The hardest funerals to attend are the ones for people who are still living.

I found myself studying all of the empty graves lined up inside of my heart—graves that had no bodies to fill them, only the memories of people I loved very much and the ghosts whispering that they were gone. As much as I wished I could erase those memories and people from my heart, they continued to haunt me for years.

I didn’t want to live with a broken heart that was full of regrets, and yet escaping it seemed impossible. I was trapped in the infinite maze of denial. Regardless of how fast I ran or what route I took, I consistently landed at the same dead end. The outcome never changed: I was alone. The ghosts that haunted my heart were relentless. No matter how loud my soul screamed, I couldn’t drown out their constant voices.

Eventually that denial turned to anger, then despair, then slowly I began to accept that things would never be as they once were. As much as I knew that it was my own self-destruction that caused all of these relationships to suffer an untimely death, that fact didn’t take away the pain of the heartbreak, or ease the anguish of losing so many people I sincerely loved. I felt betrayed. I felt as though none of them could have ever genuinely loved me or they wouldn’t have found it so easy to turn and walk away, as if I had never mattered.

Regardless of the reason, it hurts to be discarded.

The storm that rampaged through my life was massive. It destroyed everything in its path and left nothing standing in its wake. What would take years for me to realize is that my destiny was calling, it just came cloaked in destruction. I had existed by displaying a façade of happiness and success to the world. When the storm hit and the mask was ripped away, I had no idea who I was.

My world had been obliterated, and the staggering silence that remained was filled only with questions. Whether I had been living behind the safety of a masquerade or not, I was still incredibly broken and a huge part of me had died. It was as if I needed to perform an autopsy of my heart to answer the questions that would ultimately allow me to begin to heal and rebuild.

Who was I? What went wrong? Why was I still here? How could I heal? How could I make sure this never happened again? What did God have in mind? I knew I had to figure it all out, and that process turned out to be equally as hard as surviving the original disaster.

In almost every culture, death is seen as some type of transformation. I felt as though I had died in every sense of the word, except for the annoying fact that I had a pulse and my heart was still beating. I desperately needed to heal so that I could begin to experience life without everything first marching through the swampland of my pain. One thing I knew for certain: I had lost enough people.

I was desperate for my rebirth; I was ready to begin again.

During those incredibly transformative years, I went through the entire kaleidoscope of feelings. I would be hit with a tidal wave of emotions, many times changing from happiness to despair in a matter of hours. I was constructing a foundation from scratch and it would easily topple when the winds of stress would blow. Each time, though, I would slowly gather my broken pieces and start constructing myself and my world again. I was fragile and building emotional strength takes repetition. The ghosts of my past were never far away during this process. They relentlessly rattled their chains, disturbing the peace that was beginning to echo down the hallways of my heart.

Healing and transformation are a tediously slow process.

Eventually I realized that the person I once was no longer existed. Everyone had their opinions of who I was, and many of them weren’t so positive. Accepting the fact that the intentions in my heart didn’t always translate into what others experienced took a while. People had a right to feel however they felt, and that was something I had to respect. Ultimately, I couldn’t change anything that had happened in the past. I needed to stop trying to breathe life back into relationships that already been declared dead.

It was time to visit the Cemetery of my Soul. Surprisingly, walking through the memories that were created with the people I had loved no longer brought me to tears. One-by-one, I visited the empty graves of the friendships and loves I had lost—people who still walk the earth. I remembered the beautiful times we experienced together and I thanked God for the seasons we shared. I apologized for the mistakes I had made, for the hurts I had caused, and I told them each that in spite of those errors, I had loved them the best way I knew how at the time. I filled the empty graves with prayers of happiness and love for each one of them. Then I decided to never visit again. It was time to let them rest in peace.

Through it all, I learned that grave-digging never suited me.

Living in the past prevented me from embracing my future. For my entire life, I had been lost. I’d never really considered it before, but how strangely odd is it, that the lost and found are contained in the same box? I could only find the answers as to what could heal my heart, by digging into what had practically killed it. The very chaos that had almost destroyed me, bloomed into something beautiful on top of the grave that contained what was once my life.

The happiness I feel today is simple. I am no longer frightened or saddened by the poltergeists of my past. The joy that is in my laughter may very well stir the entire graveyard and rouse the ghosts that lurk there, but there’s no longer a void in my heart for them to haunt. Rather than existing with a soul full of tombstones and regrets, I prefer to decorate the front porch of my heart with the beautiful new existence God has blessed me with.

It is well with my soul.

Author

Kelley graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in sociology (BA -1989) and a master’s degree in counseling (MSED 1991) and was a licensed social worker for 27 years. Following a lengthy career in social services, in 2017 Kelley began writing and speaking full time. Her first book, You Have Such a Pretty Face, is a memoir detailing the emotional journey of being morbidly obese and the surprising, catastrophic changes brought on by her 243-pound weight loss following bariatric surgery in 2002. Gunter also digs into the trauma she suffered from a childhood riddled with sexual abuse, (abuse that was never disclosed), that contributed to not only her initial weight gain, but the cross addictions she developed following her initial weight loss and 18-year successful maintenance of that loss. Sober now for four years, Kelley applies her therapeutic knowledge to the painful reality that weight loss doesn't heal the trauma that contributed to the initial weight gain, nor does it systematically prevent the high likelihood that cross addictions can and may develop in patients who don't acknowledge that trauma. Kelley’s story of survival and writing have been featured internationally, being spotlighted on both The Daily Mail TV Show and The Daily Mail Website twice, making the Australian National News, trending in London, and was also featured on the cover of People Magazine in South Africa. Kelley has made appearances on LA Talk Radio, Good Morning Cincinnati and Living Dayton. She is the creator of the Facebook group, The Trauma Tribe, an administrator in the Facebook group, Victims of Violent Crime, and author of the popular blog, Ramblings from the Homecoming Queen of Crazy Town. She is currently finishing her second memoir, The Homecoming Queen of Crazy Town.

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