I’ve been in a really good place as of late. Five years ago I could never have imagined being as whole as I feel now. Recent conversations in both my personal and professional worlds have caused me to examine my life events. As I dig in and unearth the roots of my past, the layers of life experiences directly connect to my grief.
I left home as a senior in high school. During my college application process FASFA red-flagged me with a claim that I was not a citizen of the US. A long investigation revealed that in the aftermath of Operation Babylift my paperwork was somehow not processed properly. Not only was I not a citizen, but my green card had expired in 1976. This was 1993. Oh and my birth certificate had blown up on the cargo plane that crashed in the rice paddy outside of Tan Sahn Nut airport in South Vietnam. (Look it up. I kid you not.) So this left me with no choice but to navigate immigration and naturalization on my own with no documents to support who I was. Sounds easy, right? While I was figuring that out and without a loan option, I worked four jobs to pay cash for college. I was smart; top of my class. But I made the conscious choice to go to a state school because I knew that was what I could barely afford. I gave up my running scholarship because I needed to work more in order to make rent.There were days when I prayed the gas fumes left in the tank would be enough for my commute from the college campus to pick up my paycheck. I ate a lot of ramen noodles during those years because they were cheap. I took eighteen credits a semester and worked sixty hours a week, but eventually I graduated. It ranks among the proudest days of my life. After seven years of weaving through immigration, in 2000 I took the oath of allegiance to the US and became a naturalized citizen. Another one of my proudest days.
So when I peel back all of those layers that compose who I am, it all makes sense. Up until my losses, when life presented challenges, I dug deep and figured out ways to overcome them. I was capable and strong and relentless. This defined me. I never learned how to ask for help. I was always “okay.” Even when my adopted parents died (each five years apart) and my marriage dissolved, I figured out how to put my life back together for both me and my children. I knew how to survive on my own. So in 2015 when I lost Adam (my life’s love), my entire life shattered into a million pieces and grief blindsided me. For the first time I didn’t have a way to be okay. I didn’t know how to ask for help. Incapable, paralyzed, afraid and hopeless for a future, for the first time in my life I didn’t know how to move forward. I was frozen for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t figure out why my mind and body were reacting that way. Over time I have learned this was all part of my years of compounded grief. The answers to my grief “whys”can be found in my history.