I ran into it when I wasn't looking.
You know how it is, you're charging ahead, not really paying attention to what's going on around you (let alone what's right in front of you), and BAM, right into a brick wall.
Only in my case, that brick wall was SILENCE!!
Yes, you heard me correctly, I crashed head-on into silence.
Perhaps you've experienced it, when in the early morning hours of o-dark- thirty you're taking your first sips of coffee and you suddenly hear it...
The deafening quiet.
I'm talking zero sound - no TV, no kids or family bustling around, no dishwasher or shower running, no furnace or central air or fan or other white noise running in the background, no outside nature sounds creeping in through open windows, no nothing. As in NO sound whatsoever...And it hits you like a giant splat!
Or at least it did me, and it took me DOWN instantly!
Down to full-on sobbing tears.
Down to the kind of tears I hadn't let loose in quite some time, all because I recognized in one giant all-consuming swoosh, the profound beauty and peace of dead silence.... all because I instantly recognized that this 'quieter-than-silence' called me to it, as though I was being called to God...to love.
Regardless, in an instant, a combination of sorrow mixed with extreme love overwhelmed me and I somehow intuitively understood what was happening. I was forced to admit to myself that I was deep in the muck of new grief...a grief I hadn't been allowing myself to fully feel - the grief of letting go of my long career of working with and teaching children - the grief of the huge life change that is 'retirement.'
Yes, I was aware I was feeling a little sad. I was aware that my life change had come with some melancholy. And I was aware that I was struggling a bit to find my way. But truth be told, I wasn't allowing myself to admit just how hard it is, or just how deeply I'm actually grieving the loss of the life I knew for 31 years. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that I've been giving myself NO grace. Instead, I've been pushing harder and harder to see my way through to what's next while simultaneously beating myself up for a perceived lack of progress and productivity to that end (classic me).
But you know what, because it has not often been the case for me in my grief journey, there was a certain comfort for me in both my awareness and my acknowledgment of what was happening to me in that moment... in my instant acceptance (rather than avoidance) of the deep pain... in my allowing of the feelings, and the tears, and the self-love.
So often I think we push to the background whatever is happening inside us - whatever is causing that uneasiness or uncomfortableness or heartache. We push it aside in the name of inconvenience, or we busy our self so we can secretly pretend we aren't aware, or we tough it out thinking, "If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other," or we hope whatever it is that is bothering us will go away if we ignore it long enough.
In my case, my mode-of-operandi has all too often been to bowl right through whatever is standing in my way. I'm strong. I'm resilient. I'm a fighter. "You've got this," I tell myself. And I do, until I don't.
But grief doesn't wait for the perfect un-busy moment in our life, or for us to decide when we're ready (darn it if I don't know this, but like everyone I sometimes have to be reminded...lol). Grief chooses its timing. You can try to ignore it, and that may work for a short time or even a long time, but eventually grief screams to be felt, to be deciphered, to be digested, to be understood, and to be released from the body. Because when it's not - when it's ignored and left to fester long enough - it likes to settle deep in our cells, eventually wreaking havoc in the form of self-abuse, addiction, illness, disease, crumbling relationships, and other emotionally based crises that can cross over and manifest in physical ailments.
You see when we lose something our heart holds dear, it must be grieved in order for us to effectively move forward with our life. It can be a child moving to college, a loved one lost to death, the loss of a functioning part of our body, the loss of a close friendship, a cherished career left behind, a move to another state, a divorce, the loss of a beloved pet, etc. All of these are losses of a way of life, a way of being/existing in the world - losses of a significant piece of who we are, how we think/plan, move about, and organize our everyday - losses that leave us in a new place we don't recognize - losses that by the sheer nature of their value/importance in our heart (and the hole their loss leaves behind), must effectively be let go, slowly grieved out of everyday existence, and in many cases slowly enshrined in a type of memory that forgets/forgives the worst and remembers the best.
Mourning loss is certainly far more complicated than simply crying, of course, though I'm here to tell you that crying (WHEN the emotions hit!!) cannot be over emphasized as an important piece of the grieving equation. No, mourning is also an extremely personal and complicated process of letting go while simultaneously redefining our entire existence without that person or item in our everyday life. It is relearning how to move and be and think and feel and do. It is effectively unlearning (releasing) one way of living, and learning (accepting) a whole new one, and while doing so, learning more about the self than we would likely ever knowingly choose to take on if given a choice.
Why do I say we likely wouldn't choose to learn more about our self? Because, let's face it, self-work is hard, and we often avoid it. But grief doesn't let us off the hook. Through grief's process of self-discovery, we are forced to wrestle with the ever demanding and domineering ego in union with heavy concepts such as guilt, forgiveness, hope, gratitude, and other religious and/or philosophical beliefs. Why did this happen? What role (if any) did I play? Am I good enough? Did I do enough? Did I make a difference? Where did I fail? What could I have done differently? What if...? Did I miss something? Am I worthy of being forgiven for my shortcomings? What is the meaning of life? What now? How do I go on? What happens after we die? Etc... etc...
In short, as we struggle to come to terms with loss, we essentially struggle with our role, our purpose, our place, our beliefs, our routine, our shortcomings, and our identity, none of which are simple concepts by themselves, and all of which require us to take a deep dive within. But in accepting this part of life - in fully embracing it - we not only continue to learn and evolve, but we also grow in the one thing we are here on earth to most learn how to master - LOVE - love in all its multidimensional facets. For to love unconditionally -the way we all long to be loved- the way we are loved by God - is to accept that we are flawed and fallible yet worthy of being forgiven over and over as we continue to take steps in figuring out this complicated and beautiful thing called LOVE.
In essence, each time we grieve another loss of any kind it becomes another lesson in love, whether that love is the letting go kind, the acceptance kind, the sacrificial kind, the self-love kind, the forgiveness kind, the divine kind, the not giving up kind, or more often than not some degree or combination of all of the above.
But here's the catch, there is an element of choice in the journey of grief, much as there is choice in everyday life. It may not feel like there is always choice, but to one degree or another it's always there knocking at our door, whispering in our ear, tugging at our heart, and asking us to listen and to learn. Sometimes we listen better than other times. Sometimes we just ignore it. Sometimes its whispers knock increasingly louder until we finally have no choice but to acknowledge them and do the work to move to the next level of love's enlightenment.
Such is the way of grief. Not every grief is as the result of the slow or sudden death of a loved one where it is obvious the long, difficult journey that is in store. Some griefs are slowly building aches that are easier to ignore, to push to the background of life and to deceive our self into thinking won't be as hard as we think or will eventually get better on their own (i.e.: my current grief). Some griefs we effectively manage to bury for years until something happens in our life to re-trigger their release. I don't know about you, but I have yet to encounter a grief of any kind that does not eventually force you to walk through it and deal with whatever lesson there may be, even if it's only to acknowledge the presence of the loss, accept the finality of whatever it is, and use some means (faith, support group, counseling, prayer, talking with friends, self-help reading, etc.) to move beyond it. And then there are the griefs that are so debilitating that we tend up take them in smaller chunks over time because to process any other way is simply too overwhelming or traumatic to the heart and brain, and too immobilizing to the body, but they are still being slowly digested and deciphered, and that's what's important.
There is no need to force grief. It will find you. Sometimes it whispers. Sometimes it bangs. Sometimes it literally takes you DOWN. But the secret is to listen when it comes, to do the work it asks of you when it asks (like NOW for me), and to lessen your grip on the reigns while trusting the process to guide you. The beauty of grief, if I can call it that, is that every loss gives us something even as it takes something away. For me, the gifts have been too many to adequately recount in the space here (but you can find quite a bit about this in my poems here on my website if you're interested) but suffice it to say that the personal growth that has come from self-reflection after loss, and the expansion in my faith from spiritual growth after loss, has been extraordinary.
I know I would not be who I am today had I not experienced and grieved the losses I have. Each one has gifted me with something for which I eventually found immense gratitude. Of course, it wasn't that way when I was in the thick of the worst of my pain, so please don't misunderstand what I am saying here. I know grief is HARD, but I also now understand that there is a complex kind of beauty in the struggle, that there are gifts in the revelations along the way (and when looking back), and there is gratitude for the extraordinary, winding twisty, joyous and painful journey that is life.
Embrace your grief for the lessons it wants to teach you. Let it all unfold in the timing and the manner that is chosen for you. There is no roadmap - no perfect formula...there is only an acceptance of the heart's journey to love. ALL of it - all of life (complete with the joy and the heartache) - is about love.
Oh, and if and when that brick wall of silence unexpectedly finds you, be sure to listen, and I'd be grateful if you could tell it thank you from me. ♥
So much love, always,