I haven’t known how to write about this new season of my life, but I think about it a lot.
I wouldn’t say it was necessarily easy to write about all my deep grief, pain and suffering; it was more like I had no choice in the matter. It was coming out my pores. I was steeped in it. I had to express it and release it in order to not drown in it.
But, this lighter, (currently) crisis-free, less intensely grief-stricken chapter of my life is as much a part of my story as the other.
I have some substantial distance from GR’s death and all the grief processing that followed, but I still sometimes wonder how I waded through all that deep pain and sorrow and came out the other side. I mean, I was there. It was I who was doing the wading, but it also feels like it was a dream. Sometimes a nightmare.
Today I sit on the other side of it all feeling mainly grateful. Feeling in awe of how fucking heartbroken I was, but how my heart has healed–and continues to heal–and even managed to expand to hold more of…well, everything. On most–but not all–days I feel more alive, connected and awake than I ever have.
Now that I can be a bit more reflective and a bit less emotional about the whole ride, I can see more clearly exactly how I got through one of the hardest, saddest and scariest times of my life without all my wheels falling off.
You see, something pretty profound happened to me about three years ago in the midst of GR finding out that he had cancer. In the “calm” that preceded the storm. Those were extremely frightening and unsettling days. Days when we had suspicions that something was terribly wrong, although it had yet to be confirmed by a doctor. Days when GR was experiencing severe abdominal pain and night sweats that had us changing the sheets more than once in the middle of the night. Days when neither of us felt like we could breathe.
In mid July 2015, about one week before GR had his colonoscopy (which would confirm that he indeed had cancer), he had an MRI. The MRI was ordered because the ultrasound he’d had the week prior didn’t reveal the gallstones that his primary care doctor thought to be the cause of his abdominal pain. Instead the ultrasound revealed “mysterious spots” on his liver.
He went for an MRI on a Tuesday afternoon and was told that his doctor would call him with the results the next day. Specifically, his doctor said that she’d call him around 7pm on Wednesday after her work day was finished. That was the time, she said, when she made her follow-up phone calls to her patients.
Those 24 hours felt really, really, excruciatingly long.
So, on that Wednesday morning I rode my bike to work. I got off work around 5:30pm, called GR and told him I was going to bike to a yoga class at 6pm and that I’d ride home afterwards. It was a warm summer evening in Chicago.
I almost couldn’t bear the anxiety of waiting on the news from that call. Things we knew so far: GR was in very intense pain, he was uncomfortable and exhausted from lack of sleep, he had been having really bad night sweats, had mysterious “spots” on his liver, and an MRI would reveal the next piece to this confusing puzzle. I felt nauseous from anxiety so a yoga class seemed like the perfect activity to channel my energy and get my mind off of whatever was coming down the pipeline.
The class that evening was very full. A warm, summer breeze wafted through the windows of the studio’s loft space. I don’t recall the instructor. She wasn’t one of my regular teachers. It was a physically challenging class and felt like a moving meditation. I remember that, unlike some yoga teachers who talk a lot during class, this particular teacher did not. She held space for our thoughts to bubble up and then dissipate. I remember that she very confidently guided us through some fairly rigorous asanas (poses), which left my body feeling wrung out like a sponge. My mind felt still and calm.
Near the end of the class, when things were super quiet in the room, and in my body and mind, something incredible transpired. Something that if I hadn’t experienced myself I honestly still may not believe. I heard a voice in my head that was NOT my voice (because you can recognize when you hear your own monkey mind chatting you up). This voice was different. It seemingly came out of nowhere. The voice said, as clear as day and as confidently as I know my own name: “Trust God. You have to trust God.”
This voice, this message, stopped me dead. in. my. tracks. Trust God. You have to trust God.
As clear as day. As confidently as I know my own name. This happened and I was stunned and in disbelief.
The class ended soon after and I rolled up my yoga mat, gathered my belongings and headed out to the street to unlock my bicycle and head home. I checked my phone and saw that I had a missed call from GR. I immediately phoned him back.
“Hey,” GR said.
“Hi…so, did you hear from the doctor yet?”
“Yes, she called. It’s bad news. She said that the MRI showed a large mass in my colon and that I have to go in for a colonoscopy as soon as possible.”
My heart sank. In that moment I knew how serious it all was. And, unfortunately, as it turns out, I was right. In fact, it was more serious than I could have ever predicted.
Yet, because of that voice that spoke to me that day when my mind was clear, quiet and receptive, on my darkest of days over those next seven months of GR’s illness and then, ultimately, his death, on the days when I found myself literally on my knees sobbing in tears, not sure if I could go on one more fucking minute, the message “Trust God. You have to trust God” gave me the strength, faith and hope to carry on. That voice told me early on, at the perfect time, that I must surrender and trust. That it was all out of my hands. All completely out of my control. Your only option here, Brooke, is to trust God.
Three years later, I still remember and recall that voice. On both my dark days and on my light days. The message is one for a lifetime.