Have you ever experienced grief so heavy and heart-wrenching that it was hard to breathe? So overwhelming and impactful that colors seemed duller, sounds less vibrant, and experiences less fulfilling than they did “before”? Did you start to believe that you’d never feel happy again, never be able to be “normal” again? Did you ever get stuck in your grief because you just kept looking backwards, refusing to believe that your world had changed and your loss was real?
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Kennedy
Loss comes in many forms: death of a loved one, loss of a job, best friend moving away, a beloved pet passing on, a dream dashed, a special someone rejecting and/or betraying you – the list goes on and on. And whether you’ve lost a loved one to illness or accident or rejection, or “simply” changed jobs or moved away, the pain we experience when we grieve what used to be can be intense and all-consuming.
Over the past few months, more than a few of those I care about have suffered losses of one kind or another and are engulfed by a grief that, for now, consumes them.
Grief and loss are normal parts of life, if we are fortunate to live long enough to experience them. But even though grief and loss are normal, the pain attached is still very real, and can paralyze us, as we long for the intense pain to go away and wish that the loss had not occurred.
The pain of loss is very real, but I’d like to offer you a few things to think about that will most likely help you deal with grief and loss.
1. Let Yourself Feel the Pain
Don’t pretend you aren’t affected by your loss. You won’t get any extra points for having a “stiff upper lip” as the British say. The pain of loss can be overwhelming and all-consuming. Admit it, feel the pain, express it. Find someone you trust and tell them how you feel. Don’t worry about whether or not your grieving is “normal” – whatever you are feeling is “normal” for you, and that’s all that matters. The people who care about you will probably have their own opinions about your grief. They may think that you aren’t getting in touch with your feelings, that you’re holding it all in; or that it’s been long enough and you should be over your grief by now. Just because they share their opinions with you doesn’t make them right. Everyone grieves in their own unique way and timeframe. Feel what you feel, and don’t pretend that you feel fine. Unless of course you DO feel fine; then go ahead and feel fine. :o)
“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
2. You Won’t Feel This Bad Forever
When you first experience deep loss, it seems that nothing will ever be OK again. You can’t imagine your life without that person, and you don’t believe other people when they tell you that you’ll be happy again some day. You can’t imagine being happy again, ever. And maybe you don’t even want to be happy again, as if allowing yourself to be happy would someone taint the memory of what you have lost. When loss has turned your world upside down, please, choose to hold on to the slightest smidgeon of possibility that the intense feelings of sadness, loss, and hopelessness will become less overwhelming over time. It really does help to take it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, when you are in the depths of grief. Time doesn’t erase the loss from your life, but time does decrease the intensity of the pain. Hold on to that thought when it all seems to be too much. You will not feel this bad forever.
3. Don’t Isolate Yourself, Even Though You Want To
It’s so tempting to just want to be left alone when you’re depressed and grieving. And there is some good to be found in spending time alone to reminisce and process what has happened. But avoid the temptation to habitually isolate yourself from other people and events. Spending too much time alone with your thoughts can work against the healing process and cause you to sink deeper and deeper into depression as you dwell on your sadness. Make yourself be with other people. Do the things you are in the habit of doing – going to school or work, grocery shopping, going to church, having dinner with the family – even if you don’t want to. In the long run, it will do you a world of good.
4. BONUS: Life Is Still Good
You may have had an important, major, part of your life snatched away from you, but life is still good if you let it be. It may take some time before you are ready to notice all the good things and all the blessings that surround you, but if you are open to that idea, you will find that joy again. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but you’ll find it. The blessings are there, whether you choose to notice them or not. Make the effort to notice them, and you can’t help but feel a bit better.
You will always remember the person or thing that is now gone; they held a special place in your life. You can’t simply forget it, even if you think you’d like to. Those memories are often bittersweet, as there is both joy and loss combined. But the life that still IS, is also good. Tell yourself this, even when you don’t quite believe it yet. For awhile it may seem like you are betraying the memory of what “was” when you decide to love what “is”. But it’s not an either/or sort of thing. The “was” WAS wonderful! And so is the ‘is”! It is both/and, rather than either/or. Life is good, when we can appreciate what is, without having to demote what “was”.
“On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
― Chris Cleave, Little Bee
Grief. It’s a difficult, yet normal, part of living life as a human being and opening ourselves up to loving others. Grieving a loss is heavy, overwhelming work that sometimes seems as if it will never end.
But you will get through it. You will feel better.
It won’t hurt this much forever.
Until next time, be purposeful, and keep your eyes looking forward.