This Christmas edition of loss(t) convos is with Ashley Milbury, a 28 year old Youth Program Coordinator and special spirit who shares her struggles with the loss of her mom last Christmas Day, as well as being diagnosed with a chronic illness shortly after.
What is one of your most significant losses and what made the loss and grief so significant?
I lost my beautiful mother on Christmas morning of last year. Mom faced many challenges throughout her 52 years, including addiction. She used pills and alcohol as a way of coping with difficult moments. This pattern was perpetuated by the abusive relationship she had been in for many years. The holidays were a particularly trying time for my mother, as they are for so many, and she was using again. Substances she had taken many times before proved too much for her body this time, and she passed after about 24 hours in the hospital.
While the circumstances of her death are bleak, her life is better defined by the light of a generous heart and warm smile she offered all those she encountered. Maybe this analogy is too cliché for someone from the Maritimes, but losing her has been like losing my anchor. Her wisdom, humour, and deep, unconditional love kept me grounded. I shared everything with her, and she with me. It’s difficult to describe the significance of the loss of someone so intertwined in the fabric of my every day. Figuring out who I am beyond this earthly relationship and learning how to carry her love forward has been the greatest challenge of my life.
What did you learn from your loss? What did the grief teach you about yourself and others?
One of the most profound lessons this process has given me is around the notion of self-care as a way of dealing with loss. Self-care always seemed to me a mythical ideal (or expensive, at best). Every resource I encountered on grieving stresses the need to look after yourself after losing someone. A few months after Mom died, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and I felt an even more desperate urgency to look after my health. I jumped with both feet into the world of wellness: I started to learn about different diets for MS, took a meditation class, starting lifting weights and going to yoga. Those things have definitely helped manage my emotions both around my grief and my diagnosis.
I definitely recommend carving space for whatever healthy activities work for you when you can while moving through your grief. However, it became too easy to check these things off the list and feel accomplished that I had completed my self-care for the day. I’m incredibly lucky to have the money/time for things like nutritious food and physical activity--everyone should and the fight for this must continue--but rushing off to do these things after work became a convenient distraction from the real inner work to be done in dealing with losing my mother. As someone who feels the weight of needing to have it all together and support other people, my challenge is making myself vulnerable to the truth of my grief. I’m still learning how to allow myself to acknowledge my overwhelming sadness and anger.
My advice to others who are grieving and have these same patterns of “staying strong” for others - I know you’re out there! - is to check in more often with how your heart is really feeling and trust that you will able to endure whatever you find in there.
I’ve also learned that while it’s a kind gesture to ask a grieving friend to let you know if they need anything, it’s better to figure out how you can best support that person and offer that. I had no idea what I needed in the wake of Mom’s passing and really appreciated those friends who found opportunities to give practical or emotional help. I endeavour to offer this to grieving friends in the future.
What is your advice for others enduring a similar loss?
With Christmas and the one-year anniversary coming up, I’m thoughtful of the need for a plan. Everyone’s grieving process and feelings about this time of year are different, and I think it’s helpful to reflect on what you will need to get through special occassions and have a plan to put those things in place the best you can. For example, it’s really important to me to be able to comfortably talk about Mom and cry and laugh and whatever else comes up in the company of my family, so I’ve made deals with some family members that that’s going to be okay - a true victory for a group of repressed Catholics!
Anything else you want to share on the topic of loss and grief?
There really isn’t a way to go around the mess of grief in a healthy way. Like all the books will tell you, the only way is through. Waves of despair or the joy of a good memory will appear seemingly out of nowhere at sometimes inopportune times--big shout-out to public crying!
Let yourself feel it. If we don’t, that energy is just going to come out in other weird and potentially harmful ways. That being said, some people aren’t going be able to deal with you right now. This realization hurts, but has also allowed me to develop more intimate and meaningful connections with the people in my life who can sit with me in my sadness. I’m profoundly appreciative of the love I’ve received from these people this year.
This experience has also given me more empathy for those who have experienced loss, especially the death of a mother. Life-altering situations can offer incredible clarity and connection. These are gifts for which I am very grateful.
Mad love to Ashley for sharing her story - and sending her and her family all the love and light this Christmas. xo R
Looking for more tips and tools to cope with loss? Learn more about my Intuitive Grief Coaching Calls here. Rates are 25% off for the month of December and gift cards are available (the perfect gift for those in need!).