Leaning Into Pain

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.


Published by

Becky Nolan

I a widowed mom to my young daughter. I lost my husband suddenly at the age of 29, leaving me with a one year old child to raise on my own. I live in Connecticut, where I met, married, and lost the man that I am still proud to call my husband. Every day I struggle. Every day I learn. Every day I am grateful for the time I had with him, and for the little girl he gave me before he left. I have found comfort and healing in writing. I have found purpose in sharing my story, knowing that so many others have been through it, too. Knowing that everyone has experienced loss and struggle. Words can be healing when they come from that deeply honest place within the soul. Grief is too lonely a road to walk alone, so I aim to give comfort and company on that lonely road.

12 thoughts on “Leaning Into Pain”

  1. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words the pain of grief. I lost the love of my life, my fiancé 15 months ago. He was only 36.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This whole process is a struggle, especially in the beginning. I was in such a fog this time last year. It didn’t seem possible, I couldn’t understand how he it was possible that he was gone. I screamed and cried all the time. I’m not sure the tears stopped flowing in those first 3 months. But I can tell you this… You will get through it. There’s nothing I can say that will make it easier or hurt less. But in time you will become stronger. And in time you will look back and realize that if you could get through THAT you can get through anything. I am so sorry you are going through this. I wish you peace and comfort in the meantime. You will get through it. Just hang in there.


    2. I lost my fiancé March 5. It still doesn’t seem real at times. A big part of me died with him, and now I’m just a shell of my former self trying to go through the motions. Sometimes I don’t think I can actually live without him. I don’t want to. He was my soulmate. Nothing matters anymore. Life seems pointless and cruel. My world fell apart when his heart stopped beating, and I don’t know how to put the wreckage back together. I don’t think I’ll be happy again. I am lost without him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are a shell of who you were and right now you are shattered. The remains of what was once you is in a pile of pieces on the floor. You will never again be the person you were before you lost him. It is OK that you are broken right now. It is OK that you barely feel human. It is OK for you to hurt and cry and scream and break down. It is OK to be in pieces. The love that you once had, his love, that is the glue that you will use to piece yourself back together. It will take time and it will hurt and I wish I could say you wouldn’t suffer… but there is suffering. Because you love him that much. And right now your grief is only pain because you haven’t had a chance to start to heal. You are so new to this new life, this new you. But you will heal. And you will learn to bring his love into your life in a new way. You will not do any of this without him. You will do it because of him. Because he loves you. You will be happy again, but you won’t be happy without him. He will always be a part of you. Always. There will never come a time when you put him away on a shelf with your past relationships because your relationship with him will always live in the present. It will just be different. So you will make. All you have to do right now is not give up. You will not give up because he doesn’t want you to. He wants you to live a happy life. And that happy day is not today. But it will come. You just need to hold on.


    3. Hi, I also lost my husband in March. This article both scares me and gives me hope. I have tried so hard to be strong for my 3 small children that I’ve cut myself off from the pain. In doing that I’ve thought that I was coping, but the pain has built
      of me, its taken,over my entire being, so bad sometimes I can hardly breathe yet I so seldom let myself cry.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can imagine your pain i just lost my hero the love of my life my husband the best dad in the whole world in March since then i can’t stop thinking on him and i only ask God to give me streght to live with this pain and help me to be strong for my 7 yr los Boy and my 5 mnth baby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My daughter was 13 months old when my husband passed. I know it is hard but you will find a way. Grab onto any and all resources you can. Lean on friends and family. You need all the help you can get right now. And you will make it through. You will do it for your kids. You will do it FOR your husband. I know it seems nearly impossible now, but one day you will realize all that you have done. You will be unstoppable.


  3. I lost the love of my life January 13th. The worst day of my life. We were married for 23 years. Life is not the same anymore.Everything is dark to me. If I didn’t have children I don’t think I would go on.His death was the shock of my life. The pain is unbearable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 23 years is a long time. A long time of sharing your life. A long time of being half of a whole. When you go from beyond half of a whole to just half… You lose your balance. You suddenly can’t stand. It’s OK to fall apart. It’s part of taking care of yourself. And don’t forget to count your blessings. 23 years with the one you love… You wouldn’t trade that for anything! It has now been ripped away and that won’t change, but neither will those 23 years you had with him. Those can never be taken away. And of course your children. As long as you have them you will always have the best parts of him. It is important to feel the pain, but don’t forget to find his love inside your pain. That is where you will find your peace. Practice gratitude. Do it every day. And if the only things you can be grateful for each day are that you had him and that you have his children, that’s enough. That right there is so much! You are still in your infancy of loss. Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself. You will make it.


  4. Thank you for sharing… It truly has given me some insight on how I should move forward. How to deal with the loss. I lost my husband unexpectedly 7 months ago. He passed in his sleep at 54. That morning continues to play over and over in my mind. Not knowing that the kiss goodnight from the night before would be my last after 25 years. Thank you again for sharing. Very powerful

    Liked by 1 person

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