CHOOSING JOY AFTER GRIEF WITH MELISSA J SCOTT
In loving memory of Steve Robson.
It has been 3 years since my husband died of a massive heart attack. No signs, no known warnings, and no goodbyes. Just a sudden and horrendous passing of a magnificent man, husband, father, stepfather, son, brother, colleague and friend.
But this isn’t a story about being widowed. I wrote this for anybody that is going through a serious struggle right now and trying to navigate their way back to happiness. It isn’t a story about grief or loss. It’s about CHOICE. The choices we make, the journey I was led on, and the confronting realities of the stories I have told myself all of my life. The truths I had never faced about myself and the blind faith I had that this was happening for a reason. Because, I truly believe there are no coincidences and life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. And that something good should come out of something so shit.
My big learning from Steve dying was to navigate how to do life alone. Sound scary? For me, it was mortifying. To have all your dreams whisked away in an instant and then realise that you were never actually living 100% authentically to your own dreams came as a real surprise to me. Because in actual fact, having been in two long term relationships since the age of 18, I discovered that I didn’t really have my own dreams, my own purpose, and my own identity. Even though I was a financially independent business owner and a free spirit, it floored me when I realised how much I had wrapped my dreams and my happiness up in my husbands’.
My husband was everything to me, and I floundered for quite a while as you would expect. I felt like the rug had literally been pulled out from under me and I was just in a slow motion free fall with no idea how or where I would land. I was only 45, and had already come out of a horrible divorce 8 years prior so I was no stranger to challenges. I had 3 amazing teenage sons, a house to maintain and a busy life schedule to manage. There was a big time lapse before any life insurance came through and I was up to my eyeballs in personal debt as Steve and I had been living beyond our collective means for years as most families living in Sydney do every day, sustaining 2 families in 2 separate homes. It wasn’t easy, but together we managed. But when he passed, I was truly on my own.
So I had 2 choices, give myself a couple of weeks to fall apart and then get back on the horse and pull my life together quickly… or let myself collapse, pack up my life, my 3 boys and 2 dogs and head back to my parent’s home in the country to heal in my own time and not face life ‘alone’.
I chose the former, mainly for the sake of my teenage children who didn’t want their lives to change, but I also instinctively did it for me. It was a real pivotal moment for me, and in doing so, I chose to let joy back into my life because I did not want to choose living under a black cloud of depression.
I think this shocked a lot of people. I’m pretty sure I was still very dazed and not operating from a grounded place, but I was determined to feel joy every moment that I could find a reason to. (And that was very hard to do some days when your entire world had been flipped upside and all that you thought was your future has vanished into thin air!) But… I still had my boys. And I still had my independence through my business. So I rebuilt my existence, the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
One of the proudest days of my life was when my middle son (who had just turned 16) came to me about 6 weeks after Steve’s death and thanked me for having kept their life as normal as possible. After the funeral, life really did just return back to normal, which again, shocked some people that I could do that. I got back onto the same old treadmill of rep soccer training, athletics training, the boy’s soccer games, business meetings and me working late into the evening. It was far from easy, but sometimes routine is the best antidote. And to hear my son thank me for not falling apart, packing up our stuff and retreating to my parent’s house 400km away really did fill my heart for the choice that I had made to keep their life as stable as possible.
So with that decision made, I clawed my way back to happiness, making daily, hourly and sometimes minute by minute choices when I could find something to be happy about! My secret weapon was finding gratitude in all of the little things we often overlook as blessings. I forced myself to think of things that I was still grateful for. And fortunately, when you start practising gratitude, the positive side effects makes it very addictive!
I would repeat these things to myself every hour every day sometimes to lift my spirits.
“I am grateful to still have a beautiful home in an area that I love.”
“I am grateful for my boys and their love.”
“I am grateful that so many people care about me.”
“I am grateful I have a good business and clients that support me”…
You get the gist. Even in total despair there is always something to be grateful for, and you need to look for it even when you don’t want to.
I found the nights after the kids had gone to bed and the ‘busyness’ was over, and the weekends where I soldiered on as a soccer or track mum were the hardest because everybody knew me and what had happened. I relished the week days especially when I was working with a new client, so that I was just Melissa, Business Owner, and not Melissa grieving widow. When you go through a trauma it’s so important that you don’t hang around with other traumatised people if you want to move through the grief gracefully.
People do treat you very strange when you lose somebody so close to you. For many, many months after Steve died, I would have to start each conversation with the sentence “I’m ok, please just treat me like normal.” I felt sorry for people, I would catch them looking at me trying to figure out how to act! They just didn’t know how to deal at all, so I found I stopped going out because I didn’t want to have that awkward exchange.
But, I promised that this isn’t a story about grief. It’s a story about making choices and truth. So, close to 6 months after Steve passed I made the choice that I wanted to be happy again, and started a relationship with a business colleague and friend. It wasn’t smooth sailing as you can imagine! He copped some extreme weirdness, and in some cases completely ignored by my friends who felt guilty to my late husband. When you are a widow to somebody who was so well-loved and taken suddenly, you become a symbol of that person after they pass, and you are left wide open to a lot of criticism and judgment that you moved on ‘too soon’ in their eyes. It was a really tough time for both of us.
What was the toughest of all however was my own secret judgment and the guilt that I projected on myself without even realising. We can get pretty hard on ourselves, and our own self-talk can be the most damaging of all. So when I actually became very unhealthy with adrenal burnout 18 months after Steve died (caused from the stress of his death and the guilt and shame I projected onto myself) I started on a crash course of self-love and counselling.
What I learned about myself in the ensuing 18 months was incredible and I am forever grateful for it. And while it’s intensely personal, I will share it because I think some people may resonate with it and if I can help others to understand themselves better, then it’s worth being open and honest.
I learned that as independent as I thought I was, I was actually very co-dependent in relationships and needed to learn how to be a ‘whole person’ on my own. While society might tell us that we need a partner to be ‘complete’, it’s not true. I also needed to learn how to set boundaries and put myself first – something that was very foreign to myself and I’m sure to many women my age.
I learned that all my life I judged my own value through other people’s eyes and not my own. I learned that while I projected confidence and even fooled myself most of my life, that I was really insecure and needed the approval of others to feel valuable.
I learned that not everybody is happy for you when you’re happy. Especially when you are a widow. That you will lose people around you that you thought cared about you. It turns out a lot of people do grief very different and when they see you ‘move on’ and choose happiness, that it rocks their own existence and they push you away because it’s too challenging to their own harsh reality. It is more of a statement about their dissatisfaction with their own life, but it still hurts all the same.
I learned that I am loveable, even if I’m not successful or perfect. I discovered that I had two fears in life. A mortifying fear of failing and letting everyone down, but conjointly a morbid fear of getting to my deathbed and having a long list of regrets that I hadn’t given it my all and missed so many experiences in life. What a crazy mismatch of fears! And the best thing about not being perfect… it’s so much easier to be somebody’s friend or partner if you drop the act of being perfect because you are much more authentic and genuine.
I finally learned that “I am enough”, and that one was the toughest lesson of all because for the longest time I didn’t even know what that meant!
And I learned that any relationships during and after grief are difficult to navigate because when you choose the path of growth, you just aren’t the same person coming out of the experience as you were going in. I feel that I am still evolving every day and it’s hard for people to keep up with you.
So, that said, I am ‘single’ again and happily getting to know myself. When you do relationships in the middle of your life it’s very different to when you are coupling up in your 20’s and 30’s! It’s actually a very liberating time to be able to spend time just getting to know yourself, be in charge of your own life and answer to nobody else!
I finally feel that I am on a path to the real me. I am so much more comfortable letting people see who I am and finally setting the boundaries around me that I need to live life for me. It’s very liberating and empowering not worrying what people think so much of me and having to create the façade of perfection!
It’s been quite the journey evolving from the depths of grief and fumbling my way back to true happiness – and it’s looks nothing like I thought it would! I realise you are never ‘fixed’, this self-discovery journey is forever. From this experience my commitment to connection, truth and honesty was born. From really hitting the depths of despair, grief and coming back from judgement, and then making that simple choice to just be happy. It didn’t happen by simple choice alone though. I had help from various counsellors, countless self-help books and videos, kinesiology, energy healers, hypnotherapy, tantra, meditation, journaling, long talks with friends and harnessing acute self-awareness.
I believe you can only find true happiness, true fulfilment and live life to your true purpose when you drop all the barriers, all the stories and give yourself the time and space to deeply connect with who you are.
Being ‘alone’ is actually a gift, not a burden. And shedding my ‘stories’ has allowed me to find a joy inside me that is for real, long-lasting and authentic. I can now look in the mirror and say “I really love you, I respect you and I don’t judge you”. And I am grateful that that is what has come out of the journey so far. And it all started with the simple choice to live with joy and find the happy moments.
If you are facing really big struggles, challenges or have recently lost a loved one, you too can change the way you feel to being joyful simply by making a commitment that that is what you want. And please get all the professional help that you might need to help guide you through that process. Just know that it all starts with that initial decision to find your joy first, regardless of what others expect of you. And then the rest is a beautiful (if not a little messy!) journey of self-discovery. Perfectly imperfect.
Much love and no judgement!