September 11th, 2019 was a truly magical day. The love of my life got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. With Minnie Mouse ears on my head, beads of sweat down my back (Florida is HOT, y’all!), and so much love and excitement in my heart – I said YES! Well, I cried, and then I said yes! And then I may have put my gorgeous engagement ring on the wrong hand for a minute – but that’s a minor detail. Suddenly, I was engaged! I went from having a boyfriend to having a fiance in a matter of minutes.
I spent the rest of the day beaming and smiling from ear to ear! While standing in line for rides I often got distracted by the pretty shiny thing on my left hand and I couldn’t help but admire it. Each time it caught my eye I felt so special and so loved. Whenever Zach caught me checking out my new bling, he smiled and squeezed my hand tight. It was the perfect day.
Whenever I tell someone our proposal story, I always say “It was so magical!”. And it was. Straight out of a fairy tale!
But real life isn’t like a fairy tale, and what I haven’t shared with anyone yet is the explosion of grief I experienced later.
As night approached, we were looking forward to the incredible firework show that Disney displays at the castle. I had seen the show once before, back in 2015 – I watched with my dear friend Aliza, and we both cried. It was just so magical and beautiful.
I expected I would shed a tear or two this time as well because I’m a crier. On the other hand, I thought maybe crying at Disney World fireworks was just a one time thing. The show started, and it began just as breathtakingly as I recall.
Within moments, I felt myself welling up. I just felt so thankful. Thankful for my new fiance (!!!!!!!), thankful for the friends standing by my side (and thankful for the adoption process one is going through!), thankful for the moment, and thankful for my life. Thankful for the beautiful undeserved blessings God has placed in my life. Thankful for experiences just like the one I was living in. Thankful for an exciting, new season in my life.
As my entire face quickly became wet due to a mixture of sweat and tears, a thought crept into my mind. The last time I stood in this place, I was excited about heading to Peru with Aliza to visit our friend Tat. We had just finished a summer working at camp – it was a special summer because we formed an incredible friendship between the three of us.
On August 17th, 2018, Tat passed away in a car accident – days after getting engaged.
My thankful tears turned the slightest bit sour. Right on cue, floating lanterns from the movie Tangled projected onto the castle while “At Last I see the Light” played softly. This was one of Tat’s favourites, and she was obsessed with lanterns. My heart pounded and I tried not to sob uncontrollably.
I was reminded of the heartwrenching fact that Tat will not attend our wedding. In fact, she doesn’t even get to know we’re engaged. In the same way, I wasn’t able to share the news about my new job in Scotland. Tat has no idea about the life I’m currently living. She’s missing it all, and as selfish as it is – I hate that. A lot has happened in 2019 – life has been changing and moving so quickly. Sometimes it stresses me out that things happen quickly – and I think it has more to do with the fact that life continues after death than it does with actual stressful events. As I stood there, I spiraled into grief.
So how does one, cry tears of joy and tears of sorrow in front of the same magical fairytale castle on the same day? Simply put, that’s real life.
The firework show ended. Zach and I walked around Magic Kingdom for a little while, my face soaked. It was dark so nobody could see I had been sobbing, not even Zach. When I thought I could get the words out, I began to tell him what happened. I started crying instantly and couldn’t stop. I was walking around the happiest place on earth and crying tears of deep sadness, pouring my heart out and missing my dear friend. Covered in grief in a joyful place. I wondered if anyone that passed by noticed.
I kept saying “I’m okay, I’m okay. I think I’m okay now.”, only to start crying within 2 minutes. I was a mess, and I just couldn’t bring myself back to fairytale land that day. I wanted to feel nothing but joy and love and excitement. But though my heart is full of love, it’s still so shattered. As I tried to convince Zach (and myself) that I’m okay, he softly said “no you’re not.”, and somehow that was the exact right thing to say. I gave myself permission to not be okay – there was always tomorrow.
Friends, I’ve had many “I’m not okay” days lately. Sometimes the weight of what I’ve lost comes crashing down on me all over again. And dang, it is heavy. Too heavy to conceal. I came to accept that day at Magic Kingdom that I’ll never be “done” grieving. If grief is a process, it’s a process with no final outcome, no finish line here on earth. In fact, I want to keep grieving Tat, and my sister, and my grandma, and Uncle Paul, forever. I love them, I miss them, and I’ll never be “okay” with the fact that they’re gone from my sight. Yes, grief changes over time – but I never want it to disappear. So why do I try to pretend I’ve got my grief under control?
For a while I’ve thought “Wow, a lot of people are doing so much better than I am” when it comes to grieving Tat. So I’ve withheld my sadness, concealed my feelings, limited my “Tat talk”, kept myself from clicking “publish” on many posts. When people ask how they can pray for me, I don’t often mention my grief. I’ve been afraid of sounding like a broken record. But comparing our grief can be toxic and alienating. Grief is not a uniform, it’s not “one size fits all”. It’s custom made for each person, and while that can be hard I’d like to consider it a good gift from God.
Maybe you’ve followed my posts and think that I have been “handling” grief well. This proves it’s easy to make yourself look fine on social media.
I still cry almost every time I talk about Tat. I’m crying now. I’m trying to practice transparency in my grief. Last week I had a dream about Tat, and woke up feeling so unprepared to embrace the day. For part of the day, I pretended things were just fine. I went for a car ride with a friend and felt a nudge to share the dream. The words were trying to burst out of my mouth. I finally let them. My friend said to me “It makes perfect sense why you’re still dreaming she’s alive. She’s your close friend and you miss her. There is nothing weird or wrong about that.” These are things I know to be true, but hearing them was therapeutic.
So friends, here are some things you may know to be true but need reminding.
If you’re grieving something and feel like you should be further along in the “process”…. throw that dang process out the window!! You’re allowed to still be overwhelmed. You’re allowed to talk about your grief as much as you’d like. You’re allowed to cry your heart out. You’re allowed to have some really terrible days. If you’re struck with a monstrous wave of grief on the day you get engaged, it’s okay. If you’re sobbing on a day you’re expected to laugh, it’s okay. Life is complicated and painful and complex. You don’t always have to be a specific thing. Sometimes, you can just be. There’s nothing weird or wrong about that.