I’ve spent the good part of a year in a state called “Grief.” My grief is not unique to others. My grief is not a new kind that’s never been felt before. My grief is not deeper than someone else’s. My grief is not different at all. My grief is the same kind you feel. My grief is all-consuming, and sucks the oxygen from my lungs when I least expect it. My grief invites me over and begs me to stay longer. Most times my grief doesn’t have to beg, much of the time I stick around on purpose, sometimes I don’t, and it just kind of happens. Every time I try to leave, I can’t understand how or why I return so quickly and so frequently. But I always do.
The person I was prior to ‘divorce’ had one devastating and catastrophic event associated with grief. I visited this place called Grief back when I was 19 years old. My grandmother had passed away of cancer. We knew it was coming and I did everything I thought I was supposed to do in order to avoid the insurmountable pain I had heard about. The truth quickly proved that there is no preparation for death or for grief.
I visited grief for a solid year before picking myself up and coming to some sort of understanding about it. I learned that it doesn’t go away, ever. I discovered that I would choose to visit grief on my own accord at times. When memories flooded me and I needed to release the pain, grief would welcome me with open arms and heavy blankets.
Sometimes I would choose to stay for a while because the memories wouldn’t shut off, or maybe I didn’t want them to. Sometimes I would have the strength to throw the blankets off and run towards new and exciting things and people; those that would allow me to make new memories. But somehow, in that year, I ended up back under those blankets and in that place more times than I can remember. I felt like I was failing at grieving. There should be a beginning, middle and an end, right?
I visited Grief less and less after that year passed. But it scared me when I would open my eyes some mornings and realize I was already there, without warning or choice. I would be taken back there time and time again against my will. I reached out to family to see if they were also being taken back and held hostage. It turns out they were. I wasn’t alone, but no one was talking about it.
I began talking about it. I began speaking of my grandmother’s memory more often and with more joy. I knew it was helping me, but it seemed painful for others, like my father. I could tell it stung him and took him back to Grief. Grief kept him longer than it kept me, but that was understandable, because it was his mother who he was grieving.
I learned a lot by losing my precious, beautiful grandmother. And as the years sped on and I lost more loved ones and moved on, I came to the conclusion that I stayed in grief for what felt like an eternity that year because I was so young at the time and it was my first real loss.
That is until I went through my divorce.
I’ve heard people describe divorce like a death. I, myself, always understood how it could “feel” that way, but deep down and on the outside, I didn’t really think it would feel that way. I felt what losing someone was like, and if that person isn’t dead, than how can it feel like a death? That didn’t make sense to me. But I always understood that it may have felt that way, and for me, that was enough.
And yet, here I am. I’m back. In Grief.
Ah, we meet again you ugly bastard. I didn’t believe you could wedge your way back into my life but you did it. I thought I had left you forever and found ways to visit from a distance while keeping a smile on my face and a disconnected nod to you in acknowledgment, without eye contact. I detached my heart and feelings so I wouldn’t have to feel the pain you layer so thick across my chest.
And yet, here I am. I’m back.
And guess what? Divorce is like a death, and sometimes worse.
This place, Grief, has changed since the last time I visited. It feels as though I’m gasping for oxygen because of the changing toxins in the air. The air is poison, filled with guilt, heartache, judgment, visions of my past life, and a devastating, overwhelm and all-consuming blanket of loss. The space has become darker than I remember and the blanket isn’t just heavier, it’s almost impossible to crawl out from underneath some days.
I’ve ended up in Grief against my will more days than not. I’ve come here willingly with a hope and a prayer that it will be the last time I visit, at least for a while. It swallows me whole until I no longer realize I’m there, and feel I have no other choice but to invite others in because I can’t find my way out to them.
Although this feeling is familiar, bringing others into my grief is something new. Asking others to join me in such a toxic place can feel mean, and undeserving. No one should have to sit and suffer beside me, but with a clouded mind and a loss of direction, I truly don’t know better sometimes.
And yet those who sit with me always help me find a way out. They light the tunnel and lead me to the other side. To think I could get through grief alone or believe I was meant to stay and suffer is truly absurd. I gain strength to remove the blankets and gain insight in the silence when they sit with me. I learn how to get out quicker the next time, and grow from each visit. I learn about why I continue to go back. I learn what I need to keep moving forward. And my visits become less frequent and my stays briefer.
During this most recent rendezvous in Grief, I came to the understanding that while it brings me back time and time again, I don’t have to stay. I can go, acknowledge the grief and return to my life. I can be taken unwillingly, and yet willingly leave all the same. It’s painful and difficult the first few times, but as I practice leaving, it becomes easier to walk away.
I don’t want to visit grief anymore, but the truth is, I will. And it will teach me something I didn’t know; something I can use to make my visits less painful and less often. But it will always be there. It teaches me not to view it as such a negative place as I teach myself to gain back control after I learn why I’ve returned, but it’s a necessary place. It teaches me to stop running to it, and also not to avoid it. Because for some reason I need it, we all need it. We need to visit and make peace with it, acknowledge it and move on.
Grief is scary, but unavoidable. Grief is hard, but not impossible. Grief is necessary.
As Robert Frost says, “the only way out is through.”
So, until next time, Grief.