“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” ~ J.K Rowling
There’s the briefest of moments when you start to awaken, when life feels uncomplicated, when you haven’t yet remembered, when your life is like it was before—before the loss.
And then it hits you. It hits you like a speeding freight train and all at once your heart re-cracks; your heart cracks like it did yesterday and the day before, and you know with a sob in your throat that, again, it will crack tomorrow.
How long will this last? You feel exhausted. Overwhelmed. Angry. Frustrated. Your spirit feels dampened, like your inner light is dimmed. Your physical body hurts. Your emotions are chaotic. But most of all, you feel a depth of sadness, a depth so deep some days you feel like you are drowning.
I don’t believe loss is something we ever get over, but rather, we move through it as we navigate our new reality. We adapt to a new life—a different life. We wade through the pain, the gut-wrenching pain. The numbness, the numbness that descends upon us to protect us from the torment and agony that comes with loss—loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, our health, or a way of life.
Loss comes in so many forms, and when we go through it, we will inevitably meet its partner grief, and she’s a very fickle mistress. When grief knocks on your door, she is persistent. If you deny her entry, her knocks will get louder. She won’t be ignored and she won’t be dismissed. You may be able to hold her off temporarily, but eventually, she will come back and will keep coming back until you open the door, until you accept her.
I have learnt to make friends with my grief. I tried to fight her in the past only to realise she is a fierce opponent. I tried to run from her, only to find she was much faster than I. I tried to climb over her, only to discover she became bigger and I could never reach the top. I tried to hide from her, only to be found time and time again. It was exhausting. One day depleted and in utter despair I invited her in; I invited my grief in, and that was the start of my healing.
As I sit here, I can hear the familiar rumbling of her, and I know it’s time to welcome her back. To invite her in to sit with me. Some say “grief is just love with no place to go.” It’s all those emotions and feelings we have about what we’ve lost, swirling around inside of us, and they hit us from every angle at any time, and the one absolute about grief is when she moves through you, she never leaves you the same way. You change. You never forget the loss. You never “get over” the loss.
You simply learn to live a new reality—one that encompasses life after loss, having sat with your new friend grief for as long as she wants to visit.
Some people think grief has a timeline. That if she visits for too long there’s something wrong with you. That “positive thinking” will push her away. Some people think that their experience of grief is your experience. Some people put their own comfort before your pain, ignoring your grief. Dismissing you in your most vulnerable moment when you need the most support.
Some people rattle off their list of platitudes, meaning well, but their words lack any real feeling. They invalidate your pain, cutting you like a knife. Some people think grief is linear and expect you to quickly move through it on their timeline. Some people will learn about grief when she knocks on their door.
I’m wondering how long she will want to visit for this time. I sat on the shower floor tonight, and I let the water run over me whilst I cried. I cried until the water turned cold. Until my body depleted. Earlier in the day, I was laughing about a memory that entered my mind, and I felt guilty to laugh when I’ve had such a great loss. Guilt hits you mercilessly at the most random times, and she will peck away at your soul if you let her.
Yesterday, anger surged through me like a tidal wave. Anger at anything and everything. There are moments of physical pain, and my body feels heavy as I drag myself around. She is very much here, my grief. She’s reminding me how much I love and care. She’s moving through every part of my being, and in doing so, I understand this is my new normal. For now, this is me. Each moment is different. Every emotion and feeling is stinging in their rawness. Memories flood me like a movie on repeat. My loss, my family’s loss, profoundly changing our lives.
But there’s something hauntingly beautiful about grief. She comes to show us how much we love and how much we are loved. How much we care and how big our hearts are. She shines a torch on our vulnerability and reminds us who we are at our core. She enters us and takes us on a journey of mourning that leads us to a place where we can live with our loss. If we allow her to go through us and we accept she is here to help and teach us, we will learn to live our new reality in a healthy way. When we love deeply, our losses will always be felt painfully and devastatingly. But to protect ourselves from loss and grief, we must also hold back love. Holding back love is living with a closed heart; that’s not living.
So she’s here again, and she’s ready to take me on another journey. This is going to be a more difficult one this time. She’s going to challenge every part of me. She’s going to push me to my limits and then some. She’s going to trigger me when I least expect it in the hope I work on healing those bits. She’s going to make me unpack things that I’ve tried to pack away deep inside. She’s going to push me to ask for support some days and to lean on others, and other times, she will encourage me to seek space. She’s going to make me cry when I think I have no more tears left, and she’s going to push every emotional button I have. And when I’m finally laying on the floor empty, she’ll find more to take.
But eventually, she will show me that my new reality can be as beautiful as my old life. It will be different. I will be different, but my heart won’t be as heavy and my memories will trigger more smiles than tears. More peace than pain. I don’t know when this will happen, but I do know that’s the destination.
Today, I start my journey with my returning friend grief. I no longer fear her but rather accept her as part of who I currently am, and there’s an element of beauty in the rawness of her. The very rawness and messiness of my grief. I honour the me I am right now. The me that gets through the day, riding the waves of emotion and pain. The me desperately trying to navigate this new and different life. The me swimming in my pool of loss and grief, uncertain and a little scared. The me with my kaleidoscope of bittersweet memories. And the me that is reminded every moment she sits with her grief that she has a heart full of love.
“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” ~ Anne Roiphe