Thinking back over this past year there have been many lessons learned through the process of grieving. It is a strange thing, grief. Most days I have not consciously felt that I was grieving, and then one day it reaches out to gently remind me that the heaviness is still there. Or my massage therapist comments on how incredibly messed up my muscles are and then reminds me that we sometime store our grief in our bodies. Am thankful that it seems to be less and less raw, less palpable, over time it has moved from being a smack upside the head to a somewhat gentle nudge that (still) stops me in my tracks.
There are now two distinct phases in life: The time when mom was with us, and the time after mom died. I think we all try not to categorize life according to death but in our minds we inevitably, yet silently, think ‘oh right that was just after/before mom died…’. From what I understand that frame of reference will stand forever.
I thought I would share a list of things that have surprised me about grief.
- How inexplicably tired you feel when grieving, particularly in the first few months. You try so hard not to think about the loss, but you somehow cannot stop. And then when you do stop you feel numb, and guilty for not thinking about it.
- How it pretty much takes up all available real estate in your mind. Seriously. In my experience I feel that I lost about two months of conscious thought – can’t remember much from the funeral onwards. After the two month mark the haze began to lift.
- The numbness. It is a weird sensation – you know you should be feeling something at any given moment but you are just numb. Child’s birthday party? Happy, right? Nope. Dance recital, happy times? Nope. You try really hard but it just does not register on the emotion meter.
- Exaggerated emotional experiences. Oi. Someone made the mistake of reminding me of the tumultuous end of a relationship. BIG mistake. Anger like I have never felt before – about two months worth. On the upside, it gave me something else to do beside be numb and sad. Was thankful that I was feeling something.
- People have very different reactions to your grief. Some seem to assume that once the funeral is over and you have returned to ‘life’ that all is well, grieving is done. NOT. And then there are those who have never experienced loss and just look at you with this pitiful look (and then my own reaction in my head, OMG I used to do that to people too..). In that awkward moment you want to get mad at that person – but I think its important to remember that in a few months you will realize that they really did mean well, they just didn’t know what to say.
- It sneaks up on you. As time passes you begin to feel more and more normal, and then something/someone reminds you of the person you lost. And you implode. Perhaps a small implosion, perhaps large. For me the big implosions happen in places where mom made the biggest contributions, or with people who meant a lot to her. Mind you it also happens when I watch the Food Network – it was something we did together when she was in the nursing home and long-term care. Depends on the day and the moment.
- Not everybody will know that you lost someone close to you and at some point they will ask you ‘How is your mom/loved one doing?’. My estimation is that this will happen more than once over the years to come, and to most people who have experienced loss. The first time it happens you are completely shocked, and the only thing you can say is ‘It’s ok, you didn’t know’ and mean it. Again, it is not on purpose or personal.
- At some point I realized that I compartmentalize it. I live about four hours away from my parents home, so it is easy to separate myself from the grief. But, when I go home to visit there it is, awaiting my arrival with wide-open arms. Compartmentalizing isn’t always bad – it can actually be a good tool to cope with the grief and get on with living life. I think the key is to remember where you put your grief so you can prepare yourself for it and face it, and to also revisit it once in awhile.
- Facing it is good. Hard, but good in the long run. Facing the loss and the pain is important – and perhaps it helps you to feel the parallel of the fullness and joy of life a little easier. Reaching out to friends or a counselor can facilitate the release of it all when needed – and sometimes when you least expect it. Letting loved ones in your life know that you are hurting – really important (and hard to do sometimes).
- The big lesson in grief (for me) sounds so trite. Live each day as if it were your last. Live with appreciation for the people who love you and whom you love. Have gratitude for all the good in life, in the world. Will your life then have no pain, no sadness or struggle? No. But you will be better prepared to deal with it when it comes your way.
When grief gives me a nudge I will let it stop me in my tracks for a moment – because that moment probably is accompanied by a memory.
Remembering is healing.
Grief can be good.
Remembering is good.