08/23/17

The Grief to Joy Project (& Grief Awareness Week!)

When I first lost my mom  it was difficult to look into the future and envision a normal life. I was 31 going on 32, and could not believe that my time with my mom was over; just like that.

For weeks and months my mind was littered with worry and sadness, and until I learned to cope with it all, it would turn out to be one of the most challenging times of my life. 

If you had asked me about how my mind, my present, and my future would be on afternoon the of April 11, 2012, you would hear words like “hopeless”, “unsure”, “sorrowful”, “lost”, and “anxious” fall lifelessly out of my mouth. I had just said goodbye to my mom after a year long battle with breast cancer, and it truly felt as though my world, and my future, were collapsing around me. 

If you asked me that same question today, 5 years later, you would hear me describe my mind, my present, and my future as “strong”, “peaceful”, “joyous”, “brave”, and “resilient.”

The past 5 years have been anything but easy; but that doesn’t mean they’ve been bad. Because of this loss, I have been challenged in ways I could have never imagined. Because of this loss, I have been able to discover and cultivate qualities within myself I never dreamed I could possess 5 years ago. I no longer look at my mom’s death as a devastating experience. Instead, I see it as an invigorating one. 

Of course, like everyone who has lost a loved one, I’d want nothing more than to have her here again. But I know that death is inevitable, and no matter how much I wish I could go back in time and alter her fate, or spend one more moment together, I can’t. None of us can. And when we hold onto those regretful thoughts, yearning for something we cannot change or have, we drain and damage our own spirits.

Grief can be an all-consuming and exhausting full time job. It completely uproots any normalcy and disrupts your entire state of being. And although I have learned that grief is different for everyone, what’s important to remember is that no matter the situation, as we all know we must endure this process at some point in our lives, the greatest lesson I’ve learned about grief is you must replace the sorrow with positivity. In order to be able to cope in such a way that YOUR life has meaning, you must remain positive. 

Instead of draining my energy and efforts lost in negative or damaging circular thoughts, or clouding my mind with guilt and “what if’s”, I have learned to transform and transfer those thoughts into ways I can better my life and the lives of those around me.

On the night of my mother’s funeral service, I wrote this post. I vividly remember sobbing over my laptop keyboard as I wrote the words “life would never be the same.” But reading that post again today I realize that I was right. Life isn’t the same, and I’m thankful for that.

5 years ago I would have screamed at someone if they had told me that I’d one day be thankful for having gone through this experience. But little did I know just how positively this loss would affect my life, and how thankful I’d be to have been chosen to experience it. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I wouldn’t want to be. 

My mom’s death helped me understand how much of a gift time here on earth is. I miss my mom every single day, but my mind is calm and life is full. 

But the question I’m always asked is how? How did I get to this point? How did I strengthen and cultivate that mindset? How did I move past the regrets, the guilt, and the sadness? How am I living a full and happy life after loss?

People ask me these questions every single day- in person, here on the blog, and on social media. In the past 5 years I have come in contact with so many people so deep in a state of sadness because of loss or trauma. They have lost their quality of life and their spirit. They have lost meaning and direction. They have lost connections and relationships with others. They are truly just alone and lost. 

Because of this, and because of my own grief journey, and the grief journeys of others, I was inspired to create The Grief to Joy Project. 

The Grief to Joy Project provides a safe and private space to have open and honest conversations about personal grief journeys. We share resources, discuss ways to choose joy, share our setbacks and successes, and most of all, listen. Together we support each other in learning how to shift from wanting to improve our grief experiences to deciding to. We also work on changing society’s (and our own) expectations around the grieving process and work tirelessly to create individual positive grief stories that honor the lives of those we lost and our own lives as well. There are no medical professionals or therapists in the group. This is a solely a group comprised of like-minded individuals with similar stories who have connected to support one another as we all navigate through life after loss or trauma. 

And what’s so beautiful about this group is that we have started to understand that grief can come in many shapes, sizes, and time-frames, and that the effects of grief can be caused by a number of life changes. Whether we are experiencing the loss of a loved one, a divorce, loss of a job, the loss of a friend, or experiencing an illness, this group provides a private forum for connecting and learning how to see how these changes can transition into a positive experiences that we can grow from and improve our lives.

The Grief to Joy Project has been active since early May, and so far we have 100 members in our private Facebook group and 250 followers on our Instagram page

If you are reading this post and have experienced loss or a traumatic life event (and you are nodding your head along with what I am writing), I would like to encourage you to check out The Grief to Joy Project. There is never any pressure to contribute. You can simply be in the group or follow the Instagram page to observe until you are ready to share your story. 

If you aren’t currently navigating through a grief journey, but would like to be involved in helping others who are, I’d love to invite you to participate in the upcoming events for National Grief Awareness Day and Grief Awareness Week!

National Grief Awareness Day and Grief Awareness Week are all about bringing attention to the fact that support and connections with others can make all the difference in the life of someone who has experienced loss. It provides an opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the impact that loss has on someone, and provides us with an amazing opportunity to open up dialogue about stigmas and expectations associated with the grieving process.

National Grief Awareness Day will be on Wednesday, August 30, 2017, but we will be leading different activities (mostly on social media!) starting on August 24th! Feel free to participate in as many activities or events as you’d like to during Grief Awareness Week. You’ll find a calendar of events in the image below (feel free to share this with your social networks!). 

In addition, there is a petition where we can all help make National Grief Awareness Day officially recognized by our government! Here is the link on how to get involved and to sign: https://www.change.org/p/declare-august-30th-national-grief-awareness-day

If you have any questions about The Grief to Joy Project, Grief Awareness Week, or National Grief Awareness Day, please let me know!

06/26/17

Giving back at Ronald McDonald House Tampa

Started my 38th trip around the sun volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with this group of amazing people! 

These people are the real deal. Kind, smart, funny, and most of all, selfless. When I started talking about getting a group together to volunteer our time at the Ronald McDonald House here in Tampa as a way to celebrate my birthday, they all said “yes!” without a second thought. And yes… we made cupcakes… and YES I had one, of course. It was my birthday after all! 😉 Continue reading

05/25/17

Honeymooning (and a honeymoon-inspired recipe!)

When we first began planning our wedding, I was on the fence about going on a honeymoon.

I was just about to begin a travel-heavy new career, and the thought of taking off right after the wedding (and right before a super busy travel month in May) wasn’t appealing.

But the more we thought about it, and the more we talked about it, we realized that going on a honeymoon meant something to us. 

Your honeymoon tells the world, and maybe you, who you are. -Ginger Strand

We had a beautiful 5 years of dating,  Continue reading

04/10/17

5 years

If you asked me about how life would be on the afternoon of April 11, 2012, you would hear words like “hopeless”, “unsure”, “sorrowful” and “anxious” fall lifelessly out of my mouth. I had just said goodbye to my mom after a year long battle with breast cancer, and it truly felt as though my world, and my future, were collapsing around me. 

5 years ago it was difficult to look into the future and envision a normal life. I was 31 going on 32, and could not believe that my time with my mom was over; just like that.  Continue reading

09/13/15

Co-Op For A Cure

October is fast approaching. And since losing my mother to breast cancer 3 years ago, October has become a time of reflection and advocacy. And although my efforts with #TeamJudy last all throughout the year, because breast cancer isn’t just a month long fight, I do enjoy participating in all things Pink for the month of October. I feel like it’s necessary and important; another piece in the puzzle that is living life after losing a parent to cancer.

This October #TeamJudy will be participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5k in downtown Tampa, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Glow run in downtown St. Pete!  Continue reading