Good grief

Happiness. Love. Peace.

Are these the words you use to describe your emotions when someone is no longer part of your life??

or would you use words like sorrow, anger, regret, and depression?

or maybe, like me, you’d use all of these words and more. Maybe, like me, you were surprised to experience such a  range of wildly different emotions when someone you cared about was gone. Maybe, like me, you were shocked that grief lasts at least a year… that holding a memory of someone in your heart can be joyful…that sadness hits you the hardest at the times you expect it the least.

That wild rollercoaster of emotions? It lasts a year.

A Rabbi shared this wisdom with my family. Grief can last a long time, but it always lasts a year. When you flip the calendar and see the date of a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or other memorable day — the absence of a loved one hits you all over again. Someone you shared special moments with is no longer by your side. You realize again and again that person is no longer physically with you. You relive the goodbye, the moment you knew it was complete. The feelings flood back in waves. All at once.

The most surprising part of it is….

Grief hits you at the most unexpected times during that year and beyond.

The moments you can anticipate grief are the ones that can be marked on a calendar. You can mentally prepare for those days. So when you find yourself (like I did), on a shopping spree, listening to the radio, in the produce aisle of the grocery store, sitting on a park bench…or some other seemingly innocent place – you (like me) are surprised when your eyes flood with tears, your body shakes, your head pounds. In an instant whatever you were doing or thinking triggered an unexpected moment of grief.

As that shock reverberates through your body sometimes you realize…

Feelings need to be felt.

After spending much time after many losses squashing down my feelings I became numb. The pleasant feelings were the worst because they led to guilt. The sad feelings overwhelmed me to the point that getting out of bed each day was a real struggle. The longer I held those feeling in, the longer my grief lasted.

When I learned to honor my feelings — whenever the happened, wherever I was, no matter how absurd they seemed – my grief passed more quickly. By living in those moments I was able to cycle through the process with less pain.

And what really stunned me was discovering…

There is much joy in the memories.

Riding in my car listening to my girls belt out the words to Call Me Maybe makes me think about how my stepmom and I would drive around jamming together (clearly did not apply to teenage years). When my girls beg me for a sip of coffee I remember that my grandmother, Gaboo, would give me coffee anytime I stayed with her (I found out later it was decaf). I smile every time Marlee begs me to bring her shopping and insists on coming with me to the dressing room to provide a live consultation of my wardrobe…which brings back fond memories of many people in my life.

Those same moments that trigger grief are the same ones that activate joy. Savor those moments of joy. Build on happy memories. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judgment.

Touching words from an unlikely source.

When my mom died many people sent me expressions of sorrow and words of support. There was one Hallmark card whose words have stayed with me through the years. These are the words I always want to share with people when they experience a loss (but I don’t plagiarize, nor do I like giving Hallmark too much credit so I haven’t actually re-written these until now).

For each hour

of your loneliness

I wish you a day of comfort;

for each minute of your grief

a year of peace;

and for every tear,

a thousand reasons to smile

These words always give me comfort.

Good grief!

Until recently I didn’t know that all the emotions associated with grief – including the emotion of grief itself – are good ones. They are therapeutic. They are our inner guidance system helping us recover from our losses. They are meant to be listened to. Embraced…then slowly fading over the course of a year and beyond. And when the grieving process is complete (if it’s ever really complete…I haven’t actually completed it myself yet)…I imagine what remains is blissful.

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