What I’ve Learned About Grief

Photo by Jonatán Becerra on Unsplash

A year has passed since I lost my SO.

Though I’m in a good place now mentally and emotionally, I do still yearn for him, and still there are moments when grief comes at me hard and unexpected.

But I have found strength in getting this far in moving forward. Both time and new perspective has healed me in a way.

In the process there are some interesting truths about grief and healing that I’ve learned, so here goes…

It’s a paradox between love and loss.

You can’t recognize one without the other. To feel loss, you have to know love. The irony is that love comes from a place of good, it inspires, it gives life. While having a sense of loss, is dark, painful, and often times crippling.

The finality that death brings is as real as the ground you walk on, while the sorrow that comes is as difficult to grasp as water on your fist. When you lose someone very dear to you, it seems like your world stood still, and it feels brutal that the world continues for the others around you. Yes, that resentment though unreasonable, is undeniably real.

Grieving with grace is a chore.

I’ve been complimented by people saying that I’ve handled grief with grace. Honestly, I’m not sure what that means.

Though I am able to contain myself in front of strangers, I’ve broken down countless times in private, and I have had meltdowns in front of people I trust.

But grace, is important. Well, at least for me, having 4 children depending on me for strength and support during this low moment in our lives.

There were times when I just wanted to scream until my throat bleeds. Conversations when I feel listless. Heavy emotions surge at random times, and it’s so much to deal with, I just wish I can allow decency to escape me.

By knowing it was essential that I remain together in my children’s eyes, I couldn’t let grief take over, at least not full-time. It took every ounce of my being to fight it off, and to just get out of bed in the morning — several, several mornings.

It did help that I’ve used my children as my compass in finding grace in the midst of grief. I needed to show them that we can handle everything life throws at us without losing our dignity in the process. But for a woman who overcame quite a lot in this lifetime — this untamable beast called grief was simply harder. For the times I couldn’t hold it in and I’m reduced to a puddle of tears, my children held me and consoled me. I guess we took turns in showing grace in our moments of sorrow.

You will heal in your own time and you need to come to terms with that.

The truth is, you are not the same person you were before a great loss, and you will be never be that person again. Life will take on a different meaning, and you can either let it or resent it.

Time will heal you at a certain degree for sure. In my case, I have found humor again. I no longer cry on a daily basis. I find parenting and work fulfilling once more. I laugh and play with fervor again. And I no longer resent seeing happy couples in public — Yes, I did for a while hated being around them. It’s just too much to be reminded of what I’ve lost and what I may never have again.

Though I consider myself very resilient, getting to this point was not quick nor easy. It was weeks and weeks of running on auto-pilot, faking laughs, forcing myself to eat. There were many sleepless nights when I would torture my psyche thinking about things I shouldn’t. Often times, I was lethargic, uncaring and simply not there, and no amount of guilt can keep my head in the moment.

My numerous attempts to shake it off proved futile. Healing took its sweet time. In the process I’m forced to reflect a lot, and listen to inner dialogues that are painful, trivial and sometimes self-deprecating.

The feeling of everything being pointless is so powerful, that I never thought healing was possible. But it is. It came unexpectedly. One day I just realized I have learned to move forward and I am starting to appreciate life again.

Self-care is primal, and you are responsible for your own healing.

We will all grieve at a certain point in our lives. You have to know that self-care is critical, and you are responsible for your own healing.

There is almost nothing outside of you that can fix you in a permanent way. While you don’t have to thread the journey alone, no other human being can dig you out of your misery but yourself.

Self-care will be the hardest thing you have to do during grief, but you do owe it to yourself to strive for healing.

You can start small in your conscious efforts in self-care. Have long walks, eat more fruits, get a massage, the idea is to spoil yourself in little ways. You might not enjoy these moments at first, but little by little you will rediscover yourself again, and feel some sense of satisfaction.

Cling to tiny doses of happiness — it helps a lot.

It’s hard to keep yourself sane as life moves on and you are stuck with a weight of overwhelming loss. With grief, everything is colorless and tasteless for a long while. But there’s a need to cling on to something positive, even in tiny doses.

Congratulate yourself on days when you feel you did a little bit better. Recognize acts of kindness from your supportive family or friends, and sometimes even strangers. Whatever it is. It may be silly, it may be unfamiliar, but if it can make you smile even for a moment go for it. Take whatever little happiness you can get.

Try to keep your faith larger than your fears.

Before my husband’s death, I was pretty much fearless, not in a daredevil kind of way. But I was content, and that feeling of contentment gave me peace.

Our life was not perfect, but I was happy and I felt that as long as we have each other everything will be OK.

But the circumstances of his death is grim and I agonized about it all the time. It made me question my ability to be a good partner.

Losing him awakened some fears in me that I never thought I would ever have.

I learned to fear the quiet and the alone time which I both used to relish. During grief, being alone in my thoughts meant that I will have to face unbearable homesickness, loneliness , and self-loathing.

But I have surrendered my fears to faith. As a Catholic, I did this through prayer and devotion. I just put all my trust in the God that I believe in.

I don’t know how or when, but suddenly that part of myself that loves the quiet, that doesn’t fear being alone is back. My sense of self is intact again. I’m still grieving but I no longer fear the vulnerability it brings.

Photo by Victor ZH on Unsplash

Time is irrelevant.

Time will pass but it doesn’t mean you will fully overcome grief. It is much like a memorable milestone, permanently etched on your mind — the birth of your child, the first time you fall in love, or the first time your heart is broken. Love will pull you in, and your sense of duty, to not forget and to not let go.

Time is irrelevant as you will discover. Years will come to pass, and you will not feel any less love or longing for that person.

While not fatal, grief is incurable. You will just come to accept that not all wounds are meant to fully heal. Yes, you can be happy again, or maybe even find love again. But that is you moving forward and learning to carry the loss as part of you.

It’s easier with purpose.

I can only imagine how it is for people who have no one to cling to in their time of grief. When there is no clear reason to continue living after a great love has been lost. To say that everything happens for a reason is not consoling for those who mourn, especially those who are alone.

It is difficult to find a purpose to live when your excitement for life is tied to the one you lost. But you have to think big. Being alone doesn’t mean you have nothing to live for. I’ve seen people who have found higher purpose after a great loss. Some have rallied for rare diseases that are not being given attention for medical advances, or some dedicate their lives to helping others. Try to focus your energy in finding your purpose, this will make the process of healing easier.

In my case, my purpose was as clear as day — my children. I had to make myself whole again for their sake and mine. And I have to protect the legacy of their father, because no one else would do it.

Not everyone will respect or understand your grief.

You will be surprised but some people who love you dearly will not understand your grief. They will dismiss it, or force you to move on.

You will find this offensive, and it may even cause to break bonds. It may be that they can’t stand to see you suffer or they resent the dead for leaving too soon.

But your grief is yours, no one can feel it for you. Handle it the way your soul wants you to. You can rebel for a moment or be angry. You can find momentary solace in strangers if that helps. However you face your grief is up to you. When your heart is broken you mend it the way you know, everyone else’s opinion is just noise.

Isobel is a recovering nap-aholic, lover of chocolate, and mother of dragons (literally). You can catch her daily at The Shower, performing a capella.

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