grandma smiling
Mary Pat Benso (10/31/28 – 3/4/14)

Things have been quiet around here the last 2 months.

As some of you know, my grandmother died recently and I’ve been more quiet and introspective than ever (and that’s a big deal for an extrovert like me).

This was my first experience losing anyone close to me and it has changed the way I look at life and myself.  I learned some major lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

My grandmother and I were close.  She was generous, loving, devoted and full of grace.  When she decided to refuse further treatment after a stroke which left her unable to swallow or feed herself, I stopped everything that I was doing (including my first major online program), cancelled patients, stopped working out and drove an hour to be with my grandmother as much as I could. 

It was a dramatic shift–I went from a human ‘doing’ to a human ‘being’ and, I am not going to lie, it was hard to stop doing all the things that I hinged my identity and self-worth on.  

In my heart though, I knew that BEING with my grandmother was the most important thing I needed to do. 

I am so glad I made the heart-centered choice to spend as much time with her as I could.  It was a sad, but beautiful experience. It brought family together in a way I had never seen before.  In such a raw and vulnerable time, I saw great strength in our community and family. 

As some of the initial grief has worn off,  the way I think about things have changed.  I am finding myself with a greater sense of what is important in life, a clearer focus on my purpose and even a greater sense of joy and happiness. I want to share what I have learned with you, in hopes that you can get a better focus on what is important in your life.

Even in her passing, my grandmother continues to teach and inspire me.  Here’s what I have learned.

3 Life Lessons I learned from Death

 

1)      Quality, not quantity.  

My grandmother was always active and able to take care of herself, all the way up until the the last 2 months of her life.  In her teenage years, she was a dancer for the USO.   I remember taking water aerobics with her in the summers of my youth.  She was even tap dancing at my grandpa’s 80th birthday, just a few years ago.

My grandmother had an active, amazing, love-filled life, so that when it was her time, she had no problem letting go.  She made a choice to stop life-saving treatments, because the quality of the life she would have been left with was not how she wanted to live.  She made the choice with grace and peace in her heart.

We all will die. It’s not the number of years that we live, but the quality of our life that is most important.

I used to say “I want to live to be 100”.  But now I know that is not true.  I don’t know how many years I will have but I do know that I want to be healthy and functional for all the time I am granted and THAT is why I take care of my body.

 

2)      My weight does not determine my worth. For a month, while I commuted back and forth to my grandmothers house, I ate whatever was in front of me.

Sometimes that meant my uncle’s delicious sloppy joes (thanks Uncle Paul) and Fritos.   Sometimes that meant Five Guy’s burger in the car.  Sometimes that meant nothing at all.

I didn’t have the mental, emotional or physical energy to make the normal healthy choices that I usually do.

Was I going to leave my grannie’s side to go out and buy a salad? Hell no.

Was I going to obsess if I missed a workout? Hell no.

Was I going to beat myself up because I  staying up too late, drinking wine, watching a movie and zoning out? Hell no.

 Even though I gained some weight, I realized, I’m ok.

I’m still a caring granddaughter to my grandfather. I still give great hugs, I’m an awesome mom, wife and doctor. I can still go out and deadlift 200lbs. I can still go for a run with my dog and not get sore.

My weight does NOT determine my worth.

I don’t want to spend my finite days and hours obsessing about every little bite of food that goes into my mouth.

***Bonus lesson- I also learned that it is ok to “let go” for a little while and TRUST that I will come back to my center. I think that allowing myself the freedom to be ok with whatever I ate, however much I exercised or not and NOT beat myself up, actually helped me get back onto track sooner.  I gave myself the benefit of the doubt that I was doing the best I could, and trusted that I would find my way back to my normal routine, which I have. 🙂

 

 3)       Being Sad is not ‘bad’.   I think  many of us try to avoid ‘bad’ feelings. I know I have spent much of my adult life trying various forms of therapy, self-help books, coaches, homeopathic remedies, herbs to alter my moods.

Even when I’m not dealing with something as heavy as grief,  when I get disappointed, angry or upset, I always try to “turn it around” and find the positive, find the gold, or get the lesson.

Sometimes in my haste to “get to the good stuff”, I try to hurry or skip over the ‘feeling’ part and immediately try to rationalize/mentalize (that’s totally a real word) it.  By avoiding the real, raw emotion, what I am actually doing is a  spiritual-bypass.

What I have observed from working with people intimately for the last 10 years, is that if we don’t allow ourselves to FEEL now, chances are, we will feel later—and it will probably be more unpleasant or morph into a physical manifestation of the grief.

I’m still working on this…how to let it into my heart, how to express it, how to grieve.  As a wise friend told me, there is no time limit on grief and I will continue to feel IT as long as I need to.

My feelings are like the waves of an ocean, coming and going, rising, swelling and retreating.

So, that’s where I am right now, learning to surf my emotions and let them flow. 

It can feel scary at times, but I am finding that the more I can let the sadness BE, the more it actually opens me to experience happiness and joy.  I’ve had some great big belly laughs at the random-est moments-a funny face my son makes, a silly song and dance routine from my daughter, my dog licking my hand. Things that in the past, I might have just smiled and thought “how cute” now tickle me to core.

 

I am so grateful for the all the teachings my grandmother gave me during her life and her death.  I know things won’t be “normal” again, but I feel confidant that I will find a new normal–one that is full of joy (and sadness), one that has my priorities straight and all with an angel on my shoulder.

Have you lost someone you love? What lessons about life have you learned? Please share in the comments below, I would love to hear from you. 

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3 Things Death Taught Me – Gaining a new perspective on life

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