Today I want to tell yout the truth about grief and loss.
Sunday marked four years since I had the privilege of being by my mother’s side for her death. Her death fell in in the time frame of a miscarriage, making the decision to leave a job I knew I could no longer do and the unexpected death of my grandmother four months later. With both of these deaths, I also began the process of deconstructing their physical lives by going through their estates while my own life was deconstructed from loss.
The truth about grief and loss is it is present every day. Grief makes you feel like you are going crazy. Grief presents a filter in which the world is presented in black and white. Grief takes things from you but equally, in time, will give you new things. Grief presents itself in ways other than death in the loss of friendships, moves, job losses and unreachable dreams.
The truth about my own grief and loss is I have walked hand and hand with it from the time I was born.
Born with health issues, I came into this world grieving the ability to be a “normal’ child. I never allowed this to hold me back but from a young age I often had to work harder to make the team and to be accepted. Loss continued with me at the sudden death of my father in an accident. After that, we moved to a new city and years later there was the death of my grandfather and other family members.
Trained and working as a grief counselor for 12 years, I have at times been considered an “expert” in grief work. I began this space as a means of sharing the grief journey and trajectory of a grief counselor. I knew I was having to create a new life. My hope was to honor the thousands of clients I have sat with individually and in group sessions. I wanted to share that an expert is no different than anyone else.
Grief and loss is exhausting. I believe that above all else, every griever is overwhelmed at the physical toll of emotions. Many of this comes from caregiving before a death but we also struggle with grieving every minute of every day after a death. One can avoid the pain by traveling, working too much or finding new relationships. The fact is grief can sometimes feel like a small coin that is carried in your pocket or a huge boulder you must drag around.
The truth about grief is there are moments in time that one can not remember or does not know how they got through. I remember getting the news of my Grandmother’s cancer and physically sitting in the floor of a friend’s kitchen and questioning how I would get through it.
And we do things because we have to. Auto-pilot becomes necessity. For protection, there becomes a detachment of significant emotion. None of us can survive without the luxury of shock. God’s anesthesia is what I have often called it.
I began this grief journey determined that I would be better for it.
I knew there was not a right or wrong way to grieve; only healthy and unhealthy. I’ve worked with many individuals who have been judged by their friends, family and society for not behaving as is expected. Unrealistic expectations of others makes grieving even more difficult.
All along, grief has never scared me. Years of my own grief and sitting with clients has provided me with the knowledge that grief will only destroy you if you allow it to.
I went into this journey knowing the “normal” responses of grief. My education had taught me theories and over time I had developed my own mixed style of counseling with clients. No two people have the same fingerprints and no two individuals will grieve the same way. I had lost my father at a young age but the emotions I felt as an adult at the loss of my mother and grandmother would be different. A loss I have chosen to not be extremely public about is the estrangement that grew between my younger brother and I after the deaths. To say the least, I experienced all of the emotions.
I became a doer during my initial grief. I like order and lists and it helped to work on estates. I began to feel the physical effects of my grief immediately. The emotions I attempted to intellectualize with my knowledge of theories and grief information made themselves known with flare ups of my autoimmune issues and back issues. My therapists reminded me of this. I found relief in the form of acupuncture,good integrative health physicians, long walks with a friend and journal writing (which often included this blog).
The truth about grief and loss is that our lives feel as if they have stopped but the world keeps moving.
Bills need to be paid. Appointments and decisions met. Marriages occur and babies are born. Work life must resume.
The truth about grief and loss is the world wants you to return to normal. Pain and loss scares individuals and there is a fear that your experience could be catching, like the flu or other communicable diseases. If it isn’t addressed, it didn’t exist and individuals feel comfortable and safe. Our society prefers avoidance.
But the grieving individual struggles.
The truth about my grief and loss is I had coworkers and friends who were uncomfortable with my grief. They couldn’t address my losses. It scared them. As these individuals didn’t know what to say to me, we begin to lose touch. Eventually, the nothingness that was said created an emptiness where there was nothing to connect us.
Those relationships became another loss in the cycle for me.
On the opposite side, my losses created new relationships and developed even stronger friendships. Those who were once acquaintances reached out in support and friendships developed which may have never existed. With death, one becomes a member of a club where initiation was never wanted. Often only the other members can speak your language.
Grief will take longer than anyone wants it to.
There is no magical timeline of dates and events. Although many state the first year is the hardest, with the experiences of myself and my clients I have found it is the years following that can be the most difficult. After awhile, the shock is no longer there for protection. Like most every griever, over time I hesitated to discuss it with some. One worries that no one wants to hear about the pain of wanting to pick up the phone and hear a loved one’s voice. Friends forget that the second holiday season without your loved ones can hurt more than the first one. Over time I even began to write less in this space. I didn’t want my world to be all about grief. Nonetheless, at times grief has been most of my world.
Society wants one to return to “normal”. What society often doesn’t realize is one must create a “new normal’. A new normal becomes the life without those and the things that were lost. It takes time, energy and is exhausting.
I was told my several individuals at the beginning of this journey that I was brave for wanting to share my emotions. I felt I had not choice but to do so. Of course, I have edited many thoughts but I have purposefully made the decision to not make changes in the earliest posts about my grief. Most of those posts were unedited and often raw. Those were the true emotions of grief.
It is important for me to add that although time passes, time in itself is not a healer. When one is grieving, it is important to take an active role in the process. Without work on emotions, time can pass and one can still hold the initial pain. This pain will eventually hold one back and limit how wonderful life can be.
During the initial days after my Mom’s death, someone stated to me “The pain will never get better.”
I immediately responded, “Yes it will. I know it does.” I had years of clients who had lost babies, children, parents, spouses and often in horrific ways to remind of this.
I will tell you that I have struggled over the past four years. In ways that many will never know. In the beginning, I spent sleepless nights watching all of the Mad Men episodes. There were also nights I simply wrapped myself up in my great grandmother’s quilt in our guest bedroom as to not wake my husband. I did more wondering and wandering that I care to acknowledge. I kept pushing myself forward each day and looking back, I wish I had allowed myself time to simply do nothing.
From the beginning of my caregiving with my Mom, I questioned if it was helpful to have the knowledge that I possessed. There is comfort in knowing what to expect but at the same time this knowledge is never fully able to prepare one for the impact and pain. I believe there may have been times when I utilized my expertise to hide from the rawness of what I was feeling. One does what is needed in order to protect herself. What I have discovered is being an expert can not exclude one from the normalcy of human emotions.
One can never say they are finished grieving. On occasion, such as anniversary dates, birthdays and some holidays, I miss what I no longer have. Nonetheless, I remind myself of how grateful I am to have had what I have had in my life and to focus upon what I do have.
The truth about grief and loss is there is not one of us who will escape it.
What we do with the experience is totally up to each of us.