Last updated on February 23rd, 2023 at 03:11 pm
I can never forget the days when a dream falls entirely apart. One of my worst dream crashing days seems is like it happened just yesterday. How do we continue dreaming big while coping with loss?
The phone rang in my dorm room early that spring morning, it was jarring, much too loud. I’d slept less than two hours, up until 7 a.m. listening to Mozart’s Requiem, playing sad songs for hours before that.
I was anxious and tired from the crazy stalker who was still out there stalking me. The death threats had continued even after I’d had him arrested. He kept showing up on campus. It almost felt like fate. I didn’t know how to stop him. Yet, I’d survived another restless night.
But someone else didn’t.
And when the phone rang in the morning, I was too exhausted to answer it. It rang again, five long rings until the machine kicked in, and then a third time. I forced my body from the bed, walked barefoot across the braided rug, belly full of dread. The messages on the machine are from my father and a dear friend’s sister.
Oh no. Oh no.
I dial my dear friend’s phone number. His sister answers his phone crying. I am crying too. Suddenly, there is no control.
And Then, It Begins.
Until I lost a dearest friend, I never knew grief could be so physical. I never knew it could knock me over like a ten-foot wave, take me under, clawing for breath. Happy to be spit back on the shore again.
I never knew the dead could crash about in my living room, making themselves known by the motion of the curtains when the windows are closed, by the songs playing on the radio and the static that interrupts the music, by the prickles crawling up my neck and the feeling of loss.
I remember sitting slumped against the wall of the train station, hugging my knees and crying, waiting for the train to take me home. All around me, the motions of daily life. Do they see it? I wondered. Do they realize the magnitude of the sky?
I remember them, the people, students, professors, townspeople rushing by, rushing to class, to the grocery mart to buy milk or the newspaper, rushing to crew or lacrosse practice, or to the liquor store for a six-pack, in a buzz and flurry of frantic energy like so many June beetles hurling themselves against a window screen, with the lights on inside. Every path colliding, and how it was all a blur, their hurry and rush, and sense that business could not wait.
It can wait.
It was 16 years ago when I lost my dearest friend, Eric. We’d been friends for nine years, and he was the first person other than my family who I truly felt loved me unconditionally. We had danced on the edge of romance for a while. We weren’t ready, yet.
But I’d had a vision of the two of us together, in the future, at his family’s vacation home in Maine, on the couch, surrounded by a tumbling pile of kids. I felt sure that if we “ended up together,” someday we would be incredibly happy.
Then, he died at age 23 of a congenital disorder of the connective tissues, called Marfan’s syndrome, which weakened his aorta. We would never get to live a happy future together.
Life Can Be So Unfair.
I was reminded of how much it hurt to lose my dearest friend this past week when I got some unfortunate news. Another friend died in his sleep. He was only 31. He left behind a loving wife, Summer, and two young girls, nine years old and two-years-old.
This came out of nowhere. This man was happy, and healthy, with so many friends who love him. The swing dance community that we are a part of, with which he was heavily involved as a dancer, DJ, and organizer, was just stunned by the loss. And everyone has rallied around Summer and the girls.
Right now, it feels as though the pain will never end. I remember feeling like this before.
I delivered a eulogy for my dearest friend at his funeral, all those years ago, on behalf of all of his friends. I had spent the prior New Year’s Eve with him and some other friends at a party on Long Island. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, I went to look for my friend.
We were all inside watching the ball prepare to drop in Times Square, and he was nowhere to be found. Finally, I saw him on the back deck of the house, outside the sliding glass doors.
“Hey,” I said. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you! Why don’t you come inside and watch the ball drop with us?” He insisted on staying outside. He said that he was happy where he was and that he was content to watch us from there and to know that we are happy. I shared that story with everyone, adding that I felt that he was somewhere out there now, watching over us, wanting us to be satisfied. “He wouldn’t want us to be sad forever,” I said, “although it feels now as though the pain will never end.”
All these years later, I still believe he’s out there watching over us and wants us to be happy.
Tell People You Love Them.
Because of this personal loss, I always make sure to tell the people I love how much I love them because you never know how long we all have on this earth. I am gentler, kinder, and more loving to both myself and others, as a result of knowing loss. I practice gratitude for every day that I am still here on this earth.
My prayer for Summer and the girls is that the day will come when the happiness in their lives will outweigh this great sadness again, and when they will still feel his love, even as they live their own happy lives. I have to believe that he would want them to be happy, that he would want that for everyone because that is who he was.
I know what it feels like to lose someone you love unexpectedly and unjustly, at a young age. I cannot even imagine Summer’s grief, multiplied, by the years of love they shared and the family they created together.
My book, which is nearing 250 pages includes stories about dream setbacks, loss, and how I found happiness again after such a sad time in my own life. We go where life calls us to go.
How do we go on dreaming when our hearts are broken?
1. First, we start by remembering to breathe.
Sometimes in heartache, it feels like we cannot breathe. A long, slow walk can help with this. Go outdoors, take a step.
2. Reach out to the people you are closest.
Allow them to nurture you. Don’t shut people out. Allow them to come over, fix you some soup, do your laundry, wash your car – anything that needs doing while you nurture your broken heart.
3. Remember how strong you are as a person and that you can survive.
Take it one day at a time. In time you will be able to assess the painful experience and put it into a higher perspective.
4. When you feel ready, start something new in your life– as a class at a local college, join a gym, or learn something new like painting or making wine.
As long as it is something that doesn’t bring up painful memories. Maybe there is a big dream you have been putting off that you can investigate now.
5. If you feel you get stuck in your pain, seek help from others.
6. And finally, remember that time helps us heal.
Give yourself plenty of time. Be kind and forgiving of yourself. Expect that you will have happy moments, sad moments, and angry moments that unexpectedly show up in waves as you heal. Give your life the space it needs to improve.
And I promise you won’t forget, but you will heal.
Lisa Powell Graham
Lisa P. Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, TED motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning in their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on her website or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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