I ran across a post on Facebook several days ago that I can’t stop thinking about.
Tim Lawrence sums up my numerous thoughts and emotions on grieving in this eloquent and thoughtful post.
I could blast out THOUSANDS of words on the subject, and I could tell you all the ignorant and thoughtless cliches I heard after my father’s death nearly twenty years ago, many of which still sting if I allow myself to fixate on them.
I’m coming into an unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling season. At the same time, I’m finally moving through some hard, but necessary emotions.
As the twenty-year anniversary of my father’s passing approaches in Spring 2016, I find myself thinking more and more about him — my relationship with him, my life before his death and my current life, the after.
I was a fresh-faced twenty-year-old when he died. I’m now a much more weathered forty-year-old.
I’ve lived an entire life without him — half with him, half without. My cousin, who attended his wake at two weeks of age, is now a college sophomore, a living testament to the passage of time.
So much has changed, yet on an emotional level, I often feel exactly as I did the moment I learned he was gone. It’s jolting to think of it this way.
I’m in a season of figuring out where to go from this point forward.
Grief is such a complex thing. It’s highly individual, which makes it challenging to comment on the subject in a broad, general sense.
I’m certainly no expert, and I feel that anytime I write or speak of my own experiences, there’s the chance that I’ll come across as a self-labeled authority, dismissive of others’ experiences, which is not at all my intent.
There is no standard timeline for grief. There is no one book, source, or method of interacting that comforts everyone who’s experienced a devastating loss. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but one of the most renowned books on the subject of grief made me inexplicably angry — A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.
I can’t explain it, but I felt more alone and like a complete weirdo, for lack of a better word, after reading it.
What did I miss? What’s wrong with me? Why did this book speak to so many while leaving me empty and more removed than before I grazed the pages?
There’s no exact answer.
But I’ve reached a point where I can say — It’s okay. Your experience is no less worthy or valid because a certain book didn’t provide the comfort you were seeking.
I suppose this is an example of the beauty and complexity of humanity. It’s quite individual.
I think what I’m going through right now has something to do with the anxiety I feel about sharing my story. I mean. . . I’m not writing a book on grief or on losing a loved-one to suicide or anything huge like that, but I’m feeling more and more of a push to share in some capacity.
I think in many ways sharing is part of my healing.
And not just the story of my father. I also feel the need to speak about losing my childhood friend, Kitty, as well as other experiences, most of which have to do with addiction and mental illness.
I am a huge advocate for dismantling the stigma of mental illness, yet speaking candidly about my family’s experience is, at times, terrifying.
But it’s also necessary. I’ve always had a strong, persuasive, gut feeling that this part of my life book needs to be told.
While sharing is important, I have to be mindful that I’m not the only one who’ll be affected by the telling of my experiences. I’ve been hesitant about how much to share on a large scale because of how my words could impact the most vulnerable of my relatives. But I worry about this less and less, as the ‘this is critical, essential, necessary’ feeling overrides my ambivalence.
I frequently ask — How can I share and not cause harm?
I’m not sure.
I think that I have to be bold and know that I’m coming from a pure place.
We live in such an era of speaking before thinking. Nowhere is this more evident than on social media.
I err on the side of caution while occasionally over-thinking. I often find myself wanting to spout off when something moves me, but I’ve learned to hold my tongue and sit with strong emotions before speaking, a trait I’ve gradually cultivated that has served me well as an adult. I was quite a mouthy child. I’m hopeful that I’ve learned to strike a balance.
But I also see myself not speaking when perhaps i should because I don’t want to be judged. I’m highly sensitive, and I don’t like to be called out. I can be thin-skinned, though I rarely show that side of myself — I talk a good game and often appear quite tough and as though nothing phases me. I wish this were always the case.
This post quickly became a meandering stream. Where was I?
Last night I re-read Tim Lawrence’s piece on grief. In the brief search I did on him, I’m beyond intrigued. His site, The Adversity Within, is worth a LONG look, particularly if you’ve experienced a recent loss.
It spoke to me in a way that I can barely articulate.
It was necessary to my healing. I’ve been grieving for just short of twenty years, and nothing has comforted me the way his words did. This is why it’s important to share our stories. I’m certain there were plenty who criticized his words, but I can’t help but ask — How many felt just as I did?
I encourage you to read Tim’s post in its entirety. I’ll provide the link at the end of this post.
Several quotes gave me pause.
The first one encompasses a part of my post-life-altering experience that I fight. I don’t want to be this person, but twenty years later this is part of who I am — but certainly not ALL of who I am:
“I have a more cynical view of human nature and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.” ~Tim Lawrence
The next one struck me, I think, because of my frustrations with our culture’s desire to neatly put everything into a nice, pretty package, and label it ‘now all is fine.’ We want to fix the unfixable. We latch on to the self-help concept —there’s meaning here.
Just no. NO.
What I took from the following was that it’s okay if, in the midst of grief, we’re not instantly a ‘rise-from-the-ashes’ success story. When a person experiences loss in the form of death, trauma, divorce, whatever, and goes on to do good things or becomes successful, many are quick to say things like ‘it was all part of the plan‘ — and perhaps this holds some truth that you and only you as the grieving person get to decide as you construct your life narrative. But coming from an outsider — a person not saddled with grief — it’s insulting. These words are pompous and insinuate that one’s success happened because the person experienced this atrocious pain and loss. Tim is quick to point out that while, yes, his experiences made him more empathetic, they’ve also hardened him in many ways — a concept that’s mostly overlooked on our quest for the shiny.
I found this helpful. I absolutely believe I’m a more compassionate person because of losing my father so tragically, yet when I need a safe space to talk about my pain, these quick-fix comments feel trite, dismissive, and hurtful. More specifically, I feel like I’m infringing on people’s rose-colored, Western optimism by speaking of my pain. I’ve experienced these words more than I care to admit, and inevitably they leave me wishing I had kept my feelings to myself. Here’s the quote:
“While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide.” ~Tim Lawrence
The last one speaks to something I’ve struggled with explaining, especially to people who knew me prior to my father’s death. It’s something I need to remember when friends are in the midst of grief, because even though I’ve dealt first hand with tragic loss, I still want to make people I care about feel better. The reality, and what I’d love to be able to voice is this — It can’t be fixed; stop trying. I’m not okay. . . but I am. I’m a different version of okay. Please allow me to move through this at my own pace, and I will. Perhaps I should consider passing out cards with that verbiage along with this quote:
“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” — Megan Devine (therapist and creator of the site Refuge in Grief, which I HIGHLY recommend)
Here’s the link to the article. I think it’s a necessary piece that’s so relevant to the cultural topic of grief. Check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’d also love to hear your experiences with grief. What resources/rituals/experiences have helped you the most?