17 years on from losing Kenzie, I often get asked, "Does time ease the pain of grief?"
From my own experience, I would say no. Instead, the pain changes. Let me explain...
Time has changed the pain of my grief, where the acute pain has morphed into a chronic pain that you know is always there. It can flare up when you least expect it, but with time, you learn how to manage and cope so you can function and enjoy the simple pleasures and treasures life gives.
I remember the rawness of those early days, I can only describe it as hell on earth, the pain was excruciating. It was overwhelming really and I think I was in a state of shock. Questions ran through my mind...had this really happened...it can't be true...this isn't what life is supposed to be...this wasn't part of the plan.
The reality was, this was a life changing event, one that would irrevocably change and shape my life and Conor's.
To cope with the rawness of grief, I had to be busy, I couldn't sit alone with my thoughts. During the day, that was fine, but nights were the worst. My mind would race at a million miles an hour and I'd be overwhelmed with the magnitude of my loss. When sleep did come, dreams of Kenzie were vivid and sometimes I'd even wake thinking it had all been a nightmare. Then the reality would hit, it was not a nightmare, it was my life.
At times, during the day, if it all became too much and the tears would not stop, I would actually put on a DVD of Billy Connolly as I knew he would make me laugh and the tears would stop falling. To this day, stand up comedy has become a major tonic for Conor and I.
In that first year, I threw myself more and more into activities that would keep me focused. Raising Conor, going back to university, being involved in the Herceptin campaign, while also continuing on my own breast cancer treatment.
I had the support of loving family, friends and a fantastic psychotherapist, Maxine, who helped me navigate through this journey with grief. I certainly couldn't do it alone. I learned how to identify triggers for my grief and how to manage those. For me, keeping active, being outdoors among nature, walking, biking, swimming, exploring new places and experiencing new things have all helped. Being surrounded by positive, kind, genuine, compassionate and empathetic people has been exceptionally beneficial too.
Over time, it is like I have developed a thin veneer to hold everything together, knowing what to do to keep it all intact, but sometimes that thin veneer cracks. I'm aware when it happens and have learned how to manage it.
Sometimes, that maybe just taking time to myself and minimizing outside stressors as best I can, reaching out to friends or taking some time for solitude in our beautiful country. Walking along the beach, listening to the waves crashing on the shore, the birds singing...being absorbed in that moment can bring a lot of calm and perspective.
There are also certain situations which will always be difficult. For example, I struggle with Christmas. The carefreeness and joy people share at Christmas is beautiful, but I find it so hard as it is a time when I'm faced with the magnitude of my loss. So I do other things, need it be going on a holiday, a sporting adventure, road trip or spending time with friends...I just do Christmas in a different way.
As life goes on, I live each day with my memories, navigating a life with grief that for the most part, is bearable, but at times, can flare up and knock me off my feet. In those times, I turn to our wonderful supporters and engage those coping mechanisms I have developed to get us through.
One thing is for sure, as the saying goes, I would not swap this grief for never of having Kenzie in my life. I loved her with all my heart and will do to the end of my days.