My Journey: On the Big Picture and Turning Inward
In early 2008, we got the terrible news: my husband’s malignant brain tumor had returned, after four years of remission.
That event marked the beginning of a long, difficult journey. One that has evolved, from a cancer journey to a journey of self-discovery.
Ultimately, it’s been a life-changing journey: from the person I once was to the person I want to become.
Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, I had no idea what lay ahead. I was in shock. And I was terrified of the possibility that I might lose my husband.
The awful news turned our world upside down.
Stage 1: The cancer journey
At first, the journey was about fighting the cancer … again. Then we got to the point where there were no longer any treatment options left … that worked.
The journey shifted to accepting reality and helping my husband die, with love and peace.
This part of the journey I shared with Jim. It was the last leg of our journey. He and I had traveled a long way together. A 12 year relationship and an 8 year fight against cancer.
In 2009, our shared life – my old life – came to an end.
Stage 2: The grieving journey
The next stage was about grieving: the loss of Jim, the life we had together, and the life we would have had, if he hadn’t died. It was a time for saying goodbye and letting go. A time to allow myself to feel the pain of the loss.
This period marked the beginning of my personal journey, one that moved beyond cancer.
After years of living a life that was dictated and limited by cancer, and the effects it had on Jim, I took the first tentative steps toward living my own life … again. It was exciting, but also scary.
The experience of losing Jim changed my outlook on what was really important in life. I wanted to start living, on my terms.
It’s what Jim would have wanted me to do: to live life to the fullest. And be happy.
Stage 3: The journey into darkness
I call this period a time of darkness because it was the lowest point of my journey. I became stuck in almost every area of my life.
This stage began about a year after Jim died. It overlapped with the grieving journey.
During this time, I experienced many secondary losses, mainly external things: old relationships, old friendships, my career. Almost everything associated with my former life.
The most significant and fundamental change, though, was internal. It was the loss of me. The old me.
The person I was when I had shared my life with Jim. I didn’t want to be that Michele anymore. I wanted to live my life differently.
But it was hard making that transition. Even though I wanted to change, I fought it every step of the way.
I didn’t have the larger perspective to understand that losing Jim was the beginning. And that to truly start a new life, I needed to say goodbye to almost everything that was a part of my old life.
I had one foot in the old world and one foot in the new one. I was stuck between the two and I couldn’t find my way out.
Later, I’d come to understand that I was going through a slow, painful, difficult transformation where the old me was dying. This was part of the journey I needed to take to come out, on the other end, a different person. A changed person.
I wrote about this dark time, as it related to my writing life, in the essay, Another New Beginning.
Stage 4: The journey of rebirth
I call this stage a time of rebirth. It began around the second anniversary of Jim’s death.
This is the part of the journey I’m on now.
Over the last year, I’ve slowly crawled my way out of the dark pit by turning inward, facing hard truths, and being real with myself.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve even done … for me. It’s also been the best thing I’ve ever done … for me.
In the first year, after Jim died, I focused on the external changes I wanted to make, to live more authentically: quitting my job, selling my house, downsizing, becoming a writer, and traveling.
I didn’t pay attention to the internal journey I needed to take to get there. That’s where the real changes are made.
I had to go through the deep, dark pit to realize the importance of the inward journey. I resisted it for the longest time. Until I could no longer.
I had to hit rock bottom to see that I could either be emotionally honest with myself or stay stuck. I chose to get real and take responsibility for my life.
In the process of turning inward, I began to understand what this entire journey has been about, at least up to this point.
The third anniversary of my late husband’s death will be here soon.
In the last three years, I’ve come full circle. I’m finally in a place where I’m ready to make the changes I wanted to make when Jim first died.
I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.
The difference between now and then? My internal life is a lot more aligned with my external life.
I work hard to keep it that way.
I’m still on an inner journey. Although I’ve made great strides in the last couple of years, I have a long way to go. It’s far from over.
But the Michele I am today is very different from the young woman whose world fell apart in 2008. Going through this journey has changed me in ways I never imagined.
It’s been one heck of a ride.
* Photo credit: Image from Flickr by W J (Bill) Harrison