Disappointed in everyone, angry after a loss?

I wanted to share with you a chapter from my book. It’s a deeply personal and raw account of my disappointment with others and myself while years into my grief.

“I am More Than This Paritally Broken Me”, all about this time period where I felt the disappointment the most and how I worked through it.  How I learned to reconcile meeting new people that were judging my based on the grieving me… not the normally strong and joyful me.

Here is an excerpt from that chapter, in my book Sacred Hellos – Messages from Heaven

“It is amazing how life can change; 2008-2009 was such a pivotal time in my life. There was our wedding along the banks of the Mississippi, a first honeymoon attempt, a death, job change, a miscarriage, our dog Same passed, a recession, a honeymoon re-do, a bankruptcy, an intervention, a dear friend with stage four cancer… it was a very full and emotional fourteen months.

I always believe that there are certain moments in our life where there is a figurative chapter change. Sometimes we invite these changes, other times we fight them. These are moments where we get to take our new reality and re-write the rules for our lives. We decide what we will focus on, we can reset our boundaries, re-decide what we are no longer going to accept, evaluate how we want to live our lives with a fresh clarity and a new outlook. Conveniently these are windows of time when others around us know things have changed and may not fight us as much while we make these changes. This may mean ending toxic relationships, finally going for a dream, or simply starting to use the good towels, dishes, and candles.

During these chapter changes, the part I like is retaking control. Normally when things feel so out of control in areas outside of my influence (hello pandemic), I can make lists and goals and take back enough of my power to feel stability. In the years following my mom’s death however, there was something I was not prepared for. I did not know how to retake control of this situation; in fact, I hardly was able to define what I was experiencing while living it.

As I worked to put my life back together in the months and years following my mom’s passing, I felt like many people were getting to know only the partially broken me. I had a new husband, new in-laws, new neighbors, new parents of the teammates in my daughter’s many sports, and a new family dynamic. I had the wind knocked out of me when my mom died. While I worked to re-find my footing, I had people criticize me with the most hurtful, deep judgments. I was used to feeling accomplished, strong, and appreciated. People in the past had always given me the benefit of the doubt, I was confident in how I fit into the world.

What people do not tell you about losing a best friend, a mom, at least for me was that I would deeply miss having that person who was always in my corner. She was always there to listen to any trouble I was having and give me perspective and reassurance. She was my person who would know my intention, she would tell when I was wrong. I could trust her. I am grateful my sisters were so supportive. (At least as much as they could be having 6 more babies between them in the decade since… they have had their own full plates.) My husband was a godsend as he listened to me work through my feelings over and over. Even with them though it took me a few years to heal enough to feel strong and speak up for my own needs without getting that validation from my mom.

I found out I was being berated behind the scenes by someone in my inner circle who had only ever appeared supportive to my face. This person attacked my career as an artist. It was not something I was used to others looking down upon. I worked hard, studied my craft, made money, and I loved what I did, I had won the career lottery. I was not prepared for how deep it would hurt to have someone secrety tear me apart. To attack the artist in me was to attack my way of life, my outlook, my heart, and my dreams. I was still so broken from grieving my mom that I could not properly put everything in correct perspective and appropriately handle this unexpected storm. It took me years to get to a place where this person’s words did not matter. He was a coward who never said any of this to my face, instead it was shared to anyone else who would listen. I had to get real with myself and acknowledge that I would never want to live his life, I should not care if he did not understand mine. Normally though this is where having a a mom who had my back would have outweighted this person’s opinions. More than this person’s words, I hated that they affected me. That frustrated me for years.

While still dealing with the above-mentioned person, one weekend I participated in a group art show. Not one person I knew came. Thankfully, there were others who shopped and visited but I felt so alone. I felt like a failure, so invisible and sorry for myself. In my mind I could see that obviously I suck at having friends and I have been delusional to think I have any artistic skill. The joke was on me, I could not even get people to show up to a local place to see me or my work, nobody cares. This hate spewing man was right, I should quit art.

I put a wall up after that experience. I did not want to feel vulnerable. I did not ever want to feel bombarded with someone else’s doubt and judgment like I had in the years prior. I did not want any more sadness, it all hurt too much. This led me to multiple times of being ready to walk away from my art career. There were also countless times of feeling isolated, misunderstood, and angry. I was upset with everyone, mostly myself. I had tried to balance kids, work, life, marriage and had failed. Every six months or so I would end up hysterically crying during a breakdown. Why couldn’t I get my career to the level I wanted? Why didn’t others seem to care about me? Why did it feel like me against the world? This heartache led me down a very long but life changing path. My path to healing started one night while I was deep in the depths of uncertainty and despair. I wrote a private letter of anger laying out every part of my life and career that I was not okay with. Here is part of that letter:

I am tired of caring. I’m tired of caring more for others than they ever will for me. I realize I have been rewarding (in my own head) bonus points for being “nice”. Points for including others, points for making others feel smart, strong, creative. I am a noticer. I thrive on noticing things. This includes life lessons. I often try to learn from other’s mistakes so that I don’t have to do the same stupid crap. So, thank you people,  for being a teacher to me even though you didn’t know you were. 

My life has included multiple times of sticking up for the underdog  and losing groups of friends at a time for doing so. I would always tell myself that I’d rather be the person who did what was right and that I was sure those same people do the same for me. Have not seen most of those people since but points in my head for effort though, right? 

Am I being unrealistic in what the world has to offer? Is this just how people treat one another and I have just been blissfully ignorant to it? If I give up on the people around me who don’t give back am I perpetuating that system that I try so hard to rise above?  If I quit art for a while  and instead spend time doing things for only me and my family will that help me re-establish my internal compass and make things clear again? Will it help replenish my heart?

I love the message and intention of my art so much that I’m terrified to let it take on a life of its own. I want so deeply for it to be out in the world that I’m gripping it too tight, I’m blocking it from the lives it’s supposed to help. I am so “in it” that I cannot properly see it. I cannot tell where I end, and it begins. 

The world needs people who are willing to see what is possible. It needs people to be dreamers when the world is full of people too scared to be vulnerable. I want to be one of those people. I want to make a difference. I want you to see me. Yet, I want to not need your opinion. I wish I could live in a bubble where I could create and give and never depend on anyone but that is not reality. I must sell my work, my ideas, my dreams to get to continue to play the game. I wish I did not feel let down so often.

I wish people would step up. Be real with me, be real with yourself. I wish we could truly see each other. I wish we were not all so busy so that we could be a friend to those who really matter to us. I wish as a society we could celebrate and honor people who live from their heart as much as we do those who tlak most with their mouths. 

Have I got it all wrong? Have I been kidding myself? I feel like there must be a mismatch in how I think I am versus how people perceive me. I am a strong person, does that translate to people that I don’t need encouragement? That I will just figure it out? I play with that in my mind becauswe yes, I am strong. I am smart, loving, and sensitive as well. However, as “strong” as I am, I am human. I do need support. I do need people in my corner.

I am partly embarrassed by this letter but mostly grateful I let it out. In writing that letter I had an epiphany. I had pushed people out. I realized that I was not being vulnerable or fully honest with myself; I was not letting most people help or support me. I was only sharing my stories of success after I had knew how they would turn out. I was not letting others be with me on the journey to that success. I did not want to fail. I had to teach myself that it was okay to feel vulnerable and let others in again.

The second lesson I learned is that I was focusing on the wrong people and situations. There was indeed women in my life who knew and understood the real me. These were my people. They have been mentors to me in so many ways. They have been surrogate mothers to me, teachers, inspirations, and wise gifts of calm in a swaying decade, reminders to have fun. They validated me; the realest me. They also continued to accept me as I showed up.

Looking back, I can also see now with better perspective that I have loved spending time with my husband and being with my kids so much that I have devoted nearly all my time to them. Any other free time was spent with my dad and siblings. I have not been the best about reaching out to friends. Wow, maybe some of those things I wrote in my letter were true about me?

It is only now with years of perspective that I can see how my grief affected how I received that initial criticism about my career. In past times I am certain I could have brushed it off with out a second thought. In this new reality though nothing felt stable or secure. When that criticism intersected with grief it snowballed into years of doubt and anger at myself and the world.

I would have never guessed that grief would make me debate giving up a career I love. Yet, I can read it back to myself now with more clarity. I have always said that my art is a tool, it is my way of getting uplifting messages out into the world. I have recognized my own need to be seen and understood and I see the connection now to why I create art and gifts that can help others feel connected, undertood, and seen.

In my letter I refer to being a noticer, I can look back with gratitude for this trait now instead of cursing it. My feeling heart has come full circle and I use these gifts now in my writing and my art unapologietically.

I share this story and my letter for anyone who has experienced loss. Grief is messy. Sometimes it does not feel like grief. It feels instead like anger, loneliness, frustration. It can be shown in the ways we ineffectively handle situations that under normal times would not have affected us. Gift yourself grace as you find your new footing.

I also share this for the sensitive hearts like me. Even without grief I clearly felt frustrations with the way I interacted with the world. I felt taken advantage of, empty, sad. I know I’m not alone in those feelings. Reaching that level of anger and resentment was a gift to me. In the years since I have learned to chill out tons more and give only when I will not be resentful if the giving is not reciprocated. I have had to recognize my role and thinking patterns, including how I fill my heart and needs. I also had to acknowledge where I was putting focus and too much need and where I was taking others for granted. The process would have helped me years before my grief journey, but I am grateful for it now.

I will never know how things would be if my mom was still here. So instead of sitting in an unsolvable pool of wishing she were still here and feeling sorry for myself, I am learning to break that pattern by reframing how I think of my years of grieving. I can instead focus on the layer of strength I have gained. I have also gained an understanding that being vulnerable, or grieving does not equal being weak. I have found a deeper appreciation for life and those around me and I am grateful for those things. My mom taught me so much about love, giving, helping, parenting, creating, marriage, and running a household. I am so grateful for those lessons. I see now that I was also able to learn valuable things from her even in her death. I was able to find a strength and depth of courage I had not known before. My mom would be so proud of me.

While time does help heal; mostly I do not mind this small hold in my heart, that is my mom’s space. Even though my heart is full of amazing memories of my mom I do appreciate this little empty spot too, I do not really want to fully “heal” it. It is a connection to rawness, to the missing, to the unknown, to faith in the unseen, to my sweet mama. ♥