Sitting with Grief

Even though I had read enough to the contrary, I thought that the grief of losing someone would be something that diminished over time until it went away entirely. Now I know better. It’s something that sits with you forever.

Most of the time I feel absolutely fine. Then something comes along and pushes a button and all the sadness comes flooding to the surface. Perversely, it feels good to know that the sadness and the loss is still there sometimes. Maybe it keeps a connection. I’ve even been known to go looking for that button so I can press it myself from time to time.

There’s a part of me that worries that this behaviour isn’t normal. That maybe there is something wrong with me in the hours, minutes or fleeting moments that I allow myself to wallow. But I can tell you, and I’m absolutely confident in saying this, this is being human.

I’m not sharing this for any kind of sympathy. I’m sharing because I know that you’ve felt this loss as well, or inevitably will at some point in your life and I know you’ll find a bit of comfort in being reminded that it isn’t just you. You are not weird or broken or not handling things. You are human.

The last thing we need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human – Brene Brown.

The rest of these words are not mine, but are a very beautiful description of grief.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

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