I started writing earlier this week about grief and it turned into me on a soapbox about why everyone needs to attend a funeral once in a while. So I split these into two posts to give this one the platform it deserves.
Loss sucks. There isn’t a simpler way to say it. It hurts, it’s hard, and we are never the same after losing someone we love. Death is a selfish wretch. It doesn’t care if it takes someone who is recently married, or a mom of five, or a 4-year-old boy. It invades your life, takes what it wants and haunts the empty space it leaves behind.
That empty space, grief, is such a personal thing. For every loss there is a history remembered. Whether the memories are good or bad, it is a process. A long one. Too quickly folks have to get back to work, dinners need to be made, and there are birthday parties to attend. For the grieving, it can feel like the rest of the world is having a wonderful time while they are suffocating and suffering inside. It sucks.
It takes so much time to work through a loss. As the days, months, and years go by, the pain becomes less raw. Eventually the fog you survive in begins to lift. But then something like a birthday, an anniversary, or a song on the radio comes along and the reminder feels like someone just punched you in the gut. You might cry spontaneously, anger unexpectedly, and just not feel “right” for a very long time. Accept help, accept hugs, rest. Forgive the stupid things people will say to you. They likely really think they are helping.
What makes me an expert on grief? Well, I’m not. But I have experienced enough loss to know how it feels. I remember how it felt to want to punch the woman who told me on my first day returning to work after my dad died, that her parents were in their nineties, so she had never suffered loss. I know how it feels to abhor going into a Hallmark store, no matter the season, because I am always reminded that I don’t have parents to buy for. I know how it feels to absolutely treasure, like it was the last drop of water, the sound of a lost loved one’s voice on a video clip or their handwriting scrawled on an old note. I remember the rise and fall of a mood when I’d reach for the phone to share my news, only to remember I couldn’t. God, it really sucks.
I lost my mom almost half my lifetime ago. And I still weep, I still have “it’s not fair” and “why!?” moments. My breakdowns are more manageable now – I save these for when I’m alone, usually late at night, most recently reading a book reflecting about mothers (like I didn’t know that was coming). I try to squeeze my eyes shut tight to hold back the tears and as they slip down my cheek I just let them go. I miss her so damn much. I try to will an image in my head to see her, I squeeze my eyes tighter as if I might feel the hug I’m wishing for. Almost 20 years gone by, and it still, very much, sucks.
But (yes, there is a but, I wouldn’t leave you on that note). But, we have a choice and that is to dwell or to live. After my stint on the pity pot I think about what my mom (and dad) would want for me. And they’d want me to live out loud and be happy (my dad would want me to miss him just a little, he always needed that reassurance). They would want me to be a good person, love with all my heart, and to experience all that I dream of. And they would be right- that is exactly what I should be and do. So I get up the next morning, start fresh, and face another day with those thoughts to pull me through.
Embrace your emotional moments, you need them to heal (luckily I’ve stopped wanting to punch those well-meaning people). But then live, really live and make the very most of your life. That is what your loved one would want for you. Their loss is something you cannot change- but as I heard in a recent eulogy, something beautiful remains. And that something is you.