I lose a lot.
As I write this, I realize I don’t have a specfic tally of what I have lost. Although for reflective purposes, I have listed them over the years. What I do have are the lessons I have learned from events such as losing my health, not making teams or getting a job, faded friendships, lost romances, not reaching dreams and most significantly the deaths of my loved ones.
Loss has walked along side of me my whole life. It is not that I immediately expect it but I have learned to respect the power and am always aware that the tangible aspect of losing something or someone can be right outside of the door. There have been times when I have felt I have lost more than the average person. Yet, at the same time I feel my losses have given me as much as they have taken from me. We live in a world that is full of loss; yet uncomfortable with the emotional aftermath. My experience and comfort with loss led me to a career as a grief counselor and made me an expert on the professional level.
Unlike many, I am not uncomfortable speaking about the grief emotions of losing. I recognize the small (yet significant) losses of events that many push and struggle through. Five years ago, I encountered several of the most significant losses I have had. In addition to the grief of years of infertility and miscarriage, my Mom and Grandmother both died of cancer within four months of each other. As a result of these losses, I made the decision to leave a job I knew I could not do at the time. I knew I could not be present for others who were grieving if I didn’t take care of my own grief.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of my Mom’s death. I am not sure where the five years have gone Grief has a way of distorting time. Five years later,here I am. As I write this I can not say I have reached some mountain top of self actualization. However I know I am not where I used to be.
Is grief different for someone who has been considered an expert in the field of grief and loss? In retrospect, I would like to say knowing what to expect was a benefit. However, at the same time I feel there were times that I held myself to a higher standard. My struggles and pain have been just like those of my clients. There were moments that were not pretty and times I simply wanted to have a life not full of loss.I approached the losses with the knowledge of what was “normal” and “to be expected”. Although I have very openly shared my emotions and struggles, I acknowledge I didn’t give myself the grace that I needed to. After all, I knew what to do and simply needed to do it.
Each day there are more individuals than we know encountering loss via the death of a loved one or some other event. As I approach this anniversary, I felt it was important to look back at the lessons I have learned . These lessons are not just from the past five years but over my lifetime. I faced my grief recognizing that the tragedy in any event is if one learns nothing.
Some of the lessons were reminders of what I had already learned. Others shocked me and were more painful than I imagined. Although I could make a more extensive list, I feel the following are the most signficant. I made the choice to learn from each of them.
Grief Takes Longer Than One Expects
Grief has no timeline. One does not walk through a magical door at the one year anniversary of a death and no longer feel loss. The truth is the second and third years after a death are often more difficult. The shock and numbness is gone. The completion of estates and wills is finished. Then there is the time to sit with the painful emotions. The effects of grief are magnified when there are complications such as multiple or public losses. Rebuilding a life takes time. It will take as long as it needs and there is no magical checklist.
Grief is Physically Exhausting
Grief is not something one can put up in a closet and focus upon later. Grief goes with us everywhere we go. Grief goes with us to the grocery store, church, work, out with friends. Even when there is a good night sleep, grievers wake up exhausted. Rest is something I have always encouraged my clients to do but not something I did for myself. I wish I had allowed myself more time to rest during the first two years of my grief. There was only one day I recall of staying home in my yoga pants and watching Netflix. Instead I keep pushing forward to complete tasks.
Grief DOES get better but it takes WORK
After my mother’s death, a well meaning individual stated “It never gets better.” I stopped her and said I felt that it would. I had the privilege of twelve years of working with grieving individuals who shared that the acute pain does not last forever.
The cliche statement of time heals is partially true. Over time grief emotions do not overwhelm the days and become only moments that need to be addressed. However, grief requires work. Healing does not come without the care of acknowledging the pain, caring for the tired body, resting the soul and reevaluating where to go. There are many who struggle with healing from grief and find it easier to ignore the emotions with drugs, alcohol, and other ways of numbing. This only prolongs the process.
One does not have a choice regarding a death or loss but one does have a choice in how to grieve.
Where You Receive (and don’t receive) Your Support Will Surprise You
I have a wonderful group of friends who I was able to share what I needed. There have been many instances of support I have received and one of the first that stands out is when my two coworkers came to my house the weekend after my Mom’s funeral. One brought soup she had made, the other brought wine and chocolate. Most importantly, they sat with me. They let me share the story of the days before my Mom’s death and simply listened. I have often stated that the one thing someone who is grieving needs is to have someone’s presence. As a grief counselor, sometimes the magic of my job was giving someone the space to share and know I was present. I had many moments of the gift of presence.
I have had acquaintances grow into close friends over the past five years. These were individuals who reached out with support as they knew what I was going through. As a result, I have friendships I would never have had.
Sadly, as happens on a regular basis, I had people who I thought would be supportive that were uncomfortable with my grief. These were individuals I had to “act as if nothing were wrong”. People do not know what to say and many say nothing at all. As a result, there have been a few friendships that have faded over the past few years. I have seen this happen to several clients over the years and was not truly surprised. Nonetheless, it hurts when who one expects to support is scared by your pain.
Grief will force you to evaluate your faith and spiritual belief system
Why do certain people die? Is there something else out there? Regardless of how devout or irreligious one is, grief and loss force evaluation of the presence or lack of a higher power. I have watched clients question the belief system they have had their whole life and seen others find comfort in a belief they knew little about.
The teachings of faith are abstract. Death forces us to often make wordly sense of events. Initially, I found comfort and peace in my belief system. However over the past few years I have often questioned some of those beliefs. The pain of grief can make one feel there is nothing out there. This journey is different for each of us.
You Will No Longer Be The Person You Were (But You Have Some Control Over Who You Become)
One has no control over the fact someone has died. One does have control over how one responds to the grief that follows.
After a death, you are permanently changed. You can not return to the person you were before. You will never be that person again.
The options are to become bitter, angry and unhealthy or work through the pain and grow from it. There is a loss of identity without the role of daughter, mother, wife or friend. It takes time to figure out who the new person will become. Adapting to a new life story can be difficult but sometimes it can be better than the original story was going to be.
Grief helps you to have gratitude for every day and everyone in it
After the death of my father at age ten, I was well aware of how quickly someone could be gone. I speak on gratitude often and it is truly something I practice each day. I tell the people in my life that I love them. Rather than focus upon what I don’t have, I recognize what I have been given.
Despite the losses, I have learned that life can and is still good!
I began this blog as a way of chronically my grief journey.
Many of my past posts are linked above. A complete list of my grief posts can be found here.
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