I often talk about grief being a journey. One of my clients asked me the other day exactly what that means. So I explained that we can go through our lives traversing or sidestepping disappointments, setbacks, and perceived failures; wondering what we have to do to have our lives turn out the way we want or hope them to become. Often it is not until we have a larger loss, like the loss of a loved one, that we are thrown into a grief so deep that it completely dismantles our life as we knew it.
Each person’s grief journey is unique.
Knowing and accepting it can be a turning point in the journey. Early on in my own journey, knowing my daughter’s physical presence would be forever missing from my life, grief hung over me like a heavy burden. I vividly remember, a few years after she died, that it was the summer of the cicadas in Maryland. The sound was always there, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, but relentless in its continual roar. That is how my grief felt to me in those days, continual and relentless. It was always present in the background of everything I did.
It was during this time that I was taking time each day to be with and feel my feelings as they were showing up for me. Knowing I was making space each day for my feelings to be as messy, painful, and raw as they were eventually allowed me to have more and more time during the course of my day to concentrate on the work of putting my life back together. Was it easy? Absolutely not. And I have shared more than once that losing my daughter was way too high a price to not be who I am. This was the guiding principle in the early days of my grief.
We are faced with the choice of attempting to find meaning again or staying in our pain.
Maybe we do not even recognize that we have a choice. Maybe we are aimlessly going through our life trying to find our way not know which direction to turn. Our grief journey does not begin the moment a loved one dies and does not complete at some arbitrary time in the future after we have gone through all of the stages of grief in an orderly fashion.
Grief is not orderly; it does not follow one particular path. It is messy. It is not linear. It looms big one minute and the next we have a glimmer of an understanding.
Our daily disappointments take on a new dimension in the face of a traumatic loss of a loved one. Our priorities can change and often do. Things that we used to do now do not make sense. Life-changing major losses, whether it is the loss of a loved one, a relationship, or health related have the potential to turn our lives upside down and inside out. How we put them back together again is all part of our journey.
At some point I was able to move into a place of purpose, of knowing that my grief journey was leading me into my most authentic self. When did that happen? It took a long time, and for me it was gradual. Everyone is on his or her own time; there is no
right answer to that question. What I can tell you is that each time I surrendered to my feelings, as they appeared in my heart, I received blessings and grace.
It brings to mind Rumi’s poem,
Be helpless and dumbfounded, unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come
from grace to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see the beauty. If we say “Yes we can,” we’ll be lying.
If we say “No, we don’t see it,”
that “No” will behead us
and shut tight our window into spirit.
So let us not be sure of anything,
beside ourselves, and only that, so miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero-circle, mute,
we will be saying finally,
with tremendous eloquence, “Lead us.”
When we’ve totally surrendered to that beauty, we’ll become a mighty kindness.
version by Coleman Barks
Saying yes to your grief journey can be one of the biggest gifts of your life. It will open you up to the messiness and joy of life.