Voluntary Leave of Absence

“You can count on grief, but you must always remember grief doesn’t know how to count. There’s no rhyme or reason. There are no clear steps or timelines. It comes and goes and there is no telling when, where or why. Grief is like a riptide. It can happen at any moment, without a moments notice … even on what seems like the sunniest, calmest and safest of days.” Tom Laughon

Followers, Friends, Visitors and Digital Passers-by:

As you may or may not have noticed, I literally abandoned my posts on My 91 Year Old Mom’s blog.

Yep, after two years and two months of reasonably disciplined writing, I have been creating nothing but white space for four months solid. And, trust me, I needed the white space. I took a self prescribed leave of absence. Or, more to the point, I just didn’t have it in me to keep on blogging, blogging, blogging.

It wasn’t writers block. It was just the opposite.

I constantly had/have millions of molecules of ideas, thoughts, memories and insights … words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and blogs whirling around in the high speed blender deep inside my brain. Even sleep can’t stop this unrelenting tsunami that has engulfed my entire being. That’s the problem. It had been 24/7/790 before I quit cold turkey.

I was a disaster in the making. I was way too immersed in caring for my mom, while mourning the loss of who she was; coming to grips with the  tragic death of my younger sister, Nel, from Alzheimer’s; and dealing with the emptiness of not having my dad and best buddy by my side even though he passed away in 2002 … I was literally caught in a riptide of emotions, swimming against cruel currents of grief … drowning in my own memories and sorrow.

Notice none of the above includes the rest of my life … you know, like Melissa’s and my marriage, our families, our friends, our business, our community, our world, our hopes and our dreams.

It felt like I was playing a life or death game of Whack the Mole. The faster I tried to whack out the exponentially growing invasion of the moles, the faster and mightier they grew. And, then, just when I felt like I might be gaining ground, the game would flip and I was the whacked versus being the whacker. No matter where or when I appeared or disappeared, I was getting whacked by moles for not being in the right place at the right time.

For most of my life, I had been rowing gently down the stream. You know … a merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream kind of stream. In that world I had everything, including me, under control. Happy family. Happy kids. Happy grand-kids. Happy wife. Happy career. Happy past. Happy present. And, happy dreams of a happy future.

I was a Life is Good T-Shirt.

However … when members of my core family began to disappear off of this planet, my dreams took a beating. Too much. Too overwhelmed. Too scared. Too uncertain about what was next. Too disoriented to know where or what next was. I hoped it was all a fleeting dream … a bad dream. I pinched myself to determine if I was awake. The pain verified that I most certainly was … and then, just as certainly, that I was not.

The dreams were just rewinding, getting ready to terrify and torment me all over again.

My blogs have given me great relief … but not a cure. Your support has been powerful, but it hasn’t filled the void … the emptiness down deep within my soul. About the time I would memorialize and find acceptance with one memory, zillions more competed for my attention. Pick me. Pick me. Pick me. Unrelenting. Unforgiving. Unbearable.

In my dreams I was caught in a riptide. I was being tossed and turned like flotsam and jetsam. I had to come up for air or I knew I would perish. I didn’t need a another story-line. I needed a lifeline.

As the riptide I was swimming against was taking me under, I could hear my wife, Melissa, “Swim with the riptide, Tom. For God’s sake, swim with it!”

When I didn’t respond, she dove in to save me. Her steady voice echoed in my head, “… Tom, swim with it.”

My dad was standing behind his pulpit. His robe was blowing in the wind. “The lesson, son, is to swim with the riptides life throws you or they will rip your heart and soul out and wash you away. We need you. We all need you, son. The land of the living needs you.” As I watched and listened, my dad faded into the heavens. I tried to grab his robe, but it was beyond my reach.

I heard Melissa scream, “Amen, the land of the living needs you, Tom.”

My sister, Nel, and Mom were part of a circle of robed figures, singing in a choir of angels:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home

The entire congregation of moles joined in and became one harmonious voice with Nel, Mom and the angels:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Thank the good Lord, it was a wake-up call and my eyes were wide open.

Though I was lying on the shore now, out of harms way, lessons were still storming through my head.

Don’t deny grief. But, don’t let its darkness take you down. Heed the warning signs. Don’t go it alone. Search for, seek and find the light. Look for the more in life. We need you. We all need you. Melissa’s voice still pounded like crashing waves inside my brain, “Swim with the riptide, Tom, for God’s sake, swim with it!”

So, now, by some mighty amazing grace, I am back and feeling up to blogging on occasion … maybe. And, I am learning how to swim with riptides. I am learning how to live life, not as it was, but as it is, again.

“Most people, though, manage to make their way through the painful stages of grief and eventually regain their emotional balance. What they need desperately are caring friends and relatives who allow them to grieve in their own way, at their own pace and who, above all, will not insist that they act like their “old selves.” For no one who has suffered a terrible loss will ever be their old self again. They may be a different self or even a better self, but they will never regain the identity that was untouched by grief.” – Susan Jacoby

About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

9 responses »

  1. Deveron Timberlake

    Tom, this is the most profound explanation of grief that I have read. I am sorry but so glad that you put this out there. Yes, we need you. The world needs you. We so loved our evening with you and the incomparable Melissa and are always inspired by you – whether you realize it or not. Keep up the great thinking and writing, your gifts to us.

    Love

    D

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  2. Thanks Tom for this amazing post! The analogy of swimming with the riptide is so perfect. I have to remind myself sometimes too that all the paddling in the world won’t bring back what is lost and it keeps me (exhausted) from enjoying the precious moments – HERE and NOW.

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  3. Understand. Love you. Your mother always said you were a special boy!

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  4. I’ve missed you but you owe me no explanation. This was beautifully and powerfully done. Sometimes all we can do is hang on and go with it.

    MJ

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  5. Tom, my best to you. Just take care of yourself. You are too important in so many peoples lives. Sometime we just need to take a break and repower. Wish I could give you a hug but sounds as if your wife has that covered. Hug her back tight.

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  6. Oh, Tom. You have proven your humanity and your skill as a writer in taking us with you on your tumultuous journey. Thank you. And blessings on you and your family. Swim with the tide. Live in the moment.
    From my pk upbringing my mantra in such times becomes, “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you.”

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  7. Welcome back! And thank you so much for sharing. ☀winnie

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  8. Tom that is a wonderfully, accurate description of grief. Too often we fight against it, but by doing so, we only stay mired in it. Healing occurs when we learn to quit fighting. Missed your blog posts, but I’m so glad to hear you are taking care and swimming with the riptide. Love to you and Melissa! Fran

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  9. Pingback: On the Other Side of Fear | My 91 Year Old Mom

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