A stand-up comedian once told me that the best jokes are the ones that you don’t see coming, the ones that catch you sideways.
Grief is like that.
Immediately after the initial experience of loss, you are left with emptiness. Something, someone, or something you thought you knew could have either been lovingly or brutally yanked from your heart. You could hardly feel all other parts of your body. The numbness is trying to soothe the emptiness.
Then slowly, you start to feel these pointed jabs in your heart from the voices floating around in your head. Some start with the questions how or why. Some come with self-doubt. Some are mere question marks, not even knowing where to begin.
There’s nothing you can do. It’s done. There’s no going back. Like shattered glass, you just have to pick up the pieces. But you know you just can’t yet.
Too many feelings are coming at you from every direction. Sadness always comes like a big unexpected wave. When it ebbs, joy sometimes bubbles up for what you’ve had. When there’s silence, you feel the freedom of a new life ahead of you.
Then when you think you’re okay, grief sneaks up on you through the side door again. It could have been the memory of a place, something you usually loved to do together, or simply a very familiar smell.
Sometimes, you just wish you could forget. Sometimes, you just wish you could drown the memories all night with alcohol. But no matter what you do, you simply can’t.
Grief won’t let you.
Grief is asking you to experience this. Though you don’t realize it yet, grief has something wise to teach you.
One of the most painful awakening moments I’ve ever experienced was when I realized that the person I have loved for more than 10 years wasn’t really the person I thought he was, or more accurately, he wasn’t the person I wished he would be for me. I experienced it as a loss, because all those years I had firmly believed that this man was my partner and supporter.
Well, until he no longer could, or until I realized I seem to not really know him at all or, possibly, not truly know myself.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, in their book, On Grief and Grieving, identified five stages of grief. They are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
Though every person’s experience is unique, and not everyone is going to go through all these stages or even in said order, these have helped me frame my experience from such loss. Somehow, giving myself permission to be in each of these stages, or in none of these, allowed the grief to flow and gave reason to the pain.
I found that one of the devastating reasons why grief is so painful is because the sudden change in our lives is something that we did not intend. Even if it could have been something we could see coming, the loss is still a change that we have to grapple with.
We’re human and we’re creatures of habit. Anything that goes against that requires a rearranging of our psyche that is not all too easy to undertake.
Denial was what happened after that moment of shock, when something I knew was taken from me. The life I thought I had was no more. I was given new information that I wasn’t quite sure how to handle just yet.
So I entered into the Bargaining stage. There were so many questions of “How?”, “Why?”, “What happened?”, “What did I do?”, “Could I have done better?”, “Has it always been like this?”. My psyche tried to make sense. My psyche tried to create stories.
The more I asked, the more I pondered, the more I just dug myself into a very deep hole.
But after some time, Anger started to bubble up and wouldn’t have any of it. It was time to stop downplaying myself.
Anger wanted me out of Denial, Bargaining and Depression. Anger wanted me out of victimhood. Anger was shaking me up.
Loss is loss. Anger wanted me to feel all the rage of the loss. The only way out was through.
When I walked through the fire that Anger was burning for me, I had to wrestle with the deeper meaning behind the loss and what I was really longing for. What about the loss has caused me this much pain? What delusion have I come up with to soothe my soul? What do I really need?
I realized that all throughout my adult life, I have been relying solely on someone and something outside of myself, i.e. my partner and our relationship, for my happiness. I realized I never truly developed my own sense of self. I wasn’t clear with my own desires, so I ended up always being amicable with the desires of another.
Brené Brown in her book, Rising Strong, indicates that one element of grief is longing.
“Longing is not conscious wanting; it’s an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for understanding, for meaning, for the opportunity to regain or even simply touch what we’ve lost.”
My soul was yearning for wholeness within me, to recognize my own wholeness, to stand up for my own meaning and make myself matter. That’s when I realized I had to forgive. It was a necessary part of my grieving process.
In my case, it was self-forgiveness. True to the etymology of the word forgive, I had to completely give and to give in marriage to the union of my own self, from who I have been to who I am now.
Who I have been was a necessary part of my growth. My loss was a lesson to me of my own dysfunctional ways of thinking. I also had to forgive how they got there.
It wasn’t until then that Acceptance arrived.
In Acceptance, there’s no blame. There are no wishes that someone else coulda, shoulda, woulda for me when I was growing up.
I’m an adult now and I was simply doing my best with the resources I had. What that also means is that I can empower myself to be more self-loving and recognize my own wholeness.
With a renewed sense of wisdom within my cells, I saw the world with new eyes, I saw myself with new eyes. I felt the freedom that the loss has brought me.
The greatest realization of all was that there wasn’t anything to fear in the aftermath of loss or during the grieving process. Yes, there was pain, but pain is a gift. It’s the one that led me towards the path of healing and so much more.
A stand-up comedian once told me that a great stand-up comedy show is one in which, though it may sound like you’re being thrown different jokes throughout the hour, you’re actually being prepped towards one very big punchline at the very end and you come away having the best time, laughing uncontrollably, and shaking your head in amazement when you realize it was all actually interconnected.
Life’s like that too.
This article was previously published on Rebelle Society.
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