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So much flows in my heart and head, yet lately I’ve been unable to make it flow from my fingertips to the page. Over the last couple of weeks, my already fragile relationship with sleep broke completely apart and I am averaging less than 4 hours per night. I’ve not been very nice to the people who love me the most. I’ve been quick to anger and slow to forgive. The reasons are as multilayered as they are quite simple. The five year “angelversary” of my husband’s death is upon me and I’m filled with buckets of emotion.

So much has changed over the last 5 years, but a few small facts remain the same. I still love my late husband Markell. Period. That troubles many people when they hear it and they don’t give it space to expand and make sense. There is a great misconception that one day I’ll be “healed” and ready to embrace life. That’s quite simply one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Many speak to the grief journey as having this magical endpoint where a person “heals” and then lives happily ever after. The End.

No. No. No.

It does not work like that.

It simply doesn’t.

The finality of being “healed” seems to be a universal, non-empathetic response to grief. I don’t truly believe that people intend to offend, hurt, dismiss, chastise or shame the person who is grieving but they do. Recently I had to leave an online discussion because of the assumptions being made about a widow who had lost her partner 4 years prior and her new mate was worried because she cried deeply and re-read his obituary on his “angelversary” date every year. The common consensus? She hasn’t healed. She’s not ready to date. He needs to get away quickly. She’ll never love you like she loved her husband. And on and on and on. I left the conversation before I delivered a response that might hurt some feelings.

This mythical place where we are “healed”? It doesn’t exist.

What does exist is learning to live with grief in whatever way you can manage. What does exist is me still crying more nights than I want to share. What does exist is joy and pain at the same moment within each new experience. What does exist is my love of life and my unyielding love for my son. What does exist is a heart that is ready for new love but will never, ever be able to forget the old one.

On this day 5 years ago, a piece of my heart and soul died. And unlike hair and nails, there isn’t a regeneration process to replace what has been lost. The loss is permanent and the effects felt for the remainder on one’s life. I will never be “healed” because there is no such thing. My “healing” is constant and will last the rest of my lifetime.

Am I suspended in perpetual grief that doesn’t allow me to function?

Thank God I can answer that in a huge and resounding NO.

I have embraced life while I live with grief. I have learned to allow grief the place and space in my daily life that allows me to breathe with it instead of being suffocated by it.

Five years is a long time to live without a piece of your heart and soul. My heart has gone from being on life support to being able to sustain its own beat. The shape and structure of it has changed. Its newer form allows me to smother my baby boy with love and light. It allows me to give pieces of myself to my neighbors and community. It allows me to cry when I need to cry and no longer feel guilty or weak when I do. It allows me to believe in the power of love and believe that I will once again have a love partner.

So much about me has changed over the last 5 years and I often wonder what exactly Markell would think of the woman I’ve become. I like to think he’d love and appreciate her, even the parts of her that he didn’t recognize.

Most days, I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself. And on days like today, the woman I see in the mirror is vulnerable yet resilient, smiling through the constant ache, and stronger than I ever imagined.

Share a hug and a smile with someone today. You have no idea what they are going through and you could make all the difference!

Taya Dunn Johnson,


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