by Amber Hockman, Gold Star wife
A widow of a soldier who died by suicide and is using her experience + vulnerability to connect with others. Passionate about veterans, mental health, advocacy + suicide prevention, she is using her voice to educate about grief, growth, community, and the necessity to encourage each other to speak openly about our truths without shame or fear.
Grief is hard. It’s messy. It never looks the way you think it will. It’s sometimes feeling every emotion at once and sometimes feeling nothing at all. It’s nothing like they show in the movies.
I’ve felt crazy. I mean, lost my whole entire mind, never going to function normally, brain and heart completely broken, never going to be okay again…crazy. Unable to manage my emotions. Unable to sleep. Huge and violent mood swings. Amnesia so bad that I’m missing 4 months of memory after I lost my husband. It’s just black. I was a MESS.
Many days I could barely move. It took me hours to manage a shower if I took one at all. Cleaning my house, walking my dog, laundry or any other “normal” daily tasks became impossible. Drinking water and laying on the couch, staring into space, were all I could manage for months.
During this time, I was struggling to want to stay alive. I believed that I was never going to be okay again. I believed that my life had ended when my Bob’s life ended. I felt like I should be able to handle things better. I was ashamed of how absolutely wrecked I was.
There’s a part of surviving the suicide of your partner that not many people talk about. It takes a huge toll on your self esteem. Even though it’s clearly not true, you feel like they wanted to die rather than be here with you anymore. I felt like I was worthless and unwanted and now I was broken so badly that there was no coming back from it.
This is where I had to start to learn how to give myself grace. One of the definitions of grace is “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency”. I had to learn to be kind to myself. I had to learn to give myself clemency, which is another word for mercy.
I had to learn to honor where I was at, even when it was crazy messy. Well, ESPECIALLY when I was crazy messy.
I had to learn to be kind and merciful to myself on the days where I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to learn to not be ashamed of myself for my tears and my anger. I had to learn to be gentle with myself when I was on my face, screaming from the pain. I had to learn to give myself the love and the grace I would give to someone else who was going through what I was.
I had to constantly remind myself that I would never shame someone for the way they grieved or survived if they lost their partner. So, I could not do it to myself either. It has not been an easy thing to learn to do….To honor whatever I was feeling while not allowing myself to stay mired in the darkness. It’s been quite a journey to learn to allow myself to be where I am at without judgement.
Through this messy roller coaster of an experience, I have learned to love myself. I used my husbands love as an example when I didn’t know how to give myself love and grace. I would ask myself what he would tell me to do or what he would do for me if he was still here. Even in his death, his love saved me. It was his final gift to me…to teach me how to love myself unconditionally like I loved him. Like he loved me.
Grief, no matter what the cause, is difficult at best. It alters our lives and breaks our hearts and takes time to learn to live with. It is a long journey. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and a hundred steps back. It’s definitely not a linear process. It hurts in ways you never imagined possible. It changes almost every aspect of your life and can change almost everything about you when you live through it.
We give others grace when they struggle. We love them even when they aren’t perfect. We excuse messiness when it is warranted. We hold the people we love when their hearts break. We wrap them up and tell them it’s okay to just breathe if that’s all they can do.
We must learn to love ourselves this way, too. Often times, we hold ourselves to a standard that is not only impossible to meet but that we would never hold others to. Why do we expect things from ourselves that we would never ask of others?
Grace can save us. When we get it from others, it’s wonderful and soothing. When we get it from ourselves, it’s life changing and life saving. Give yourself the love you so generously and unconditionally give to others. We cannot truly feel what we need to feel and heal what we need to heal without it.
If you are grieving, be kind to yourself. Where you are is exactly where you need to be. If, today, all you can do it breathe then just breathe. Honor yourself, where you are and what you feel. Be gentle in your words you speak to yourself. Grief is one of the hardest things to go through. Loss changes everything.
Give yourself grace. Kindness. Mercy. Forgiveness. Gentleness. Patience. Time. You are healing from your worst day. Treat yourself as you would someone you love. You’ll be amazed at how healing it can be.