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Last month was the two-year anniversary of “the big tragedy” that happened to me in December 2020.
Truth be told? These past two years have sucked hard. Life hasn’t gotten better. And no—newsflash—turns out that time is not a big healer.
But I’ve learned to navigate my grief and live life with a semblance of normalcy, not for myself but for everyone around me. Meaning I continue to fake it so much that everyone thinks I’ve made it. And because nothing makes people more uncomfortable than dealing with or listening to those who are grieving, especially those who are still grieving after two whole years!
I’ve learned so much over these two life-changing years. I’ve learned about people, family, friends, the process of grief, trying to make sense of what’s going on without those who have left this planet, understanding the truth about relationships, being gutted, and being thankful…all of it.
At the two-year anniversary mark, I realized that there is still so much (so very much) inside me that I need to unpack. And at some point, I will.
But there is one tangible change that I have seen in myself as a result of the tragedy and its aftermath. And it has to do with the blame game that we all play. I wanted to write about it and see if any of you have been through this and can connect.
Let me explain.
I think there are four types of blame games that we all play with ourselves. I’m guessing there are probably psychological terms for these, and if I’d done some digging I could’ve found out about them. But I did not want to “research” this. I wanted to explore it as a regular layman who has been through a God-awful experience, and write with all of the raw hurt and anger that comes with it.
So…the blame game.
Assuming the game is played between you and another person, there are four potential stages or scenarios that take place when an incident occurs:
- You blame the other person. You take no blame at all.
- You blame the other person. You also blame yourself.
- You don’t blame the other person. But you’re sure it’s entirely your fault and take all the blame on yourself.
- You don’t blame the other person. You also don’t blame yourself. You chalk it up to life and experiences.
I have to admit. I have never been at Stage 1—ever. My innate sense of fairness and, sometimes, the unnecessary need to take onus and responsibility for everything, means I almost never blame anyone for anything, to the extent that even when something is clearly not my fault I still can’t blame others without taking an equal amount of blame myself.
But Stage 2 and Stage 3? I’ve definitely been there over the years.
For a big part of my life, especially during my teens and early 20s, I was at Stage 2. Like I said, my inner conscience never allowed me to be totally without culpability, but I definitely blamed others. When something was mostly my fault and partially someone else’s, I was silly and immature enough to tilt the majority of the blame on the other person. So, when life sucked or threw me a curve ball, I played the game and ducked, but I also blamed the pitcher for being unsportsmanlike. And cruel. And vindictive.
Eventually, we all grow up. And so did I.
Once the early 20s passed by, I went to Stage 3 and stayed there for years. I often tried to pattern myself against the benevolent greats like my idols: Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. Deep inside, it made me feel good that I was so sorted that I never blamed anyone else. I took responsibility for everything. Not blaming anyone else for anything, even when it was blatantly someone else’s fault, and taking the blame myself made me, in a curious way, feel good. It almost felt like I was Oprah granting cars to everyone in her audience, except I granted the “no-blame-on-you” vindication to everyone else.
Then December 2020 happened.
It put so many things in perspective for me. It made me understand that time doesn’t heal your tragic wounds. If anything, with the passage of time your hurt increases. Knowing that life goes on means you then have to live it. And just by living you end up accomplishing things, even if you’d rather burrow a hole deep inside your blanket and stay there forever.
Soon, you rack up milestones in your life. There are profound ones, like “Today is 90 days since they died and I’m still alive” and mostly trite and banal ones, like “Hey! I woke up this morning!” or “I took a shower! Yay me!” And you realize that those you lost will never know about them. Every single time you do something simple or profound you are reminded that those you lost won’t be around to share in those experiences.
So no, time does not heal. At least it hasn’t for me. But time gives you the skill set to navigate life without falling apart every two minutes or two days or two months—or two years. It allows you to dive deep within yourself and find the strength to move on. Not by forgetting but by learning how to live with the grief.
These last two years have also taught me a few other lessons. While I always knew it as life’s biggest truth, I didn’t quite understand it until the tragedy happened. The past two years have taught me that life is truly fragile, and that we have to live every day like it’s our last because it could well be.
It’s taught me to pay attention to clichés, starting with how the bad times show you who your friends really are. A truer cliché you cannot find in this world. Trust me when I say this: those you think are closest to you will bail and those you had no expectations of will rally around you. But a fraction of your 2 a.m. best friends will still be your 2 a.m. best friends. And they will renew your faith in humanity, and your sense of judgment.
But I also finally learned to move to Stage 4 of the blame game. I’ve started putting myself first. Given that the worst of the worst has happened to me, I’ve found strength in knowing that I’ve been through hell and back and I’m still living to tell the tale. So I no longer feel the need to hide or sugarcoat things or lie to anyone, including myself. I call out people when I need to, and I’ve stopped apologizing for what is not my fault. But I also say sorry just as easily when I do make a mistake.
And most importantly, I’ve learned to forgive myself and am determined to be nicer to myself.
Getting to Stage 4 is a big step for me in my own personal grief journey. I’ve lived and seen too much in my life and that’s made me empathetic to the world. So yes. I still forgive others; that’s my go-to, knee-jerk response. But I now no longer shoulder all the blame myself.
Instead, I now chalk things up to life and experiences, and then I move on.
What about you? Where do you fall on the spectrum? Let me know!