If you and I share one thing in common, then it’s that we have lost something meaningful in our lives. It might be a prized possession, relationship, friendship, family member, or job. What do you feel when this loss is so deep inside that it’s a hurt you cannot get rid of at all?
Grief throttles you like an uppercut from a boxer. It leaves you feeling, well, something, but you cannot put your finger on it. This grief you go through is something that brings you to your knees, putting you under the covers for days or weeks, and not even wanting to talk with any other person.
Can you reason with grief? That’s something a lot of people try to do. It is like, “Let’s sit down and take the ‘1,000 Pieces of Grief’ puzzle out of the box and put one piece after another together.”
You can try and try again to come to grips with grief, but it’s going to kick your ass when it hits.
Imagine parents sitting in children’s hospitals all over the United States and other parts of the world right now.
We are still in the middle of a global coronavirus pandemic (don’t @ me about it, OK) and those parents are sitting there. Maybe they can or cannot sit with their children by their bedsides. Some of those parents are watching their children die from cancer, leukemia, or other diseases that they are getting help for right now… in the middle of people arguing over whether or not to wear masks.
Do you think these parents who sit and watch their children struggle to live don’t feel a deep sense of grief?
What about the adults who have to tend to elderly parents being kept in their rooms in assisted-living communities or nursing homes right now? They can’t even see their loved ones as much as they usually do… and those loved ones desperately want to see their children, too.
Then, there is grief’s ultimate ace in the hole: death. If you find it as a responsibility to bury your parents and grandparents after they have died, then processing your grief might be delayed because you are focused on taking care of all the details. Think about it.
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Every person goes through grief in different stages. The late author and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose book “On Death and Dying” introduced the world to her five stages of grief, provided a powerful road map to discern different levels of grief.
According to Kubler-Ross, the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Can you look within your own heart and soul and see where these have appeared for you?
When my parents died, a couple of these appeared but not all five. That’s my experience. I admit that the two main ones were anger and depression. The depression part has been in my own life for a number of years, even leading me to consider suicide at the end of 2017. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all emotional state of being.
Now, you can shove it as far down in your body as possible, denying its existence and even telling your friends that “I’m OK” when grief is taking you down a dark alley.
But I am going to let you in on a big secret. Ready?
Grief will never totally disappear from your life.
You can disagree with me. You can fill yourself up with positive affirmations, happiness, love, compassion, empathy, and a whole slew of other emotional and nurturing actions. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tending to your aching heart in those ways.
Yet, you run from grief like it’s a skunk who just let one rip. Deny, deny, deny…yeah, remember Kubler-Ross’ five stages earlier? Denial, man. Just stop denying that your grief is there and start a process of healing.
A lot of personal development coaches and entrepreneurs may encourage you to do this or that to shift your perspective on the pain inside. Spiritual teachers may encourage you to “go do more praying and meditation” and that’ll work.
Again, I’m going to remind you that your grief is yours. I have mine. We don’t need to swap my grief with yours or vice-versa.
Here’s a suggestion, though. Maybe you and I can sit with our grief together. We can sit with it and not try to repress it or deny that it is there. Maybe you can even feel it without looking for something… anything… to fill that ache inside.
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Who you are as a man or woman is not defined by grief. We all have our own coping mechanisms when it comes to this very personal, dynamic emotional wave that runs through our energy.
I don’t claim to have all the answers about grief. Hell, I still deal with it at times in my life right now.
When I look at one of the remaining pictures I have of my mother and father, I do have those moments or flashbacks of times that were painful and hard to move through. My relationships with both parents were really different.
Dad and I spent 13-plus years apart before reconciling seven years before he died in 2004. There were lots of ups and downs during those seven years, but I would not trade any of them at all. My grief around losing my father comes from wanting him to have lived a little bit longer… just a little longer so I could have gotten to know him more. His health, though, was not always in the best way.
I still remember getting that phone call from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, to hurry up and drive over from Houston because the nurses didn’t know how much time he had left to live.
I drove like a bat out of hell on Interstate 10 to get there… only 20 minutes after he’d died. I walked into his hospital room and there he was, lying peacefully after passing just minutes earlier. That whole scene over the next 24-72 hours was one of taking care of details for the funeral. All of them.
I stayed that Sunday night in Beaumont at his assisted-living apartment, writing the obituary that would run in the city newspaper while watching and listening to unedited versions of “Blazing Saddles” and “Smokey and the Bandit” back to back on Turner Classic Movies. The angels must have known that I needed a dose of humor that night.
Another Sunday, seven years later, would be a morning where I’d received a voicemail about Mom dying in Spring, Texas, which is just north of Houston, months after I’d accepted a job with the El Paso Times newspaper in El Paso, Texas, earlier in 2011. I knew Mom was dying as she’d been in declining physical and mental health for years.
After I got the call from two good souls who oversaw the assisted-living cottage Mom lived in for the last two years of her life, I got into my (damn I miss this truck!) Ford F-150 and started driving at 11 a.m., listening to a lot of NFL football on SiriusXM, and stopping in Kerrville for some sleep. I got up early Monday morning and continued driving into Houston, then up north to Spring where I walked into her room, saw her bed taken out, and the husband of the couple who owned the cottage was sitting on a bed waiting for me with a big hug.
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Why detail all of this for you? Because in each case, I found myself dealing with my grief while driving. I didn’t make the connection between both instances until years after Mom’s death. See, even all these years later remnants of my own grief remain with me.
It never goes away totally. Stop pushing it aside when it pops up. You can let it arise and simply notice it without having to “fix it.” You can’t put a Band-aid on grief, so stop doing it and love yourself through the tears.
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Photo Credit: @labrum777 on Unsplash