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Grief


Grief has been on my mind today. I’m not exactly sure why; although I’ve had a number of people, friends and clients, who are in the midst of experiencing a version of grief.


We often think of grief as a major event. It’s not always. Sometimes it is. A friend of mine just lost her mother suddenly. That loss reminded me when my own mother passed. Hers was not a sudden death, but one seven long months after she had experienced a severe heart attack. She was so angry that someone had given her CPR and brought her back to life. She also became a bit delusional and a lot paranoid. It was an interesting time. Her death was complicated for me because my mother was complicated. She was amazing, charismatic and could entertain a room full of people. She loved me immensely, and was honestly my biggest fan. She was also angry, cruel and hurtful. She could turn on a dime and was masterful at being manipulative and cutting. I have spent many a therapy hours discussing my mother. After her death, I felt like I had to redo a lot of those hours.


But, death brought me something that I did not achieve while she was living: an appreciation of who (and why) she was, and how she shaped me being who I am. Long gone is the anger I had into my twenties. Now, I understand that she was deathly afraid of intimacy and that although that came from being hurt, those were also choices she made. I have the ability to make different choices.


Back to grief. I said once to a friend of mine who lost her husband that grief is a tricky little bitch. There are no real rules to grief. I remember asking a friend of mine who lost her father, “when will I feel normal again?” She said, “it’s never going to feel like it used to. But you’ll create a new normal.” I have another friend who lost his parents and his wife in rapid succession. He said, “after people die, there is a re-ordering of your own life. You have to figure out what makes you happy.”


Grief is not always from death. It can be from loss, such as after a breakup. It can also be a change in how you think your life will look. For instance, I’ve had clients I have worked with who experienced grief after they learned they could not have children; after they were hurt and had chronic pain; after they were diagnosed with HIV. In fact, grief is normal. A friend/colleague leaves a job, the clerk at the store you frequent retires; the doctor says you can’t run any more.


If grief is normal, why does it sometimes feel so isolating? Because, we feel like we’re the only one experiencing it. It feels like life might never feel “normal” again. It feels like the pain might eat our heart. I’ve had clients ask me, “how long will this take?” I understand the feeling. Knowing your heart is ripped open and it feels like nothing will be the same ever.


But, there is another side of grief. It is beauty. If we are open to it, grief can show us the beauty of life. Because loss only feels bad because of the wealth of the relationship. In my mother’s death, I found the beauty in her life. Because if my mother had been a terrible woman, I would not have been in pain. I was in pain because of her love and the loss of that. I was also able to see that in myself. I found peace in knowing that her loss opened me up to being more understanding, open and in a weird way, free. I now recognize, in a way I could not appreciate when she was alive, just how much she loved me and cared for me, to the extent she could.


But grief really is a tricky little bitch. There were days when I thought I was rounding the corner, and then all of a sudden, I would be overcome. I know for some, it is holidays and birthday. For me, I expected those to be hard and thus, they were not overwhelming. For me, it was walking into a store around Christmas, bursting into tears because I saw chocolate covered cherries – as those were given to me every year I could remember growing up for Christmas. It was the little, unexpected memories that popped up out of nowhere – from a song, or a smell or a weird quirk.


Grief isn’t always major. Maybe that is why it has come up for me this morning on my dive. We can grieve a lifestyle change, a change in locale a change in our friendships. Most of the time, I try to take each day as it comes. But, there are days when I am contemplative. Today is one of those days. I’m seeing the time tick down to going home. I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m in denial, I’m sad. Oh yeah. Those five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) seem to be showing up. Sigh. But, I have found with grief – the only way to the other side is through. We have to just feel the feelings. I’m a better person for having been here. But, man – change is hard.


One final thought. When my mother died, about seven months afterwards, I wrote down a phrase that captured the experience pretty well for me. “Exquisite pain.”


May your days be full of love.

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