Feeling — and thinking about — grief is sad and depressing. When you are going through grief, you may find people say the wrong thing or nothing at all. Even those with great empathy often don't get it, and can't really get it. No one can feel or understand what you are going through.
This isn't just an issue of timing, but of the fact that each of us handles grief in our own way. Something that might comfort one person could offend another.
Even after experiencing grief in my own life, I still often find myself at a loss of what to say to someone deep in the process of grieving. Because there are simply no words.
There is no single phrase or gesture that can make a person grieving heal from their personal grief. It is often a state of necessary loneliness. When I was in my deepest state of grief, I felt so alone — even when the phone was ringing with the thoughts of well-meaning friends and family.
But when I look back now, I'm actually grateful no one got my grief. Here's why:
1. I was able to see joy in others more clearly.
Grief felt like a disease, and I didn't want to give it to anyone else. I felt wrapped up in it, tightly bound in grief's grip like an Egyptian mummy. I felt I could only experience the world through my eyes, passively, by looking at others.
And I could see others were still living life: loving, being loved, getting married, having babies, buying houses. Being OK with my way of experiencing the world — through observing the joy of others — gave me hope that I might experience joy in my own life once again.
2. I got to understand the incomprehensible nature of grief.
I got a text from my mother-in-law not long after my husband's death. In it, she said she loved me and she was so sorry for what I was going through — but that she couldn't call and talk because she couldn't stop crying every time she thought about it. I completely understood. I of course had no idea what it was like to lose a child, and I was too deep in my own process of grief, feeling the tragic loss of my beloved husband to try.
We both needed our personal time to grieve our loss. We sent love — not necessarily understanding — to each other until we felt just a bit stronger. If I had taken on her grief as well, I believe we both would have been in deep despair for a much longer time.
3. I had the space and time to get to know myself.
I always felt on some level that my dad and my husband both defined who I was. I felt my identity was dependent on them.
So when they both died, I felt existentially lost. Who was I? Suddenly, I didn't know. I was alone. Not one half of a married couple. Not the daughter of my father. Just me.
It scared me so much to spend time by myself. I didn't know what to think. Was I still lovable now that the only two people who I felt ever really loved me were gone?
But I learned to cultivate care and love for myself. If I had a best friend who claimed to have completely understood me at the time, I think I would have resolved to see myself through my friend's eyes instead of my own. And I would have missed out on realizing my true beauty and happiness, both of which were buried beneath hurt, anger, sadness and years of self-loathing that I had spent years coping with by defining myself through my relationships.
Of course, it took me over six years to get to this point in my life and this realization on my journey. So I get it if you don't understand my process.
And I'm not, by any means, saying that I'm glad I had to experience such intense grief. If I had the chance to go back in time and pick up my lost loved ones and bring them back with me here today, I would. Without a doubt.
But the death of my father and the death of my husband both happened. And I can't go back. I am here now, after long periods of grieving. And so I choose, now, to be grateful for what I learned.
So if you are grieving, I have no words to heal you: "I'm sorry" is too little and "I understand what you are going through" promises too much. Instead of words, I am sending you three wishes and lots of love:
1. I wish for you to see the joy that exists along with the pain.
2. I wish for you to practice great self-care.
3. I wish for you to find your beauty buried beneath your grief and be able to shine your light with the world.
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