letting this new space envelop me and the quiet calm my senses.
In my pause I felt…
The cool water around me as I swam in the mornings.
The sun on my skin as I sat outside and read.
The heat through my pores as I practiced and taught yoga daily.
The taste of wine with dinner and the connection to food again as I began to cook with intention on health and self care.
I shut myself off from social media and instead listened to music and discovered podcasts and just turned inward.
In the still space, I found a deeper version of myself.
My happiness was grander.
But my sadness and grief was even deeper than I understood.
Without the chatter and distractions, my mind and body were able to attend to the unattended depths of my heart and in some ways let myself grieve in a way it had not yet done. And although slowing down challenged me, it also changed me.
What’s interesting is that I was anxious about how I would handle not constantly racing, but in reality the opposite occurred. My body instinctively took over and knew what to do even if my “rational” mind was uncertain.
And the lesson I learned is this.
Taking time to stop.
Focusing on yourself is not selfish and spoiled but smart and strong. Honoring what you need and having the courage to face yourself square on shows true grit.
So as I face re-entry this Fall into the “real world”… the one filled with minutia and social media stories and rushing from place to place and plans and stresses and “life”, I’m planning on taking that “pause” with me.
Pausing is no longer a break I would take at the end of a “marathon”, but something that is interwoven into the fabric of my days.
You can’t work out once a week.
You can’t diet once a month.
You can’t slow down and just “pause” once a year to meaningfully connect, question, challenge and refuel your true self.
Inhale, pause. Exhale, pause.
The pause is powerful
The space is sacred
And the result is a true honor to those I have loved and lost. It is a deep commitment to living everyday to the fullest… however perfectly imperfect those days may be.
Read Someday: For A Loved One Suffering A Loss
Barbara Warter is a Certified Vinyasa Yoga Instructor and Speech Language Pathologist. The past few years tested Barbara’s limits as she lost her husband in 2015 and then her 17 year old son in 2018. In between, Barbara met and married a wonderful man and her family of three amazing boys became a modern day Brady Bunch of 6. In an effort to cope with her grief and celebrate the lives of her husband and son, Barbara began writing on social media. In 2017, Barbara’s family created a charity called Warter Strong (www.warterstrong.org) where she continues to write blogs about her personal life’s journey through raising a child with special needs to suffering loss and trauma, to appreciating life’s blessings. Barbara is very grateful to empower her family, friends and community and make choices to “do happy”- which is central to her charity’s campaign (Instagram @dohappy24 and facebook.com/DoHappy24).