Some thoughts on grief.

This is not a popular opinion, but I love grief.

I know that sounds a little crazy. And trust me, it’s taken a while for me to get to this point. No one experiences pain and immediately thinks, “Oh good! I’m so glad this is happening!” I’m not that insane.

We normally equate grief with death. I hear “grief” and I picture a widow at her husband’s funeral, dressed in a tasteful black dress and crying quietly, still in shock. She is devastated… he is gone and life doesn’t make sense now. What is she supposed to do? How is she supposed to live in this world without him, ALONE? It isn’t fair; this wasn’t her choice… It’s heartbreaking.

***

I think grief has gotten a bad rap. We want to avoid it and we pity those going through it. We see it as an inconvenience, something negative that will impact the happy lives we are trying to cultivate. Grief is uncomfortable, not only for the person experiencing it but also for the people around them. And we don’t like feeling uncomfortable.

We talk about the “grief process” and the “stages of grief” as if there is a step-by-step plan for how to get through it faster. Get it over with and MOVE ON.

But it just doesn’t work that way.

Ask anyone who has lost a loved one. You don’t ever “get over it.” Yes, life continues to move on, but that person is never forgotten; memories of them will still produce feelings of sadness and loss (and joy!). The painful truth is, grief never really ENDS.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor should you want to.”
-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

***

I have come to appreciate grief and see it as a natural part of life as much as any other emotional reaction. Emotions come and go. All of them are temporary states that can change from moment to moment.

As hard as we try to cling to the positive emotions all the time, the negative ones are just as prevalent. They all sit right below the surface, waiting for a catalyst to ignite them. Happiness when we spend time with a friend, anger when someone cuts us off on the freeway, or grief and shock when something is unexpectedly taken from us.

We all experience loss. Grief does not need to be set aside as the pinnacle of suffering after the death of a loved one. It is a natural emotional reaction to any change or loss we may experience.

Grief can come through the loss of a job or missing out on a promotion. Maybe our health falters or we move out of a house we loved. Doubts about our faith, changing our beliefs, or leaving a particular church can initiate a period of grief. And, of course, loss of a relationship of any kind; whether it be a friendship, a family member, or a marriage. In many cases, relationship losses are actually the result of another loss… the loss of trust and safety (emotional or otherwise).

I think many people minimize their own grief and call it “disappointment” instead. Or hide behind their anger… it feels better to be angry than to be hurt. Our words and thoughts are powerful, and in our attempt to avoid pain, we don’t want to acknowledge how deeply these losses affect us.

Admitting we are hurt makes us vulnerable, while anger gives us a false sense of control. And we all long for control… we want to be in charge of our own lives. Loss is the sudden jolt of reality that reminds us just how little control we have.

***

To me, grief is the process of letting go of what we thought our life was going to be and accepting what it is.

Go ahead and read that again if you need to. I’ve read it like 72 times myself.

Acceptance… So much seems to come back to that word for me. (see here) I’m all about living in TRUTH these days. And living in truth means living in reality, no matter how hard it may be to accept. Shit happens and life really sucks sometimes… but it can’t be undone.

Grief is what gets us from our old reality to our new one.

This is a HARD THING. I do not want to minimize just how hard this is by making it sound simple. Simple is not the same as easy. It is also an extremely personal thing… each person will grieve in their own way, at their own pace. There isn’t a race going on to see who can be done grieving the fastest.

If you are grieving and someone tells you to “get over it already” or says “isn’t it time to move on?”, punch them in the face and then tell THEM to “move on”.

*Rafiki voice* “It doesn’t matter! It’s in the past!” (DAMN MY BRAIN AND MOVIE REFERENCES.)

Rafiki was legit though… “Oh, yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.”

***

Grief has a lot to teach us about ourselves if we allow it to. It can change the way we see the whole world… filtering out the unnecessary noise and giving us a deeper appreciation of simplicity, beauty, and joy. The little things suddenly become the big things; our priorities are transformed.

Perhaps the most impactful thing *I* have learned through my grieving process is that we do not grieve something if we don’t care about it. When something hurts deeply, it’s because we CARED deeply. We loved deeply. And I find that to be extremely beautiful and reassuring.

I am proud of my grief. I am proud of my tender heart that feels SO MUCH. Yes, it hurts like hell sometimes; yes, there are days that I wish I could go back to my OLD reality; yes, I still have to fight off the anger from time to time. But at the end of the day, I would not want to give up the growth I’ve experienced as a result of the grief.

The pain has made me a better, more compassionate human. I can relate to those who are suffering on a much deeper level now. I get it. I see the world through a different lens, and I’m thankful for that.

***

Ultimately, I suppose I don’t LOVE grief… what I love is the healing that comes through it.

I love that I find beauty and joy all around me now. I have cried more than once in the past year just because the sky was so fucking beautiful. Not joking.

I love that I have doubted, questioned, and ultimately started to rebuild my faith from the ground up. I’ve discovered peace that I’ve never had before. My soul is at rest.

I love that my increased emotional awareness means I parent differently and can attempt to break the generational cycle of unresolved trauma. Raising four boys into healthy, well-adjusted men is not a task I am taking lightly.

And…

I love the ache I feel in my chest from time to time; it tells me that my heart is still soft and open. It’s a comfort to me now, knowing just how deep my capacity for love is. The empty cavity that grief leaves behind only increases the volume of love that can flood back in.

***

Grief and love are strands of the same thread… they are intertwined, and you cannot have one without the other. The only way to avoid grief is to avoid love.

Love is never a waste of time. I am thankful for the love I have lost, comforted by the love I have now, and excited about the love that is waiting in my future. I want my life to be full of love… and to open my heart to love, I am choosing to open it to grief as well.

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