For the amount of things that we are taught in grade school, I have to say that the most important life lessons are kept hidden. Or at least, nobody is openly sharing them. For starters, nobody talks about grief. Nobody is openly sharing how to deal with it. Not many people will straight up say that they’re having a shitty day and that they just spent the last 4 hours sobbing in a corner of their bedroom. This day and age, perfection is what we strive for. Whether it’s in our relationships, our family life, our work, at the gym, in our home, perfect is what we want. With social media, it’s even easier to look at the next post and see someone who’s fitter, more beautiful, in a better relationship than you, happier. Compare compare compare and the standard is perfection. Pretty hard to live up to if you ask me. But hey, we fall in to that and I’m as guilty as the next person. I’m not going to Instagram a picture of a tear-stained pillow, or tweet about the fact that I just sucked down tears in between my squat-sets. We just don’t do that… people don’t know what to do with grieving individuals. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. So we lock it away. We slap a smile on our face and pretend like we’re coping. Doing fine. We throw ourselves into our work, into each other’s problems so we don’t have to focus on our own. People assume that we’re okay… and then when we aren’t, it’s a surprise. “It looks like you’re doing great – you seem so happy!”. Do I? Or did you see me in passing where I flashed you a grin and you assumed. Or are you looking at my social media, where again, it’s all butterflies and rainbows. Don’t get me wrong either – those posts are coming from a good place but let’s not be fooled by each other’s slapped-on smiles. Time goes on for everyone else, whereas our world has been suddenly torn to shreds and we are forced to reorient ourselves and survive. People stop asking after a few months, a few years. Yet, the kicker is, when someone actually stops and ask how we are… no…. how we REALLY are, there’s a bit of resentment. How can I possibly be okay? The same goes when people try to take something from their life and give advice; try to put our grief on a parallel to theirs. That doesn’t seem fair but it’s the honest truth. Sometimes it’s helpful. And sometimes the advice creates this unnecessary expectation that their lives should look like ours. Or ours like theirs. And that’s just not fair.
The other weekend at church, the pastor explained this perfectly. Wierd how that timing always seems to work out. He was talking about a life disruption vs. a life interruption. An interruption happens to everyone at some point in your life but you’re able to get back to the way life was. A disruption, on the other hand, is a life crisis that disrupts your life so invasively and breaks up your life’s course, that you can never go back to the same process. To find meaning in your suffering means you have survived. “To live is to suffer; if life has meaning then all the suffering in life has a meaning too.” Unfortunately, you don't usually come to that realization on your own. Unfortunately, it’s often death that forces us to start living and grief is the constant, daily reminder.
These past few months have been especially tough. I have constantly been reminded of how fragile life is. Repeatedly. One thing after another, my heart has been aching for everyone during these times. My heart is heavy. I had a friend recently share with me that “people expect that this sadness is just a phase that I can grow out of." I had a different friend tell me that people will ask "is Kyla better now?" I’m sorry to tell everyone that no it’s not something we can grow out of. No, we won't just wake up cured. We don’t grow out of anything, we just grow up. Quickly. Which is hard, because for me personally, I feel like a different person than I was four, three, two, years ago and I don’t understand how people can think or expect me to be the same. But again, not everyone understands that and in fact, it’s pretty hard to do so. Regardless, still to this day, it amazes me how many people can hurt me so deeply. How badly they just do not understand that I am different, I have different values and priorities, that things have changed. Those that have gone through some type of trauma know that the grief is suffocating. It doesn’t come in chunks lasting minutes, it’s not a phase that we’ll grow out of, it’s simply a part of us now. We’re changed forever.
An all-consuming pain that has you questioning even your greatest belief systems. Questioning life itself. Some people pull themselves out of it and some never do… or never can. Some ride it like a wave. After my brother, Connor’s accident almost two years ago, my mom was constantly telling us that we would get out of this. We’re going to be better people because of it. Whether or not she believed it at the time, it certainly held true. I have constantly told myself since that day in the hospital, “We will get out of this… we are going to be better people”. Hope constructed in a sentence. You can feel like this now but eventually we’re going to be able to move and start living again. We can work through our questions, our fears, our emotions. And when we can do it, whenever that is, we are going to be better than before this all happened.
“It’s okay to hurt. You’ve been on the go so much the since the accident, it’s okay to stop and breathe.” I am told that sentence. I doubt that sentence. I mean, yeah I would completely agree, especially if I was telling someone else that. To actually DO is a whole other story. It's a whole new ball game. There’s no handbook about dealing with grief. It’s a completely individual thing and not one person goes through it the same way. There are too many extenuating circumstances, lifestyles, personalities, to flop it all into one cycle. There’s no cheat-sheet on waking up in the morning and painting that smile on your face and continuing on through life. Or having this all-consuming pain and then competing at, say, an international level. I’m exhausted coming home and the amount of training we are doing every single day is enough. To sit down and actually think, actually feel, let that paralyzing pain fill up my whole body – most days I don’t let it in. I just can’t. Shut it out until it can’t stay inside anymore; face it when I have no choice not to. Grief is a lonely journey. We were thrown into an abyss with few tools at hand. I’m not expected to just make it through the day, I’m expected to perform at a very, very high level. But as I head into the busiest summer of my volleyball career, I'm scared to let go. I guess you can say I have always been scared to do it and that’s why we head into these periods of darkness and confusion. Numb the pain. I’m scared to let my brain go where it wants to; to ask the tough questions and get the worst possible answer in return. I honestly haven't even asked exactly what happened before I flew into Vancouver almost two years ago. I don't know the full story. You might think I'm crazy for not asking; the fact that it's been two years is a bit unbelievable. For me, it's like only one week has passed, and at the same time, an eternity. I’m scared I wont be able to pull myself out because some days, I’m barely holding my head above water and I’m not even 10% there. I don't trust myself quite yet. So what happens when you just don't have the time for grief in your life? What happens to you then?
This took me a long time to understand and I’m still dabbling in these unknown waters. Bear with me – but it’s all about perspective. I would give up EVERYTHING to see Connor one more time. Everything. Anything. Unfortunately that’s not too feasible so I have to turn to plan b. What’s that you ask? Finding those small joys that make life not just bearable, but worth living. Connor taught me so much without even knowing it, and hey, I didn’t even know it at the time when he was still here. He just lived. That was enough to inspire all of those around him. As my mom said all those months ago “we will become better” and she’s right – how could you not after knowing him. I love really hard, maybe to a fault. But you have to, after an experience like this. There’s just not enough time not to. You learn to not take things for granted, love what you do, do what you love, wear your heart on your sleeve, and go after your dreams. Cliché to the max, and I apologize for that, but how amazing is that those exact cliché words are in my every day. It’s running through my blood stream and I don’t even have to try. What a blessing. A true, severe mercy, if you will.
With that being said, let's take a quick step back. Those days are frequent but the darkness always comes. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of effort is put forth pushing away feelings so it's possible to live and stay in the moment. Sometimes you have to forget to survive. Just last week I was living that exact statement. I have been surviving the last twenty two months. I was forced out of zombie-land when I flew to the Sunshine Coast last Friday afternoon so I could attend the 2nd Annual Connor Richey Memorial Golf Tournament. Last year, I was so thankful I was able to attend. This year, I had different feelings engulfing me. Was I grateful to be there? Absolutely. Was I prepared to feel that hard? Absolutely not. I went in to the day not really thinking what this would mean. Last year, we held the tournament at a different course. This year, we had it at the Roberts Creek golf course which is just minutes from my parents house, and was simply Connor's second home (or I guess you could say first home as he definitely spent more time up there). That course is where his heart was. I have so many memories of picking him up there - starting from having it be his first job to soon after becoming a regular on the course, watching him golf a few holes and being utterly amazed at his talent, to him teaching me how to putt (and saying my short game is nice - not to brag). It's also where we had his celebration of life and I had not been back there since that day. Needless to say, every single memory and feeling came flooding back to me in a pool of mixed emotions. We had so many volunteers out for the day, 100 golfers, and people at the course who just wanted to play and have fun in his memory. Overall it was such a success and yes I was happy to be able to be there that day. But it was hard. I had an older golfer come up to me and say "you must be Connor's sister... we miss him too". My chest felt like it was concave, there was never enough air in my lungs, and felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown the entire day. I haven't felt that pain in my heart for a long time... zombie-land and numbness have been my baseline. It's been my comfort zone. Luckily that day, I was able to just be. And although I had that slapped-on-smile for the majority of the day it's certainly not what I was feeling on the inside. As all the golfers were coming in, before dinner was served, I found myself in the back parking lot, locked away in my mom's car, with Stuart by my side. Just being. Taking a couple seconds. I knew in that moment that he was about as far away from coping with this whole thing as I was. As I am. As we are. Braving it together. As the evening progressed, dinner and prizes were dished out, mom gave a thank-you speech to all those involved in making this tournament happen. We really do have an amazing community. She was able to share with everyone that not only is Connor's spirit living on through his Legacy Fund (proceeds go to support young Sunshine Coast athletes pursuing their athletic dreams) but also through the many individuals he helped save, as he was an organ donor. Recently my mom went, on behalf of our family, to the BC Transplant Donor Banquet where Connor was recognized as a recipient (see photo at the beginning). They have speakers from donor family members and past recipients and they call up each family member to receive a medal with the donor's name. Through his death he also saved lives and I am eternally grateful for that.
I was recently asked if my experiences have shaped me and whether or not I can tell a difference in myself. Absolutely, yes. From my two best friends, my coach, relatives, my baby brother, I am shaped into who I am by the individuals I meet and the trials I am faced with. Every single day I think about Connor and am forced to recognize how fragile life is. We aren’t promised anything. We deserve nothing. All we can do is cherish every single moment we are in because there will never be another one like it. You never know when “normal” moments are completely turned around into the best of your life; the next moment is never promised. Life is way too short to not do something you love, to not say the thing you’re holding back, and to not see the blessings in each and every day. “It’s as if passion is life’s magic pixie dust." Find yours.