When I first got involved with “The Powerful Project” it was spring of 2018. At that time in my life I had just turned 30, was engaged to be married the following August, and in a really great place in life. Two years later, I still look back and am reminded how wonderful that year was. Getting involved with “The Powerful Project” at that time was perhaps, non-coincidental. I was asked to recount a story of vulnerability I’ve experienced. I didn’t take more than a second to pull out of my “emotional Rolodex” the time in my life when I felt true vulnerability. Immediately I knew I wanted to share the story of losing a sibling. My only sibling. My older brother, Jordan. My story tells of feeling the harsh, real vulnerability of loss, and the stifling aftermath of grief.
Nature’s fierce hands ripped my brother away from this life when he drowned in the Snake River in Eastern Washington in 2008.
This tragedy hit so many of us, our family especially so, harder than a punch to the gut from an iron fist. Life for my mother, father, myself and those closest to him would never be the same.
It’s true what people say, at least in my circumstances, that the pain of grieving a lost loved one gets “a little easier” to deal with over time. Of course certain days throughout the year are expected tough days; you can anticipate them and “emotionally prepare”. Although, just when I thought that I had reached that ability to “emotionally prepare”, life would show me that I can’t mentally protect my emotions at all times. The vulnerability of dealing with loss can catch you at unsuspecting times.
I can still recount the first winter I brought my husband over to celebrate Christmas Eve at my mother’s house. That was the house in which I lived throughout high school and the last place I lived with my brother. That night I ended up having a small emotional breakdown. I did not expect how badly it would hurt having my life partner in that house. After all, that was the house where I had spent so many holidays with my brother. The harsh reality of knowing that these two important men (my brother and my partner) will never exist in that house at the same time was completely overwhelming. So much emotion flooded over me. I snuggled my sweetheart asleep that night with tears streaming down my face.
When I mentioned earlier the timing of sharing this story was coincidental, it’s because back in 2018 while becoming part of this “Powerful Project” and planning my wedding, I was also approaching the 10 year anniversary of my brother’s passing that coming July. Being able to share my story of loss, nearing that milestone anniversary of my brother’s passing, just before turning a new chapter in my life and getting married, was really powerful for me. Death & life really do walk hand-in-hand. Just as painful memories come, so too do new beginnings.
The wildest, and probably best timed, moment of my life happened right after the worst. I lost my older brother in July of 2008, and the following September I was due to begin college. I packed up my life in Seattle and moved down to Olympia just an hour or so south. Not a very far move, but I knew absolutely no one there and would have to start completely over with friends and daily life while battling the grips of grief.
I wasn’t thrust into the college scene like many budding 18 year olds, but rather had taken some time off after high school and worked while enjoying the “independent” life. I had chosen to go start at a liberal arts school at the age of 20. Being where I was then, I could have very easily stayed in Seattle and taken more time to grieve and recoup from such a traumatic life event. But I chose to restart completely and carry on with my plans of school that fall.
That choice, the choice of pursuing my college plans, was the best decision of my life. Being immersed in school studies and working a campus job at my school newspaper distracted my mind from the thoughts of my grief. I pointed my attention towards new learning. I had even set myself up for unforeseen resources at my college that I had not known at the time would be available. Our campus offered free counseling to students!
I, very nervously, went in to sit down with a counselor. The freedom of being able to speak about my situation at that time with someone who was an un-biased listener (as opposed to trying to vent with friends and family) was game-changing. This counselor even connected me to a grief and loss group on campus that met every few weeks, which I also decided to try out.
Whenever I look back at that time in my life, I am continually filled with gratitude. Being able to start college, use those wonderful campus resources, study engaging liberal arts programs, put myself in the position to meet a bunch of new people and make new connections was just about the best thing I think 20-year-old-me could have ever done. To think what those early years of my grief period could have looked like if I had not made that choice to start school, is daunting. People going through traumatic life events can choose any number of negative coping mechanisms. Based on my experiences, I really believe in the unmatchable strength of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Happiness begins with a choice. It feels so cliche to write that, but time and again I know that to be true.
About two years after first getting involved with the “Powerful Project”, at the time of telling my story – surprise! – we now find ourselves in a global pandemic. I once again found myself in a bit of a low time. Oddly enough, delving back into this story, I am yet again taking on my old attitude of consciously choosing happiness. I’ve gotten into the routine of having my morning moment (upon first waking, after reflecting on any bits of dreams I may have had) when I purposefully acknowledge my gratitude towards life and reinforce my choice to find happiness. That attitude continues to make a huge difference in how I perceive daily life and fills me with strength to push through hard times.