Grief is a powerful thing
TW: Death and loss
I ain’t gonna lie… this has been a hard week.
The weather isn’t helping. I normally love this time of year, but this morning, as I look out at the grey skies, my feelings are very melancholy. The colors in the fall leaves are beautiful, but as I watch the leaves letting go from the trees and the wind from an upcoming storm swirling them around in the sky, I find a touch of panic rising up in my stomach. It feels like everything is dying right now all around me… but I know that isn’t really true. The trees aren’t dying, they are just taking a break. They are just doing what they need to do to prepare for the upcoming winter, and they will bloom again in the spring. Still, instead of the usual excitement that I feel in the fall, I’m fighting off grief and depression and it feels like the weather is with me on that today.
Last Monday I had to say good-bye to a special group of people that I have come to dearly love. As many of you know, I have been on tour with the amazing artist, Christopher Cross since mid-July. I have had a few breaks to come home, but basically for the last 12 weeks, the CC gang has been my world. My family unit. That may sound strange to some of you, but hear me out.
When you travel on tour like this, you are basically together 24/7, traveling all over the country in small metal tubes going down the interstate from city to city. We ate most of our meals together, slept in the same quarters, learned how to share community spaces like dressing rooms and bathrooms and, like most families, fought over things like who left their dirty plates in the sink, who grabbed the last bottle of water, who didn’t use the Poo-pourri (thanks to Jewelee for bringing THAT!), and who got to use the shower first. (Many days, we had to shower at our venues, and some of the theatres had ONE shower for all 14 of us to share. You can imagine how that went! Ha!) We learned each other’s routines and quirks and loves and hates. We celebrated birthdays together (Kevin, Andy, and Jewelee all had birthdays during the tour), and cried together over personal tragedies and losses. When I tell you I love these people, I mean I LOVE THEM. They are “Fr-amily” - friends who feel like family.
Many of you saw a little video I made for my social media stories where I was sitting in the Nashville airport, crying about having to leave home and go back out on the road. It was back in August, only a few weeks into the tour and I had come home for 2 days, only to pack right back up and leave again. The turn-around was jolting for me. I wanted to rejoin the tour, but I was really, really sad to be leaving my home and family so quickly again after being gone for weeks already — and I was deeply concerned about my sick dog, Charlie. Would he still be here to greet me when this tour was over as he always had for the last 8 years?
If you are a regular reader, you already know from last week’s writing that Charlie didn’t make it. He passed away on Oct. 11th while I was in Florida. Mike had flown down to spend a couple of days with me and while we were there in a little Airbnb on the ocean, we got the call that he had passed. It was brutal. Poor Mike had to fly home to an empty house all alone. I don’t know how he did it.
Anyway, back to this week. Monday morning I woke up in Rhode Island and packed my bags to fly home. The band had a few more shows, but I had to leave the tour early because of shows I had already booked in Atlanta before the CC schedule got solidified. I’m grateful to CC for allowing me that freedom. So I got up that morning and had my last cup of coffee in the front of the bus while waiting on the runner who would take me to the airport. I walked off the bus to a perfectly crisp, autumn day. The sky was so blue and the tree colors were vibrant. There’s nothing quite like New England in the fall. It doesn’t do it justice, but here’s a picture I snapped, trying to take in the moment.
I had already said most of my goodbyes and given hugs and kisses to everyone the night before, but the early risers were up to give me a few more hugs and even a couple of pouts, (Kevin & Windy…lol) as I took all my suitcases off the bus and loaded them into the runner’s car. What happened next took me completely by surprise.
I settled into the front seat and as I buckled my seat belt, the runner said, “You ready?” and I blurted out, “No!”… and then burst into a full-on ugly cry. She looked so confused. I had to apologize and explain that yes, I was actually ready and to proceed to the airport as planned. And then we talked on the drive about how hard transitions can be and the grief that comes along with them. Grief was exactly what I was feeling. I was grieving my dog’s passing and deeply dreading walking into my own home without his regular happy greeting. I was grieving the end of a long and beautiful tour with great friends. Friends who lived far away and I didn’t know when I would see them again. Even IF I would ever see them again.
You may think me dramatic with that last statement, but it has already happened. In May 2020, we lost one of our dear band members, drummer Scott Laningham. I remember sitting on my couch and looking down at my phone, noticing I had missed several calls from band mates. The next call was CC, breaking the news to me that we had indeed lost Scott. He had been doing some gardening in his yard in Austin and collapsed. His wife called 911 but he passed away in her arms before the paramedics could arrive. We were all devastated. Scott was such an important part of our road family. It was hard to believe he had been taken from us. I had just spoken to him on the phone the week before about doing some bgv’s for some new music he was writing and recording. How could I have possibly known it would be our last conversation? It comforts me to know that the last thing we said to one another was “I love you”. Scott always ended his calls like that. I try to now, as well.
Mike was in the studio on Monday and so my friend, Britt offered to pick me up from the airport when I arrived back in Nashville. Poor girl had to comfort me as I cried in her car explaining my sadness and how saying goodbye to everyone was so much harder than I thought it would be. I couldn’t even walk into my house knowing Charlie wasn’t there, so sweet Britt sat in her car with me in my driveway until Mike got home so that he could walk in with me. It was still so very sad. No Charlie there, whining with excitement to see me and wagging his little tail, usually with a toy in his mouth ready for me to play with him. This time, there was only a little shrine on the table. Pictures that Mike had printed out of him, along with his collar, a clay footprint of his paw, a certificate of cremation, and the little box containing his ashes.
It was just too much for my heart to take. Missing my friends and missing my dog and feeling somewhat disoriented. I think I cried enough to form a new river somewhere on that day. The fragility of life hitting me so deeply. We just never know what will be our last day with someone we love. Our last conversation. Our last hug. Our last kiss. I remember feeling panic setting in one day when I was on the phone with my husband, talking about Charlie’s passing and trying to process life and death in general. I cried out “WHO’S NEXT? WHO’S NEXT? SOMEBODY IS NEXT!!” and he said, “You can’t think like that, honey. You just can’t go there.” I knew he was right, but I couldn’t help it. There IS someone who we know and love that will be “next” to go. Sorry… that’s dark, I know. But that is where my brain was for a bit. The usual well-meaning but cliché sayings of comfort didn’t help.
“You’ll see him again one day” — I don’t want to see him again someday. I want to see him now.
“He’ll be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.” - I don’t want him waiting there, I want him here with us.
“At least he’s not suffering any longer.” - Why did this beautiful little soul have to suffer at all?
“He’s an angel now watching over you” - Nice try, but… nope.
“You’ll get another dog” - I don’t want another dog… I want Charlie.
Tuesday morning I tried to shake it all off, concentrating on what was ahead of me. Unpacking my life as it had been for the last 13 weeks and re-packing for what was ahead of me. A rehearsal Thursday night in Atlanta, followed by 2 shows on Friday and Saturday, and a podcast taping on Sunday - then driving to Gatlinburg for a week or so in our cabin. But on Wednesday, my body said, “No”.
Actually, it said, “Oh hellllll no.”
Wednesday afternoon I decided to take a little nap, but woke up from that nap with chills, fever and a horrible headache. Covid test was negative, but by that evening the fever was up to 102 degrees and I knew I wouldn’t be driving to Atlanta or anywhere else on Thursday morning. Sigh….
I remember this same thing happening after my Dad died. I got sick a few days after his funeral. Just out of the blue —fever, chills, headache. I think the body can only take so much emotion before physically shutting down. I’ve been through enough loss over the last few years that I have learned some of the physical symptoms of grief.
a hollow feeling in your stomach
tightness, or heaviness, in your chest or throat
oversensitivity to noise
feeling very tired and weak
a lack of energy
aches and pains.
I’ve definitely been struggling with many of those on the list. It’s true that our emotional and physical health are tied together. That’s why I believe it’s so important to monitor your emotional health and get help when you need it. Everyone should have a good therapist on speed dial! I’m not kidding! I know my therapist has been invaluable to me in processing my feelings these last couple of weeks.
Look, I have a wonderful life and I know it. I’m grateful every single day for my awesome husband, precious kids and grandkids, loyal friends, a career I love and a beautiful home. But no one — and I mean NO ONE - walks on this earth without experiencing deep pain, loss, rejection, sadness, loneliness and grief. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how famous you are, or how fabulous your life is - no one is immune from hardships in this world. I think sometimes, when we are deep in our own pain, we think we are the only ones who experience this. It can sometimes seem like everyone else is just going about their happy lives, untouched by painful emotions while we are sitting here deeply hurting, all alone. We wonder what we are doing wrong, or why this is happening to us. Newsflash: We aren’t doing anything wrong and this isn’t just happening to us - it’s happening to everyone. It’s just part of life on this side of eternity.
But life goes on…
.. and if there is one thing I’ve learned from the losses I’ve experienced in my life, it’s that we humans have the ability to get through these dark times and find light again.
A writer I follow here on Substack is Becky Gonzalez. She writes a newsletter called “Grit and Grace”. One of her recent writings was called “Get Over It” where she writes about processing grief and loss. One profound thing she wrote is this:
“death and loss aren’t things to just brush aside. it'll always be a part of you in some way. you don't leave it behind or move past it completely. it becomes a part of you.
death and loss are things we go through, not get over.”*
Boom. Exactly! I’ll never “get over” losing my parents, my dogs, my other relatives and friends — but I got through it. I got through the deep, paralyzing grief that came with those losses and that lets me know I have it in me to get through this as well. People are stronger than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. We all go through some serious shit and somehow make it out on the other side. Sometimes we come out better and stronger — and sometimes we don’t. But either way, the deep pain eventually ends. It won’t be like this forever. And the loved ones that we lose - they do indeed become a part of us, and live on in a different shape. A different form.
By Friday morning, I was feeling much better. No fever or chills and I was feeling strong enough to start packing for Atlanta. Thankfully they were able to do the Friday show without me and still offered me the Saturday slot. Talk about “Fr-amily” - all the beautiful souls that make up the “Home By Dark” gang have definitely fallen into that category for me. I knew that being around them would be good for me during this emotionally unstable time. I always leave with my heart full when I get a chance to be a part of one of their shows. This time was no different. Music has the power to heal my soul like nothing else, and I was definitely in the middle of some healing, beautiful artistry and musicianship last night.
Today, I’m heading up to our cabin in the mountains for 10 days. I always find rest and peace when I’m up there. I know it will be a little sad there at first because.. well, it will be our first time in the cabin without Charlie.
He loved that place as much as we do. All our memories there include him. But, I know we will have a good cry and learn to enjoy the space in a different way. We may even spread his ashes up here someday. For now, we will keep him at home with us. Not ready to part with that little box just yet.
To end this rambling blog, I’ll just say that I’ve learned that grief is grief and love and is love - no matter what the packaging looks like. Deep losses take time to process. And I really want to say thank you to everyone who has reached out to us this week about Charlie. It has brought us comfort to know many of you understand the deep pain of losing a beloved pet. There is healing in community who gets it. We deeply appreciate you.
Sorry this week’s blog wasn’t more cheery…. maybe next week. :-)
Love ya’ll…. Marcia
P.S. If you are grieving something right now, let me pass on some helpful advice I got from my therapist last week. This is a time to really listen to your body and soul and take extra care of yourself right now. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of rest so your body isn’t fatigued. Give yourself extra quiet time to connect your soul with it’s Maker for spiritual refreshment. Surround yourself with a good support system. And make sure you drink LOTS of water. All those tears need replenishing in the body. I have found all of that advice to be very helpful and I believe you will too. —M
*direct quote from Becky Gonzalez’ blog, Grit and Grace
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I feel you. I love you. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.
Sis, great post. I'm at the age when you begin to lose people you love. Grief is powerful, so we must learn to live with it and facing it, when often we want to bury it. Keep writing my dear!