Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Grieving

The unrelenting pain from losing a loved one can be overwhelming and paralyzing. It feels like nothing will ever be the same, and for good reason, because nothing ever will. For me, compassionate and wise words helped. They didn’t wipe away my tears or obliterate my pain, but sometimes they were the only thing that helped me get through the next day, hour or minute. Encouraging words were delivered through cards, e-mails and texts from my closest friends and from people who I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years. Friends who had suffered their own losses sent me books and articles that had guided them through their own dark days. People who didn’t really know what loss felt like still checked in and told me they didn’t know what to say but they were thinking of me and loved me. Every kind word made a difference. 

Writing also helped. I wrote of an imagined last breakfast of bagels and lox with my mom. Sometimes I’ll revisit that post and it feels so tangible that for a few moments I’ll think it really happened.

If you’ve lost someone close to you or if you find yourself wishing you had the right words to impart on someone who is grieving, below are some quotes that may help get you through the next year, day, or minute.

“If you're going through hell, keep going.” - Winston Churchill

I’ve always loved this quote. Unfortunately, there never seems to be a set list of rules to follow when attempting to get over any one of life’s many hurdles, but just pushing through the pain, however tough that may be, will usually lead you through to the other side of it.

“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.” - George Eliot

People may try to tell you that time heals all wounds and eventually life will return to normal, but those who have suffered loss know that the healing process is not this simple.  Do not attempt to rid yourself of grief; rather, try to live alongside it. It was only when I came to terms with the fact that I am now a fundamentally different person that I was able to move on with my life. A new life, but a worthwhile one just the same.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” 
 - Elisabeth Keebler-Ross

As far as I’m concerned, closure is a fictional concept and I personally wouldn’t recommend wasting your time struggling to achieve it. Rather, focus on rebuilding yourself into someone who can make the most out of each and every day, regardless of the fact that a part of you is missing.  

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes — when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever — there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” – John Irving, Prayer for Owen Meany

There are days when I hear the phone ring and I just assume that it’s my mother…even more than two years after her passing. I’ve reached for the phone so she could keep me company when putting food away from the store, to share updates after doctor appointments, to tell her about a book or television show I think she might enjoy. LinkedIn recently asked if I want to follow my mother. I’ll spray her perfume and feel she is in the room with me. I am periodically hit with moments of forgetfulness, and a big part of me is grateful for this.  

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott  

“Learning to dance with the limp” is a quote I know my mom would have absolutely loved. Loss can certainly feel like an amputation of sorts, like part of you has also died. But the truth is you are still very much alive and you must learn to appreciate the good that remains.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” - Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

The idea that you will never again be able to talk to someone you love is a concept that is all but impossible to fathom. You may take months to grasp it, and you may never truly come to terms with it. Know that you are not alone in this and the fact is that this inability to fully comprehend our loss may just be the thing that helps keep us going.

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.” - Shel Silverstein

So many people spend their days deliberating over regrets, over what could have been done differently, how they could have saved their loved one, thinking of final last words that were never spoken. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone declare that they were completely satisfied with their final moments with a loved one. So make sure to make the very most of your time with loved ones in the present. And never let yourself be taken over with regrets.

"Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning." - Anna Quindlen, Every Last One

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of losing someone is that you must wake up each morning to the same loss, and the first few weeks can be brutal. The first few seconds of wakefulness can be moments of blissful ignorance. And then it hits you and suddenly you are wide awake with the irreversible truth that you have forever lost someone who was here on this earth just days before. 

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” - Shakespeare, Henry VI, Park III

It’s simple: do not try to avoid your pain, or mask it to make others around you more comfortable. Feel what you need to feel and in time your tears may lessen.

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