There are two separate but related, and equally important, practices that have helped me through my grief journey. At the beginning of loss, you are simply trying to survive. You struggle to keep your head above water and try not to drown. But eventually you will have to learn how to live again. These two practices have helped me move from survival to living.
When I lost my husband, the earth collapsed and I shattered. Time stood still. Everything was wrong and nothing was right. I wanted to go with him, and it felt so unfair to know that I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I was ever going to make it through this new life of sorrow and pain, but I knew one thing – I knew how grateful I was, and always will be, to have had him in my life. We never even made it to our third wedding anniversary. I had him for such a small amount of time and it wasn’t enough! That small amount of time wasn’t enough time for us, and yet it was. Because he changed me. I lived so much life in that small amount of time, and in that time I felt so much love. It was enough to last through his death and through my life. For that I will always be grateful.
I am now living the life of a widowed parent, a life I never wanted for myself, yet here we are. It would be easy to spend my days frustrated and bitter about never having a break or the chance to get proper sleep, about the messy house I have neither the time nor the will to deal with appropriately, or about the inevitable loneliness that sneaks up on me when I’m exhausted from life. And then, of course, there’s the parenting… alone. Everything about parenting alone is hard. Now pile that on top of the grief and what you are left with is a mess. Frustration, anger, and bitterness are easy to fall back on, but they don’t help you. They don’t make life easier, they just making living harder. I have my days when I fall into the trap of self-pity and focusing on what I lost, but I try to keep those days few and far between. Instead, I try to focus on all that I have and who I am – an imperfect mess who tries hard and falls a lot but, despite the fear and exhaustion, tries again anyway. Because I had him, I have an amazing little girl who reminds me not of what I lost, but of who I was blessed to have had. And because I have her, I will always have a piece of him here with me. Every day I remind myself how grateful I am to have known him, and to have had the chance to share that part of my life with him. He is now part of my story, and even death cannot steal that away.
Leaning Into Pain
Because of my writings, many people have commented on my strength. But I am not always so strong, and I certainly don’t often feel that strong. No one can be strong all the time. I believe it is important to allow yourself time to break under the weight of your grief. The idea that we need to suck it up and deal with the pain by pushing it down and hoping it will go away, or by simply pretending it isn’t there, is not only detrimental to our mental health, it’s a lie. Losing a loved one can be deeply devastating to our lives and to our own sense of self and belonging. Instead, you need to bring this pain into the light, acknowledge it, feel it, let it devastate and break you. You cannot tend to a wound you won’t acknowledge. I think of the pain as a black hole in the center of my life. I could keep walking around the hole, avoiding it, but it wouldn’t make it any less there. So, I took the advice of someone who had faced grief long before I did and I leaned into it. I leaned into the pain I felt every overwhelming, mind numbing, piercing bit of it. At first, I did this every night after I put my daughter to bed. I would put on music that made me cry and I would sit on the floor and talk to Matt and cry. I would cry so many tears that I stopped bothering to dry them up with tissues, I wanted them to fall as far as they could fall.
No matter how you do it, you need to reach into the part of you that is dying and give it a voice. Give your pain a voice. Let it speak those terrible words and feel those awful truths, because they are your truth. The overwhelming brokenness and the feeling that you are drowning in grief, those feelings are real. This is not permanent, but it is real now. And to get past it and away from this terrible truth means giving it a voice, leaning in, and then being able to stand tall in your gratitude for having had something that is this hard to lose.