When I arrived in New York City on April 1, 2014 I was broken. I was still standing upright and on the outside I looked like I was handling things very well, but inside I was a churning mass of sadness and grief. Still and all, I declared that I was embarking on a year of discovery/a year of recovery.
How does a mother and wife survive the double barreled loss of both a husband and a son? How do you make sense of a world that has been upended in 5 weeks? How can you smile again, ever?
If there’s a place to try to process such a loss, New York is and is not that place.
It is a great place because there’s so much to do, so much to see. Just picture yourself a tourist in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Museums, street fairs, colorful street people, concerts, theatre, libraries—much to keep you busy. It’s not such a great place because it is so overwhelmingly big, dirty, noisy, smelly, and aggressive a place that it makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and not come out from under the covers on some days.
Good thing I’m a New Yorker born and bred. I grew up in New York and left when I was 25 years old so I understand the city. Though it has changed since I lived here as a young girl, somehow it is familiar enough that I feel competent on most days. If I need stimulation, I go for a walk up to Lexington Avenue and 86th Street which is so alive, it vibrates. I can go shopping, spend time in Barnes & Nobles or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants there. I can go visit a neighborhood in the east or west village if I need to see different scenery. If I need peace and quiet, I go for a 1 block walk to Carl Schurz park where I can watch the East River flow by, watch families playing on the grass, take a long walk along the East River causeway or admire the Mayor’s mansion. There is always beautiful Central Park, that oasis of green in a concrete city of skyscrapers and yellow taxi cabs. I can take a quick bus or train ride and take a free bike skills class for adults, take a free 6-week sewing class at Mood Fabrics in downtown, take a great writing class in the West Village, or see Lenny Kravitz or Quest Love at the 92nd St. Y.
None of these things make me forget my loss. Every day I think about Ted and Lateef and whether or not they would like a specific neighborhood or restaurant that I’m visiting. None of these things make me forget my loss, but they help pass the time and they are contributing to the person that I’m becoming.
What has helped me or prepared me for this journey? I’ve always been a stoic person. My mom raised me to be strong—She was a single parent and did not do really well with emotion. We had no time for tears and I just needed to be a big girl for momma, so that’s what I became. I became the caretaker and helper as the oldest of 3 children still at home. I grew into that role easily—I must have had the personality for it anyway. Perhaps upbringing and environment contribute to how you handle life’s twists and turns.
I’ve always had a love for reading and was motivated to read self-improvement books. I loved reading about people who faced adversity and overcame obstacles. I was always working on myself and in my 40’s I was motivated to read about death, dying and grief. At the time I wondered why I was so interested in that topic. We had very little death or loss in my family at that time but I immersed myself in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross anyhow. Oprah was my self help guru. In 1987, I got sober—as I finally figured out that my drinking was unlike others. I immersed myself in my 12-Step program and did all the work my mentor suggested. One of the exercises was to picture the worst thing that could happen to you and what your response would be. The idea was to give yourself alternatives to drinking when the worst calamity happened. What did I pick as the worse thing that could happen to me? The loss of a child! I found yoga and meditation in the 90’s and became a yoga teacher. I embraced this wonderful way to gently minister to my body and my mind and to others. Perhaps all of this work helped me.
I was always a joiner. I loved groups and working with others. At work, I was a Project Manager and loved working on projects. When first Ted, then Lateef died, I reached out for grief counseling for myself and for our family members. I researched books on loss, grief and grieving. In other words, I sprang into action. Perhaps that instinct to reach out helped.
Being raised in the church by a God-fearing mother and understanding that a Higher Power was always with me even when it felt like I was alone. Perhaps this helped the most.