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“Well, everyone can master a grief but he that has it.” ~ William Shakespeare
I never understood grief.
I was young when my dad’s father died, then in my 30s when his mother passed. I cried, but I pushed those feelings down and didn’t allow myself the space to heal. I didn’t believe their grief was mine to feel. Each time someone close to me passed, I did not allow myself to feel the hurt. It caused a crack in my soul and a scar on my inner child that I can now see flowed through my body as aches and pains.
2021 was the year that all that emotion from past (and present) loss broke me open in a way that, to me, felt like I was drowning from the inside and suffocating from my own air. Shakespeare was right—it is truly hard to master grief when you’re the one who has it.
One lesson from last year is that no matter the relationship or the closeness you have with someone, we all need to allow ourselves the permission and space to grieve.
On January 25th, 2021, my best friend’s father died. This brought with it grief for the pain my friend was going through and the loss of a great man. I cried, but once again pushed the feelings aside and threw myself into work.
On June 16th, my grandmother—my favorite human since I was a little girl—passed at age 98. Even though I felt like a piece of my heart had fallen away, I still threw myself into work and turned my back on my inner child. All the hurt felt easy to push aside when living on the other side of the world, bridging a divide between my emotions and reality. They were all in Australia, while I was in the United States.
On December 17th, my father-in-law suddenly died. Finally, my emotions broke their barrier. My internal dam—that was now being held shut by matchsticks—could not withstand the cracks of grief my soul had collected over the years. This time, under the crushing weight of the emotional pressure, I finally gave myself permission to stop—to feel what felt like the most excruciating pain I had ever felt.
It felt like my heart was being torn open to outpour an entire lifetime’s worth of grief. I dove face-first into a cascade of tears that pooled down my cheeks and onto my pillow, and for the first time, I felt like I was the one dying.
The pandemic, the cost of flights, having no one to look after our cat, and my job made it challenging to get on a plane—although, I was ready! Knowing all this, my husband asked me to hold down the fort while he was in Australia, reeling from losing his father so suddenly. As much as he needed me, he had his sisters and a solid foundation from a town of people where his dad had lived since my husband was born.
Upon processing having to “hold down the fort,” the grief continued. As extreme as it may seem, the only analogy I could think of was of the men in the barracks of war who were ordered to hold down the fort whilst their brothers in arms took to the front line, not knowing if they would return.
Grief, like war, holds a darkness that one can easily get lost in. I felt like I was waging a war of internal proportions. Realizing that no matter what, life still goes on was torturous. How could life be the same after so much loss? Wasn’t the world feeling empty also?
The infinite nature of life that continuously moves on without the ones we love is hard.
I can’t give you the answer to how to keep going. Grief is a process—one that doesn’t have an end. It’s not something to get over. Grief sits with us long after the person has gone. It visits for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. And when that special song cycles through your playlist, it will take you right back to the start, gasping for air.
However, in my experience, grief is a feeling we carry with us. And the more I look at the lives of those I’ve lost—Papa Bulls, my grandmother, Miriam Lynn Bell, and my father-in-law—the easier it is to not lose myself. The light they gave me and the people they touched throughout their lives keeps a fire burning for me to move forward—to make them proud and thankful. They remind me of how precious our life is and how little time we have with people we love in the end.
What I have seen this past year is that no one grieves the same. So, if you, someone close to you, or even a manager, an employee, or a coworker are moving through grief, try not to judge, compare, or dismiss how they are processing. Although there is often so much support, grieving is a personal process where compassion is required for yourself and for all who are grieving.
I hope after reading this, you can find your own peace within yourself by giving yourself permission to stop and let the feelings wash over you—no matter the length of time or in any manner you choose. There is a light to follow that will be there months, years, and centuries after—sometimes, it’s just a little harder to find.
What is the light that guided you through your grief? I would love to hear what helped you.