I want to talk about pain. Grief and pain go hand in hand, because grief is painful. Grief hurts. There are different types of grief, different ways in which we grieve, and the ways in which we experience our own grief struggles can be very much the same and vastly different, sometimes at the same time. But the one thing that is the same for all of us is pain.
In the beginning there is only pain. In the beginning, there is this numbness that is hard to recognize. I remember wondering, how can I be numb when the pain is so debilitating? When others who have gone through this type of deep loss would tell me I am still numb, I didn’t understand how that could be true. It wasn’t until much later when I understood what they meant. This loss is too much to handle. This loss will eat you alive if you don’t face it head on. I found various outlets to discuss and learn about my grief. I found a Young Widows group in my local community. I found an amazing therapist to help me through my personal struggles. And I turned to social media. All of these outlets are still part of my process. I still go to group, I will continue to see my therapist, and I absolutely lean on social media for community. The truth is, this struggle is beyond difficult, and it is lonelier than I ever knew lonely could feel. This is hard and we can’t go it alone. We shouldn’t go it alone.
And yet, we feel so alone, as if no one really understands what we are going through. Often times that can be true. Our family and friends want to help, but they haven’t been here and all they know are the five stages of grief and they want to patch it up and make us feel better, but a bandaid can’t fix this. This pain, this reality, this brokenness… it can’t be fixed. No one can fix this problem, because that’s not how death works. So we spend so much time hearing so many platitudes over and over again:
You’re so strong. (my personal favorite)
God never gives you more than you can handle.
Everything happens for a reason.
At least (s)he isn’t in pain anymore.
He/she is in a better place.
Time heals all wounds.
There are plenty more, these are just the ones that come to my mind right now. We hear it all so often that it makes us crazy! After a while, we try to smile and nod but the anger builds until we want to scream. We know that people mean well, but none of it helps and sometimes it only hurts. So what does help? What helps is a listening ear. What helps is to be heard, truly listened to. What helps is empathy, not sympathy. What helps is to tell me that you haven’t been there, you don’t know how I feel, but you are listening. We all need community. Those who know this pain need to find those who have been through this pain. We need to guide each other.
My healing was shaped by many things, but a man named Benjamin Allen wrote something that resonated so deeply that it really helped to shape my healing process. He wrote, “I had to find a way to let my sorrow flow. I had to lean into my pain and give it expression or in my resistance I would have been totally overtaken and destroyed.” This was so powerful to me. He wrote many times about leaning into the pain, and so that is what I did. I leaned into the pain. After I put my one year old to bed at night I would go into my living room and turn on the music that took me to that deeply painful place and I would lean into the darkness and allow myself to feel destroyed. I would force my body to go into that place where only pain exists and I would cry, I would scream, I would hate the world and everything in it. I would lean into that darkness where only pain exists, and in it I would find love. I learned to find comfort in the pain, until eventually I would go to that painful place just to feel that love, the love of my husband, the love we shared that had been stolen away.
What I learned, in time, is that by feeling that pain so deeply and completely, I also learned to feel connected to my husband, and to myself. I understand that by leaning into the pain, the way that I did, I left my friends and family concerned for a while. That was OK with me because I needed to do it for me. I felt as though I could come out of that really dark place anytime, but if I never went in I would live in a gloomy gray world. I did not and do not want to live in grayness. I do not want to survive. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to live among the birds and the butterflies, in the place where my daughter can believe that unicorns are real. I want to live in the sunshine. So I forced myself into the dark to do my healing. I found that the only place I could heal was in the dark. At first, anyway. I eventually made my way out into the light.
Now, I still go into the dark from time to time. I need to go there sometimes. I am now much better at finding my husband in the light than I used to be, but sometimes I still find it easier to find him in the dark. This is not a short journey. I am a year and three months into it, and I do believe this will be a lifelong journey. But I do not want it to be a lifelong struggle. I never struggled with what my husband would want for me. I was 29 when I lost him, I have so much more life to live. And from the moment he passed, I knew that the only thing he wanted for me and our daughter is happiness. I was beyond lucky to have had him for even the short time that I had him for. Now, my daughter and I are his legacy. We continue his life by living our lives in his honor. This is what I want from the both of us. This is why I am sharing my journey with you. I need his life to mean something that is bigger than him and bigger than me. I don’t know what that means right now, but I am working on it. And in the meantime I hope to be able to shape someone else’s journey the way Benjamin Allen shaped mine.