They say that time heals all wounds. They think that there is a time table, that you allot a certain amount of time to grieve and then you get over it, pick yourself up, and move on. But the truth is that grieving deep loss is much messier than that. How easy would it be if this process could be so simple? But how lonely would it be to never love so deeply that healing from loss could be anything but complicated and messy?
I once believed that grief was experienced in seven stages, and that to be healed meant to be good as new again. But deep loss isn’t a surface would, it’s an amputation. Healing is a long and arduous process that feels more like learning to swim while you’re drowning. It’s hard, it hurts, it’s exhausting, and it can be very hard not to give up at times. The waves hit and you get pulled under when you are already too exhausted to keep fighting, but you fight anyway because what choice do you have? This is what it feels like to struggle and heal through deep grief, it’s like learning to swim while drowning.
One of the greatest misconceptions about grief is that healing is a finite process. That eventually you will move on and rejoin the world just as you always were. But this isn’t true. Deep loss, like the loss of a spouse or a child, is like an amputation. That person was a part of you, a part of your identity and your day to day. That person has been infused into the very essence of who you are and how you live your life.
I am two years into my grief journey. I have changed so much along the way that I don’t fully remember the person I used to be because I am so different than her. I was happy with my husband, he was my other half and my “meant-to-be”. Losing him shattered me. For the first time I understood why they call it heartbreak because I could physically feel the pain in my chest. My body ached all the time, and in my worst moments I would feel as though my chest were being crushed by a stack of bricks and I would struggle to breathe. At first the grief would come in waves that would swallow me up and I would feel as though I could barely catch my breath. It was exhausting. Sometimes just waking up in the morning would be draining enough to send me back to bed. My world had crumbled. But over time I started to learn to swim. The waves would come, but they would come less frequently and eventually they stopped hitting as hard as they once did.
Many of you are new to this grief, some of you are further along than I am, and some of you have never experienced this depth of grief before. For those who are new to this and are struggling to see anything but darkness, I want you to know that I have been there and I know how it feels to be consumed by so much pain that it seems as though all goodness has died out. Give your pain a home inside you, welcome it. I know it seems counterintuitive to welcome the very thing that is tearing you apart, but it is necessary. Lean into your pain and into the darkness. Feel and embrace the agony that is consuming you and tell yourself that it is OK to be this broken. That is self-compassion and it is healing. No one needs compassion more than the lonely and broken hearted, but grief is isolating. Those who haven’t been through it don’t understand what you are going through and that can make you feel like a pariah. It’s a compounding situation where loneliness exacerbates loneliness. But no one can do this alone, and you should never be afraid to reach out for help. I used to attend a Young Widows Support Group in my area that is absolutely amazing. And though I no longer attend the group meetings anymore, there is a core group of us that branched out and continue to meet regularly. They are some of my dearest friends and I owe so much of my healing to them. I also still see my therapist every week. He is that safe place where I can walk in and not feel as though I’m carrying the world on my shoulders. He makes the baggage feel lighter. I believe in reaching out for help when you need it.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. So whether you cleaned out his closet in that first week, or it’s six months later and her bra is still hanging from the bedroom door – that’s normal. Whether you moved to get a fresh start or decided to never leave the home you shared together – that’s normal. Some widows will start dating sooner than others, and some never will. It is normal to be angry, and it is normal to feel guilty for being angry. It is normal to cry, and it is normal to not cry. However you do this, whatever your process, however you need to look at yourself and the world in order to make it through this – that’s OK. Eventually you will live again, but getting there isn’t easy.