I (unfortunately) have some friends who have lost dear loved ones over the past year — parents, spouses, friends, siblings, even pets. Facebook makes the world a very small place, and I have been able to both sympathize and empathize with those in my circle who are grieving. As someone who has navigated through the very rocky waters of grief, I know that there are few things more personal than the way someone grieves. No one grieves exactly the same way, and there is no set timeline for how long you do grieve.
I have lost many loved ones throughout my lifetime. However, the two losses that I feel most acutely are my father, who has been gone for 23 years, and my best friend, who has been gone for almost three years. When I lost my dad, I was a 21-year-old girl who was just starting out in life. None of my friends had lost a parent, and my siblings were all much older than me, and had their own lives and families and schedules. My other parent, my mother, had been left handicapped by a stroke about 18-months prior to my father’s sudden passing. I instantly went into survival mode. My priority was my mother and how to best help her deal with her shock and grief, and also to adjust to the significant changes in her life. I was terrified that she would have a relapse and that she would end up in a nursing home. I had no choice but to put on my strong face and help mom — that was the most important thing. However, I was grieving, too. I made the unhealthy decision to internalize my grief, I thought that was the mature thing to do and told myself repeatedly that no one wanted to hear me whine.
Grief had other plans for me. I wasn’t going to deal with grief, but grief was going to deal with me — and this particular jealous mistress was a mean one. It showed up where I didn’t want it — at work, at parties, shopping, in my dreams, and in my other relationships. Grief never took a vacation, but instead rudely invited itself on my vacations and my holidays. Grief never looked the same, either, so it was sometimes hard to recognize it. It took the shape of depression, nightmares, alcohol, guilt, an eating disorder, unsafe relationships, inappropriate emotional outbursts, anger, low self esteem, and it always had me searching and searching and searching for something — anything — that would make me NOT hurt. Grief wanted me all to itself, and grief would not be ignored. If I started to feel good and positive about things, or if, God forbid, I would start to enjoy life — BOOM! There would be grief, in some way, shape, or form, to slap me back into dismal reality.
Now, let’s fast forward. Through a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, prayer, and ridding myself of some very toxic relationships, I felt I was on a very good path. I had a wonderful family of my own, a home full of love and warmth, and I was fulfilling some lifelong dreams. During this time, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer. I watched the strongest man I know fight the fight of his life and eventually lose. I knew the end was coming. I spent every minute with him that I could. I have no regrets and I know undoubtedly that he knew how very much I loved him. It was the exact opposite of losing my dad — it was expected, drawn out, ugly, and painful. My dad had left us with no warning, and it was over in the blink of an eye. I foolishly thought that because I knew my friend was going to die, the grief would be easier — that his death would be a relief. Again, grief proved me wrong. That jealous mistress was back. Grief is a lot like Taylor Swift, annoying and always traveling with an entourage. I found myself not only grieving for my friend, but it triggered grief for others I had lost — grief I thought was long buried.
My friend’s death sent me reeling. I was painfully depressed, lonely, and so very angry. I became physically ill — my body couldn’t keep up with the emotional stress I was feeling and so it started to fight like I had an infectious disease. Medical tests showed inflammation of all of my organs, abnormal blood counts; but just what was my body fighting? Grief. A broken heart, plain and simple. I was also dealing with a ton of guilt. Any time I found myself happy, grief would sucker-punch me with guilt for experiencing joy while my friend was dead. There was also guilt about being sad. Who was I to be sad? Others have it so much worse. My friend’s parents lost their son, how dare I think my grief was important?
Grief is a judgmental little bitch, too. Self-important. Alongside the guilt, I was experiencing a lack of compassion toward anyone who was hurting. It all seemed so trivial compared to my hurt. The jealous mistress kept me pretty isolated, too. If I saw others who were getting what I perceived as more support for their issues than I was getting for mine, I blamed everyone else. Why didn’t I garner that kind of support? Was I unlovable, did no one care? I forgot that I basically holed up in my home and did nothing but work and cry and be angry for over a year. I saw no one, ignored friends, and canceled plans often. I went to a grief support group one night, but I was the only person there so I never went back. My inherent sarcasm turned mean, where before it had been funny. It is no wonder people stayed away when I was doing such a great job of pushing them away.
I literally couldn’t stand myself, so I woke up one morning and decided to change. I returned to the world of the living. Little by little, I have come back to a familiar Meg. A Meg who is willing to let people in, who knows there is more to life than work, and who has resumed her faith that there are things bigger than grief and bigger than my own hurting heart. I have done my level best to rid myself of grief, but the jealous mistress still pops up here and there. Holidays are grief’s favorite time of the year to intrude on my life. This year, though, it has shown its face less and less — I think it is finally getting the hint that it is most unwelcome.
I pray for all who are experiencing grief in any way, and I send each and every one of you the promise that one day, the sun will surely shine again.