I used to think that when you lost a loved one, you dealt with the shock, then had a grieving period and then life went on. After losing my mom five years ago, I now realize that grief is an ongoing process that will last a lifetime.
I was reminded of this the other day when one of my students approached me after my yoga class to tell me how my Dharma talk (which happened to be about my mom) made her feel like her own mother was sending her blessings from beyond. I noticed her to be visibly upset, so thinking the loss of her mother may have been recent, I asked, “How long ago did your mom pass?”
“Fifteen years ago," she replied. We continued chatting and she confessed that certain times like this day, the anniversary of her mother's death, are still very tough. I completely understood.
The pain of loss gets stored in our cells along with our love for that person and somehow around certain important dates, you start to feel “off” and you’re not quite sure why … and then you realize the cause. It’s that mix of love and grief coming up to the surface sometimes on the special dates and sometimes simply when you least expect it.
Whether you’re grieving a recent loss or one from long ago, my heart goes out to you. Either way, you will always be navigating the treacherous journey that is grief. However, if you stay open, you can learn some valuable lessons:
1. No two experiences of loss are exactly alike.
Even though my brother and I both lost our mother, we handled it completely differently. We both had a different bond with her and we both have different sets of values. Don’t expect that anyone (even a member of your family who has suffered the same loss) will be able to completely understand what you’re going through. This journey is yours and yours alone.
2. You can be surrounded by people and feel lonely.
I had all the love and support in the world when my mom died and yet I’ve never felt lonelier in my entire life. I would be home with my loving family and feel lonely. I would go out with a bunch of friends and feel lonely. I would play with my kids and feel lonely. For me, the loneliness came from knowing I would never get to see her again. What would I do with this HUGE void? Eventually, I learned to sit with my loneliness and to recall the loving memories I had of my mom in order to feel less lonely. In time, it got better.
3. People will say some incomprehensibly insensitive things.
I had one friend tell me, “You need to get over this” and another tell me, “You’re broken." For the most part, people mean well. They love you and are most likely frustrated that they can’t make the situation better for you, so they may say things out of frustration. And let’s be honest, some people will just say stupid stuff. Like the girl I ran into who knew my mom had passed and asked, “How’s your mom?” Don’t be surprised or offended by what people say to you. Take it all with a grain of salt.
4. You will learn to be gentle with yourself.
Most of us are “fixers” by nature: we want to fix the uncomfortable feelings in life. I wanted to do this from the moment my mom died. I kept thinking, “When will I start feeling better about this?” Then a friend who had lost her father years before said to me, “Be gentle with yourself." To me, gentle with myself meant being patient with myself and allowing myself to feel whatever I needed to feel instead of trying to fix it. About three years after my loss, just when I thought life was starting to get back on track, I had a HUGE meltdown. I allowed myself to stay curled up in a ball crying for 2 hours. It was just what I needed.
5. Get all the help you can!
I come from a long line of women warriors. When crisis strikes, we put on our big girl panties and barrel through. No time for pity parties or falling apart. WRONG! This time I couldn’t get myself through my grief alone. I was fortunate to recognize this and in my own time, I hired a life coach who helped me move forward in the healthiest fashion for me. Get the help that you feel you need. There is nothing wrong with that.
6. Not everyone will stick around when the dust settles.
You’ll never be the same and the people that were in your life before your loss may or may not be able to handle the new “broken” you, the you with baggage. This has nothing to do with who you are. Wish them well and let them go.
7. Love helps.
Even though I felt lonely, I felt loved. I went back home to be surrounded by the family I grew up with, the ones who know my history from the very beginning (there’s something so comforting about this) and love me unconditionally. They pampered and spoiled me and made me laugh again. Surround yourself with a love like that. When I have my blue days, I know exactly who I need to call or surround myself with.
8. You CAN turn your sorrow into treasured gold.
In time, I decided that I didn’t want the sudden loss of my mom to be “it." Poor me, my mom died, I’m sad, the end. I decided to use my grief as the fuel that helped me kickstart my life! I CHOSE to not turn into a victim but rather live to the fullest and make every single day count! What better way to honor the memory of a loved one?
I miss my mom every day. The days that are great are because I choose for them to be, and some days simply suck, and that’s OK too. Dealing with grief is an ongoing process. The wound will always be there, and there will always be something that triggers you to have that ugly-cry-meltdown no matter how much time has passed or how great your life has become since your loss. Allow yourself to surrender to the ebb and flow of grief. May the journey of grief be a gentle one for you and may you find the light at the end of the tunnel.