Coping with grief and loss; finding hope in surprising ways

Coping with grief and loss; finding hope in surprising ways

Recently my best friend Lara lost a difficult fight with pancreatic cancer at the young age of 40. At some point all of us will experience loss in our lifetime, even great loss, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

Lara’s family and friends maintained hope until the very end. Her caregivers were her parents and siblings. Thanks to them, Lara was able to stay in her house. She passed at home with them at her side — just as she wanted.

We can’t let anyone tell us how to grieve. We have to find what works for us, and let ourselves feel every emotion.

One thing Lara’s father said at the funeral that has resonated is how she may not have won at cancer, but she certainly won at life. The love that she was surrounded by, her immense creativity, and feisty passion for living - really living, each day - is what she has left with us. We have a responsibility to honour her in living fully as we eventually find ways to cope with her loss and carry forward.

Surprisingly, a collection of rocks has given us the first step forward.

For Lara’s celebration of life, a group of friends painted a large collection of rocks with hearts and Lara’s name on them. Lara was an endlessly creative soul, and making things for her celebration seemed only natural.

Guests chose the rock(s) that spoke to them. The intention was for people who loved Lara to bring their rocks to special places. The photos, and the stories that accompany them, are being shared in a Facebook group that was initially created to support Lara.

What no one could have anticipated is the little movement that these “Love Lara Rocks” has sparked. Sometimes the rock stories make me cry; other times they make me smile.

So far the Love Lara rocks have gone on some incredible adventures:

  • To Iceland, floating on an iceberg and resting in a pool at the base of a beautiful waterfall.
  • To a Pearl Jam concert, where the set list was almost eerily on par and made me think she had a hand in it.
  • One friend’s heart was left in San Francisco (because we have to say it).
  • Sailing into the Mediterranean Sea from a sandy beach.
  • And, if you can believe it, the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Lara was an epic actress and a friend felt she deserved some red carpet time.

Other rocks have been closer, quieter moments in beautiful places where she lived and near her hometown.

Finding amazing places to photograph or leave Lara’s rocks has been more therapeutic than we could have imagined.

They are a tangible reminder of Lara’s incredible love that we will all carry around with us every day, whether we have a rock or not. They bring us into presence with all that is here, and natural. They somehow represent the enduring human paradox that is life and death.

It has also been incredibly touching for her family to see these rocks travel the world so far, and have adventures that Lara would have loved. The rocks are a fitting metaphor for the rock of support the family was to Lara, and to each other.

The stories that are being shared online are helping to repair her family’s broken hearts and fill them with love.

The rocks have also helped all of us who love Lara, in different parts of the country, find connection and community with each other in our grief. We are not alone.

What I’ve learned is that there are many ways to experience grief, and there is no timeline. We can know on an academic level what the stages of grieving may feel like, but there is really nothing anyone can say to explain it to you until you find yourself there. We can’t let anyone tell us how to grieve. We have to find what works for us, and let ourselves feel every emotion (don’t push it down).

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m learning that it also takes a village to raise each other up in love when that person is gone. Love is the bridge between you and everything.

As for me, I love Lara and miss her terribly every day. Best friends since high school. I carry my rock in my purse. My kids have picked their favourites too. I’m looking forward to seeing what our rocks will get up to over the summer, as I continue on my own journey to cope with this immense loss. To chase love, hope and peace.

If you are a Canadian caregiver and you need help or support for yourself or for the person in your care, check out our Elizz caregiver services page.

 

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