I think the most difficult part of loss is not the obvious, but instead, the learning to live without that loved one. Everyone dreads those initial painful days filled with funeral details, people everywhere, more food than you can find room for and the feelings of disbelief that this is now a reality. Depending on the type of loss, you are now thrust into an alternate universe filled with nothing but pain. It is as if nothing will ever be ok again.
After the initial shock there is a feeling of carrying a backpack full of boulders. Everything feels heavy and it makes you so tired. Sleep becomes like a firefly, you chase it but can’t quite catch it. Every time you get close to the light, it flitters off in another direction. Your brain is fuzzy, there is no clarity to your thoughts and it is like driving in a dense fog, seeing only your windshield and not much beyond. You are not sure what’s ahead or if or when it will clear up. You are scared.
Now you are exhausted, feel lost and afraid. Does this sound familiar?
Loss of a spouse is like rowing a boat together, going forward, riding the waves, feeling the strength of the teamwork and all of a sudden there is a huge storm with giant swells, gale force winds and torrential rain. When the storm is over, there you sit alone in the boat, adrift, at sea. There you sit alone, unsure, exhausted stranded on the sea of life and all around you is the rubble left of your previous world.
My experience with loss of a child is a little different. I couldn’t even see the windshield the fog was so dense. Everything was a blur and the heaviness felt as if I’d never be able to bear my own weight. I thought I would never be any different than I was at that moment. As time passed and the fog started to lift I saw the world around me had not changed, just my piece of it. I would watch the hustle and bustle as everyone continued functioning as they always did. I couldn’t understand how they could do that when my world was turned upside down. Over time and with a lot of work, I realized that my life needed to continue too, although different, there was still life to live. Even though my little family was changed forever, there were many new milestones and memories to make.
I’d like you to meet my friend . His name is Grief and he is very complex. He is that person you didn’t invite to the party, but he rudely showed up anyway. He is uncomfortable to be around. He talks loud and causes disruption wherever he goes. At first, you just want him to leave as quickly as he arrived, but eventually the fog lifts and it becomes very clear that this is your new reality. You look around and he has unpacked and made himself at home. Grief is here to stay.
Now that you have this uncomfortable roommate, you have to find a way to make this arrangement work. Gradually you clear some drawers and move things around so he is more comfortable. You start to appreciate him a little and don’t feel quite so alone. His presence starts to comfort you and as you wake in the morning, you are glad he is here. When you sit down to eat, he sits with you. At last when night falls, he cuddles up beside you as you start to chase the fireflies.
Grief becomes your friend forever. You realize you can’t do it without him so he rides in the car, goes to work with you and sits beside you at special events. If you accept an invitation, it must include your plus one. As you start to rebuild your life, grief is by your side, picking you up when you need it and kicking your butt when you need that.
Trying to find your way is like trying to place a square peg in a round hole. It doesn’t fit and you don’t fit. Everything is different, every experience is different and happiness now seems like it is forever out of reach. You aren’t sure what you want or how to achieve it. Those closest to you may treat you as if nothing ever happened. This is probably because you wear the “I’m ok” mask really well. Sometimes you are so incredibly good at it that it is easy for people to forget. You make it easier if they don’t have to think about it. You often make it easy for them to think you are “ok”.
Truth is, eventually, you are “ok”. but being ok doesn’t mean you have left it all behind. It’s not packed away in the overcrowded attic like your old trophies. Instead, it is in your mind, it is in your very soul, but most of all it is in your heart. The human heart is powerful. It can hold all the love, all the missing, all the pain and all the memories at the same time. The heart is where you store all those feelings, some good and some not so good, but the heart is tough and can expand however much it needs to. Sometimes the heart feels light much like it did with that first love. It can also be shattered into so many pieces you think it can never be repaired. When that happens, your friend “Grief” shows up with the Tacky Glue and helps put it back together. It’s not the same, it can’t be. It has lumps and bumps and eventually scars over. That scar is the healing and the scar never goes away just like the love never goes away.
At this Christmas Season, I want to say I loved you then, I love you now and I will love you forever.
To all those missing someone this Holiday, take the time to remember and celebrate your loved ones. It doesn’t matter how long their life or how they died. Nothing matters but the love and truly “love never dies”.