So often, its only after you lose someone or something that you realize how important they are to you. Grief has so many ways of making this point; the nagging, empty feeling, the disorientation, the almost out of body aloneness. The great and wise philosopher Lemony Snicket said it best for me,
It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
Ive felt grief just like that. The steps of grief aren’t predictable like a staircase in perfect light. Grief is more like losing your footing in the dark. The denial stage of grief is not so much an outright denial as if nothing has happened, but more of a gradual awakening to a new reality that no longer includes your loved one. It comes through all the “firsts” that you don’t anticipate; the first time you walk into a meeting he’s usually at, the first Mother’s Day without her, the first time you see his Facebook profile pop up on your screen. The sickly feeling follows, and the disorientation, and eventually these random reminders give way to outright sadness.
Sadness has so many faces, and they all bite hard.
The question is, how do you find solid ground again once loss and grief take away that top step? How do you readjust the way you think about things?
Learn to Have Grief Without Grief Having You
Grief never fully leaves you. It just changes and you have to change with it. Anne Lamott said grief is “like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
There are cold days when your grief feels arthritic. But there are also other, more limber days, when the spring in your step surprises you and there’s no shame in this. Dance with a limp, live with the pain and roll with the punches. What else can you do? Trust what the experience of millions has confirmed; that grief comes in waves and like a wave, grief does subside with time. When the wave of grief feels overwhelming, stay with it and remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. Fight the waves, and you will exhaust yourself. Go with them, and they will subside more quickly and you will become stronger with every passing wave. Nothing can be transformed until it is fully accepted.
And then at some surprising moment you find yourself moving freely and look back to realize that the old grief has become too small for you. Not only are you ready to move on, but you realize you already have.
You come to the incredible realization that grief is ONE part of your life, and even if it feels all consuming at times, you are more than your grief. Grief, like all e-motion is energy in motion. Its always moving. It doesn’t need to define you.
And grief itself liberates you by showing you that its not one, unchanging thing. Grief turns on a dime. It visits and leaves. Elisabeth Kubler Ross offers a visual analogy for changing emotions. She says that grief emotions will come and go. When they knock at your door, let them in, and say “Oh. It’s you. Come on in.” Entertain them, get to know them, talk to them. Let them have the run of your house for a while. Maybe keep some space apart from them. Don’t set a space at the dinner table for them. Grief knows not to outstay its welcome.
There is an incredible alchemy in grief. Burned in the fire of sadness, strength is born. In the crucible of chaos, character is born. From wounds, wisdom. From grief, growth.
You will never be the same person again, because now you are a stronger, more aware, more compassionate version of yourself. Grief is the ultimate tribute to the dear departed. It is the price you pay for love and you know you wouldn’t have it any other way. From this perspective, memories don’t haunt, they heal and you find many ways to honor your loss by expressing kindness and care for others caught in grief’s gridlock.
As Earl Grollman, the Rabbi who pioneered crisis intervention, said, “The only cure for grief is grief.”