The Funny Thing About Grief

I think one of life’s great mysteries is the grieving process; it’s not entirely selfless, it’s not linear, it changes in each and every situation, and it comes and goes with time. We grieve differently for different people, pets, and places. We grieve for relationships lost, for people we’ve never even met, and opportunities just out of our grasp.

Grief has been floating through our family lately, and our therapist explained how grief is a beast unto its own; rather than following a particular process it swings like a pendulum. We release a vast array of emotions and then we swing back into real life, getting on with it, going to work, and participating in society. And then, in the quiet of the morning it swings back and reminds us of what is no more. Minor events cause us to break down and sob uncontrollably, or perhaps lash out in anger, and then all of a sudden we’re back to normal again. It can be hard for those around us, even if we are sharing grief for the same person, place, or thing, because we’re each following our own path that makes sense to only us.

There’s no “right” way to do grief, and there’s no way to “just snap out of it”. It has its own method, and its own timing. My niece will be six in a few months, which means it will be six years since my beloved nonna passed away. I still have moments where I break down in memory of her, and it doesn’t mean I don’t accept what happened. I cry and I laugh and I am an absolute mess because I miss that twinkle in her eye, I miss the feeling of security she gave me, I miss her subtle jokes, and I miss making her coffee just the way she liked it (“verrry weak”). I also know that her time had come, and that was out of our hands. That, my friends, is life. The day after she passed my niece was born – talk about conflicting emotions! It took some time for my sister to be able to grieve after becoming a mum for the first time. We each went through the process in the only way each of us knew how.

Have you ever grieved for something or someone that was so terribly bad for you that it made no sense? I had a relationship that I am glad ended, however that night I howled and sobbed and made myself sick in anguish. It affected me so much that I grew my first grey hair (age 20), and developed an extreme nervous twitch. I also drank… a lot. It doesn’t really make sense though, does it? To know that it is good that something has ended, and yet feel so immensely terrible that it is over that you can barely function. I think that despite being hardwired to see the negative, we are also hardwired to miss the positive. I grieved the possibility that if he didn’t love me, no one could. I grieved the familiarity that we had, and our own language we shared. But I was also liberated from so many terrible things that, with time, taught me to be strong in my convictions and what I believed I deserved. Now, nearly ten years later, I feel nothing for that loss. Similarly, I’ve grieved for friendships that have ended, with some repairing, and others lost to the wind forever (so far as my crystal ball allows me to see), and my feelings towards both losses are quite neutral. That was then, and this is now.

No less important is the grief we experience for our health when either major illness or injury occurs. I recall going through the grieving process whenever I’ve broken a bone (denial was a frequent visitor), and more significantly when I was diagnosed with CFS/ME. I think it probably took me 2 years to fully come to terms with it and embrace the changes I had to make. From the outside that might seem pretty strange since I was hell-bent on achieving that diagnosis for a number of years. In all honesty, I think along that journey I was hoping the doctors would actually tell me “Nah, you’re just really lazy”. I wanted answers, but I didn’t really want that to be my reality because I knew it would mean making some serious sacrifices in my life. I felt very helpless and lost for a long time, but I’ve since risen above it and learned to manage my life as best I know how.

I have no doubt how important allowing yourself to grieve is. Without it we can’t heal, grow, and experience gratitude for what we had, and what we have. We must allow those emotions to swing back and forth, over and over until, just like the pendulum, they slow down and stop somewhere in the middle. We can then begin to look back at the “before” with fondness, rather than being overcome with emotions. Sure, we still have those surprise emotional moments (the way my nieces say “okay” just like my nonna gets me every time!), and that is good. We don’t have to feel happy at everything! It does suck that someone/something/somewhere is gone! But the important thing is that we can come to peace with it at some point and continue on in our lives in honour of what was, and in respect to what is.

The “what ifs” will be your downfall, if you let them. We’ve experienced many in what we are going through right now, but in the end we can come to terms with what has happened is what was meant to happen, and despite how much it hurts it couldn’t be any other way. Acceptance sinks in, and with that the ability to move forward begins.

So, we’ll keep swinging on the pendulum in this household for a while longer. My swing will be shorter than my husbands, because his grief in this situation is much greater than mine could ever be though we grieve for the same person, and for lost opportunities. Despite the loss, we have also gained so much in such an obscure and life altering way.

P.S. – If you ever need a song to explain grief, one of my favourite musicians and all-round good people, Clare Bowditch, wrote the most perfect song on the topic. Simply titled “The Thing About Grief”, the song explores how strange and personal grief can be. I’ve listened to it over and over and over since I bought her album “What Was Left” in 2005, and it still without a doubt one of my favourites.

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