It’s true what they say – you become your strongest when you most need it, whether you know your own strength or not. Many of us do not know our own inner strength. I know I still feel weak daily, but then I look back over the past year and think, “Wow… how the hell did I get to where I am now?” This is a constant thought of mine when questioning my inner strength.
On many days, I feel less than strong; I feel downright weak just because of the trauma that has happened in my life. It has crossed my mind on many occasions to just “Check out” for a little while and be alone with my thoughts while the world passes me by. But I’m a fighter, and I am strong, and while I love the idea of “Checking out,” I’ve never truly been able to do that. I’ve had my personal struggles with alcohol, where it seemed that I was checking out, but my college grades never faltered – in fact, despite my excessive nights of drinking too much and following my heart around to different colleges, I graduated in 4 years at the top of my KSU class with a 3.53. I know very few people who can say they’ve accomplished that.
2014 started with the promise of a New Year and another chance to start again on my life’s goals. I was happy with many aspects of my life: my family was healthy and happy, my boyfriend and I were starting a life together, and I was on the cusp of beginning a new job that would further my career goals.
Everything changed on May 15 at 5:24 am when I received a confusing phone call from my father. I paced my apartment waiting for my boyfriend to get his ass out of bed and dressed so we could leave, the words: “Something has happened to your brother. You need to get to the hospital in Canton – NOW! Don’t worry about what you’re wearing; don’t worry about bringing anything with you. Just get to the hospital as fast as you can. Your mother and I will meet you there. I love you. Drive careful.” Very few words were spoken as we drove the hour up to Canton to meet my parents at the hospital to find out what had happened to my baby brother, David. A million different thoughts ran through my head – most commonly, that he had somehow been involved in a car accident, but would be fine.
My father walked to the car as I was parking it, his arms outstretched and his face breaking, and said 2 words as I was walking through the parking lot: “He’s gone.” “What?! No! No he’s not gone! He’s in surgery is all! He’s going to be fine!” “No, he’s gone. He’s gone. Come here. He’s gone.” The breath went out of me as if I could physically feel my heart breaking; if not for my dad wrapping his arms around me,I would’ve fallen to the ground. I cried into my dad’s chest, disbelieving his words. How could my baby brother be gone? How could he be dead? The only details we had were what had happened at my parents’ house, where David lived. My parents told me what they experienced as he died on the floor of his bedroom.
My world completely crumbled; I don’t know how I formed any words to those who came to the hospital to be with my parents and me. The outpouring of love remains indescribable. After the coroner took my brother’s body to the GBI crime lab to perform the autopsy, we slowly drove back to the empty house – the house where my brother and I shared so many memories, where we grew up together, where we built forts indoors and tents on the front porch, where we played ‘orphans’ on the rocks in the front yard, where we climbed trees and sent Barbie and G.I. Joe on a “whitewater rafting” trip after it rained.
Our house was flooded with people expressing their condolences, offering us hugs, love, kind words and food. Though we were in a daze, the love and the loss were palpable. We went through the motions, often crying at random – how could we not? David was brilliant, funny, larger-than-life in more ways than one, loving and caring, bright, and frequently smiling and laughing. How could he not be there, where he always was?
We went through the motions, preparing funeral services that I have never before experienced and that truly captured who my brother was. I don’t think I’ll ever experience a funeral service quite like David’s. I told my mother that I wanted to speak when we were deciding who to ask if they would like to. She said, “Of course you can speak. He is your brother. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
This wasn’t the first test of my strength, and it wasn’t the last, but it certainly was a test nonetheless. My mother came back to me and said, “You’re going to give David’s eulogy. If you’re going to speak, I want you to give his eulogy. You’ll be the first person to speak after Aaron introduces you.” I looked at her in whatever way my face went and said, “Oh? Okay. I think I can do that.” Nothing I wrote seemed to really capture David, but I let my mother read what I wrote.
She said, “Combine both of these, and it’s perfect. It’s the first thing you wrote, and it’s from your heart. It’s what you should say. Write it out.” So I did. I combined the two eulogies into one, and that’s what I delivered in front of – what I’m told was – an overflowing chapel.
I returned to work 6 days later, where I found it increasingly difficult to focus and would frequently leave my desk to walk outside or into the bathroom to cry. My productivity continued to decrease in the months following David’s death, and despite receiving a raise the day I returned, I was let go at the beginning of September. I felt like a failure – I couldn’t even keep a job. I felt like my life was spiraling downward, and all I wanted to do was absolutely nothing. Instead, I woke up the next morning and drove to a morning yoga class, determined to keep my head above water. I couldn’t find a place to park that didn’t have the threat of a boot and they locked the door. I screamed in David’s car, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. I sat there, in tears, wondering where my life was going. I wanted to check out.
I drove up the street to a restaurant at which I used to work, and wound up talking to my friends for 2 hours before heading home. I felt a little better about life, though I can’t really tell you why or how. My anger, frustration, sadness and overall worthlessness had subsided for the time I was there talking with them. I had decided sometime before I had been let go from my job that I really wanted to work for myself as an independent contractor. I started planning how to do that, reaching out to former independent employers and old friends. Luck was on my side: both of the people to which I’d reached out were in need of my services. We struck up deals based on the type of work I was going to be doing and negotiated prices for those services.
In the middle of September, I experienced yet another heavy loss when my boyfriend left our apartment after another explosive fight (he’ll tell you that he was made to leave and that I kicked him out, which isn’t entirely untrue). Our relationship, though never perfect, was suffering prior to David’s death but was on the uptick. After his death, everything got much, much worse than I ever imagined it could. I won’t go into all of the details of the events that followed, but suffice it to say it was a living nightmare.
It was hard to realize it was bad – really, really bad – when I was in it, and it’s hard to look back and say, “Oh… how did all of that happen?” He and I have argued many times concerning our relationship, and we’re each always the bad guy. We each have our own incriminations, but what it came down to was that we could no longer be together. We despised each other as much as we loved each other. We didn’t work anymore; we weren’t best friends anymore. He’s told me many times how he hates me, and that’s fine. I fought it for a long time though; I didn’t want to let go of another person in my life – another person I thought was going to be part of my life in marriage.
I “vacationed” at my parents’ house for a week after he left, not wanting to return to the place where we lived. It was empty now too, and my sense of failure continued to pile up. I even suggested that I could move back into my parents’ house to them, and they looked at me with upturned eyebrows and said, “If you move back here, we’re going to charge you rent and utilities. You only want to move back here so that you can check out, and you can’t do that. You can’t let your life pass you by. You are strong – stronger than you know. You will overcome this too, and you will come out on top. We love you too much to see you falter on your goals. If we charge you rent and utilities, that guarantees that you’ll be working.” I understood what they meant, though all I wanted to do was check out.
I didn’t check out. I didn’t check out once in the past year. Though I stopped going out with my friends, especially because most of them didn’t know what was going on in my personal life except that David had died several months before, I continued working from my apartment. My parents helped me to change things in my apartment so that it was “mine” and not “ours,” and it truly feels like home to me. It has become my refuge from everything else going on in my life.
I said at the beginning that you can never know how strong you are until you have to be. If you surround yourself with those people who love you, who care for you, who wouldn’t see you fall but would instead lift you up, you would see your strength reflected in their eyes. Feeling like I was the rock upon which my friends broke used to drive me crazy, but this past year alone has revealed my true inner strength. I never knew how strong I actually was until I truly had to be. I’ve accepted plenty of help along my journey of grief, depression, anxiety and loneliness – whether it be financially, socially, emotionally or spiritually.
I returned to yoga several times after David died throughout the whirlwind of everything else going on in my life, and realized how yoga can affect my emotions and thoughts. Where yoga used to quiet my thoughts and bring me back into my body, now it brings up feelings of sadness. But my yoga practice also allows me to feel all of the emotions I have coursing through my body and allows me experience every single thought I have without judgment. One of my New Year’s goals is to return to a regular, full-time practice and so far I’ve accomplished that goal. It’s a constant struggle to get up, get out, drive to the studio and work through my practice. But I know that I set my goals for a reason – I set them to help me reinvent myself. I set them to help me come back to myself. I set them to become a better me. I know I’ll never be perfect, but if I can be the most perfect self I can live with, I will have attained my goals.
Realize your own inner strength – you are stronger than you know.
Meredith Loos is her mother’s “hippie flower child” who wears her heart on her sleeve and sees the world through rose-colored glasses. Always the hopeless romantic, Meredith is a writer and a poet, a painter and a charcoal artist, a fierce lover of love and the beauty of the world; she loves yoga, stargazing, soulful music, thought-provoking conversation with intriguing people, and nights that turn into mornings.