Updated: Jun 13, 2021
I've been a bit down in the dumps this last week, I'm guessing because we are approaching the anniversary of my father's death (6 years), as well as that of my brother (5 years). And, unfortunately, my mother's anniversary looms in the foreseeable future as well. Of course, Ohio's blah, grey winter days certainly don't help (maybe a little seasonal affective disorder at play?), as don't some new overwhelming physical issues I'm currently dealing with, but I can feel grief tipping the scales once again. Sigh…
It seems as though many of us come to grief with the mistaken assumption that it is something we will eventually move past, even though experience dictates that simply isn't the case. Why, after the magnitude of experience there is with grief is there still this shroud of secrecy and misinformation at play? Is it because as a society we don't like to talk about death, let alone prepare for it? Is it because we simply want to believe we'll move beyond it? Is it because we want to think we are in control of our lives since it can so often feel as though we are not? As if we have control over the heartache that exists behind the scenes and buried under the hubbub of life, we seem surprised when it rears its ugly head and catches us off guard again. Why do we do this?
I certainly don't presume to speak for others, especially since everyone's journey with grief is different, but I believe this realization that I've come to is actually a sign that I'm moving forward again. I'm not thinking about my loss and my grief every single day. It means I've moved to a stage where my grief goes dormant for increasingly longer periods of time but is re-triggered by stressful events (physical or emotional) and/or by anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. In my case, the stress of the new physical ailments I'm contending with, coupled with the approaching anniversary dates, created the perfect storm to trigger grief anew. I think my ability to recognize this means I've likely entered a new stage in the grieving process, but I'm not an expert by any means, so take from this whatever resonates with you.
All of this is not to say I'm entirely beyond the element of surprise when it happens to me (it OFTEN still catches me off guard!!), but I have learned a great deal in these last several years of recurring surprise visits. Most important, perhaps, I've learned how to navigate my grief well enough that each time I do manage to find the 'exit grief' sign again, I feel a sense of gratitude for what I've learned. Not relief, mind you, but actual gratitude! Allow me to explain.
First, when old grief decides to make a new appearance, I believe you must acknowledge that GRIEF is what is weighing you down, and I believe you must do this every single time grief reappears. Don't try to deny it, don't blame it for bad timing, don't ignore it, don't tell yourself you'll deal with it later, don't try to push it away, and don't berate yourself with thoughts that succumbing to more grief somehow makes you weak. It doesn't! It makes you human! It means your heart was wounded deeply. It means there are now holes and jagged terrain where there was once the smooth and predictable surface that is love. Admit and accept that grief has returned.
Next, you MUST label the feelings you’re experiencing. Allow yourself permission to be sad or mad or whatever you are feeling, and give to yourself the gift of time for introspection, decompressing, and cleansing! That process can involve punching, walking, running, hiking, spending time in nature, doing nothing, yoga, weight lifting, extra sleeping, crying, talking to someone, writing, or any and all of the above. That cleansing process can last a day, a week, or even a month or more. There is no timeline, and there is no way to rush ahead to the finish line. You must allow recognition of the overwhelming feelings, but also the room in your life for the processing of those feelings and their accompanying thoughts, which is to say, the cleansing! The more space you create for this, the more quickly you will get to the other side.
For me, this cleansing usually means the inability to accomplish much of anything other than being alone with my feelings, giving myself the space and permission to cry, and writing my way to the other side (writing is how I process my thoughts). It usually means a day or two of off and on near guttural sobs...a full-fledged melt-down of my heart feeling broken all over again. I never knew I could cry this many tears, and at my age it seems many griefs can pile on top of each in search of release once I allow those floodgates to open. The sobs tell me I've been holding it in and I need to let go. Usually it feels as though I'm releasing way more than I can easily identify, but the key is I'm letting it out and getting it out! I picture myself as a hurting little girl in desperate need of love and I wrap my adult arms around that little wounded girl inside me and I let her cry it out.
It's amazing how much we block our emotions, or at least unconsciously hold them at bay. But to move beyond them, to move to the next stage of grief and self-awareness, we must first learn to acknowledge our emotions, even learn to love them, so-to-speak. If we are to keep moving forward, we must offer to ourselves the same love, compassion, and empathy that we tend to offer so freely to others. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a culture that deems worthy, even noble, the giving of self to others, but judges the giving of self to the self as selfish. We need to change this misconception, for it's absolutely true that one who fills their own cup first is much better equipped to share of their cup lovingly and unconditionally with others.
Finally, we must accept that there will always be grief. Yes, there are stages to progress through, but grief is never done; it is lifelong. Grief simply changes the way it presents itself as we continue to adapt in our handling of it and as our growth and understanding evolve. Time does ease the severe sting, but the feelings of sorrow continue to live with us and to expand us in unexpected and unimaginable ways.
Ultimately, and perhaps even coincidentally, I believe it's this very awareness of and attention given to our feelings, and our subsequent journey into self-love, that helps to move us out of our limited space-time consciousness and into a more perceptive, intuitive, loving, and forgiving spiritual-based consciousness. The more we tune in to the frequency that is God-love, starting with our own self-love, the more we become aware of what we need and how best to meet those needs. It is this self-awareness that allows us to slowly untangle from the limiting constraints of excuse: anger, judgement, and jealousy, which are all ego-based emotions generally stemming from insecurity, inexperience, unawareness, and/or avoidance of our own needs, and certainly emotions that hinder our attempts to reach our full potential.
As we mindfully pay attention to what we are feeling and why we are feeling this way, the self slowly learns that there is no reason to be fearful or to feel insecure, for it is being heard, it is being supported, it is being loved. It learns to trust, not judge. When we learn to honor who we are - fully embracing our strengths and weaknesses - and giving to the self what it needs when it needs it, we naturally blossom. We open the door to our own destiny. We walk in the light of truth and radiate love and harmony. Life flows with progressively more ease and with increasing abundance. We start to manifest what we desire. Our dreams become our reality. We are able to give and receive with perfect balance.
It's this same love, the one that started with us loving and giving to our own self first, that then allows us to more lovingly give to others what they need, while also deepening our awareness of and unity with God. This, as I see it, is the gift of grief, and the one for which I am most grateful. Grief slowly and purposefully forces us on a journey of self-reflection that, if accepted, leads us home to our true self, and in so doing we discover the meaning of life: how to love.
Accept the journey that befriending grief offers. Be willing to go within and feel deeply that which is hidden there, for nothing, absolutely nothing, will open you and give you the answers you seek more than grief.
Here’s to lifelong learning through the lessons of grief.