Niamh Ennis: ‘One day everything changed and grief arrived at my door’
Grief can be a good teacher, writes Niamh Ennis, but only if you're prepared to do the work
There are lots of big questions floating around in the ether. Why are we here? Are we alone? Is Mr William Gates keeping tabs on us all? Big existential questions.
For my part, this first question comes with its very own answer. I know now exactly why am I here. I really do and maybe reading this might even help you discover why it is that you’re here? I didn’t always know why I was here. Truth be told I didn’t think about it in any depth for most of my life. I was too busy getting on with the business of living to contemplate why I was living. I was working from a template to tell me where I should be at any given point of my life, the same one everyone else appeared to be using and that was good enough for me.
And so I stuck to the template. Sit the Leaving Certificate: tick. Go to university: tick. Repeat exams: bonus tick. Get job: tick. Take year out and travel: tick. Meet boy: tick, tick, tick. Have boy propose: tick. and on it goes. So far, so good. Nothing controversial there and nothing out of the ordinary. I was in control and I was ticking my way through life.
Then one day everything changed and grief arrived at my door. After its first visit it left me, as only grief can; shocked, stunned and saddened. It wasn’t done with me yet though. It returned four short months later, this time leaving me devastated, dishevelled and totally distraught. It knew not to even close the door behind it, and on its third visit it came right in and finished the job leaving me utterly broken.
In the years that followed, I tried so very hard to make sense of just why this happened to me. At first, I asked the question “why me, why this, why?” in what I can only describe was a whiny, poor me, victim-like voice. But over time I found myself searching for an answer that might help explain it. It didn’t make sense that I would have those closest to me die and for me to be left behind unless I could attribute a meaning to it.
I believed that if I was serious about trying to move on from this, if there was any chance at all that I could attempt to rebuild my life, then I would need to have a much deeper understanding of what this experience had not just taught me, but what it was telling me about myself.
Grief felt like a teacher waiting in the wings.
It didn’t take all that long for me to recognise that if I wanted there to be a meaning or a purpose behind it all, that it was going to be entirely up to me to explore that. It was my responsibility. Nobody else could, would or even should do it.
So in spite of me feeling at my lowest, I made a very big decision and took a year’s sabbatical from my much loved, secure, permanent and pensionable job, moved country and found myself sitting in the Spanish hills, staring out a window, wondering, “okay, right, I’m here now, so what next?”
I’d love to tell you that I found myself there in Spain and that everything quickly and easily fell into place for me. I didn’t and it didn’t. But what it did mark was the beginning of my healing. I went inwards and started the necessary work on myself; which was to try and find out exactly who was it I wanted to be, and some idea on how would I become her. This bit was especially hard. I simply had no idea what she would look like, think like or feel like. I had no reference point.
That year away in Spain also clearly confirmed for me that there had to be a better way for me to live my life than how I had been back home. The real work, the deep work, began when I returned to Ireland. As well as not knowing what I wanted, or where I wanted to go next, I also had to admit to myself that I had been looking for answers in all of the wrong places. As an avoidance technique, I’d partied too hard and too often. I knew that had to stop. There could be no more running.
I cannot begin to describe what it feels like when you stop running. The instant relief combined with pure terror for what you are about to face. I had a strong sense that this work would require me to look at myself and those I was spending time with in a new way and that I might not love everything I would see.
That was exactly what happened.
I worried a lot, okay far too much, about how all of this would look from the outside. What would people think? What would they say? How would they judge me? Because I knew they would judge me.
I worried about talking about having found comfort in my spirituality, how the soul work I was doing, was opening up a part of me that I had forgotten was there. I now fully celebrate that I reconnected with that part of myself, but back then I worried about the optics.
I worried about publishing my writing which to me was airing my private experiences and feelings publicly and wondered what people would think about what I was sharing. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever inwardly cringe before I publish any of my written words, even today, but I do it so much less.
It’s all very different now. I write now it in the hope it will resonate with someone who needs to hear what I am writing about. It will serve to show them that grief is hard, and it never gets easier, but when it comes down to it we all have a choice as to whether we let what happens in our lives define us or shape us. I’ve done both. I firmly believe now that losing so many people close to me happened FOR me not to me. I believe that the best way I can honour them and their memories is to use this experience to help and benefit others.
I believe that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m using what I love to do, what lights me up most, writing, to help inspire others that even when life feels tough you keep going. Yes you slow down, you pause, you feel, you process, you integrate, you take all the time in the world that you need and then you get up and make sense of it all.
I show them that absolutely bad things do happen to good people. But good people can go on to become better people as a result of it.
If that sounds cheesy or trite then I’m okay with that. I can live with that now.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme for women going through their own Chiron Return and host of The TOUGH LOVE ENERGY™ Podcast. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need.