How I Manage My Relationship with Grief

Mindfulness

Easter is a holiday that brings up a lot of emotion for me. I was raised in the Greek Orthodox faith, and even though my Easter won’t be celebrated until next weekend, I felt called to share the feelings of grief that always come through for me at this time of year.

I spent a lot of my growing up years at church with my dad. He was very passionate about religion and faith, so much so that he wanted to be a priest at one point in his life. I would attend every single service possible with him. It was what we did together, and in the Orthodox church services, you are in church for many, many, many hours. And I really, really, really liked it, oddly enough.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may remember that my dad passed away unexpectedly almost 12 years ago. I cry writing this sentence for you, because even though 12 years feels like a long time, it also feels like no time at all. His death was and still is the most challenging life event I have had to maneuver through so far.

I vividly remember a few months after my dad passed away, I was still very immersed in my mourning. I was a hot mess, actually. I felt like I just could not get it together, and absolutely everything made me emotional. I remember being embarrassed by my inability to shake it off, and my friend, in her attempts to comfort me, let me off the hook by declaring that I was allowed to take one whole year to be a mess about it all. I took it to heart, and felt a sense of relief that there was this unspoken rule that everyone who experiences grief, gets a year to get over it.

As the year mark approached I remember still not feeling very complete with my grief, and feeling a sense of dread that the moment was going to arrive, and I wasn’t going to be ready, that I needed more time. When the year mark arrived, surprise, surprise I wasn’t over it. And I felt like something was wrong with me.

I didn’t want to be that “messy person” who couldn’t get over things, so, in my young mind, I felt like I had to turn off my feelings, because I was given my “get out of grieving free card”, and now I had to be normal again. I tried really, really hard to push away my grief, and it oftentimes came out sideways. It showed up as anger, denial, and in me pretending that nothing had even happened at all.

In the 12 years since entering the grief club (I guess it’s a club, I’m not sure what else to call it, but I’m open to suggestions!), I’ve learned that grief never goes away, not completely anyway. It is my experience that once the threshold is crossed, it’s something that stays with you forever. It’s almost as if you become a time traveler or that you straddle two realities or two worlds; the one before and the one after, and you’ll tick tock between the two, probably forever.

Memories will flash into your mind unexpectedly that will completely take you out. You’ll feel overwhelmed with what was, and what is no longer. Sometimes your brain won’t be able to comprehend it all. You’ll come across things that can remind you of the person that only you notice, and you’ll really wish that you could tell that person all about it, but you can’t. It’s a perpetual itch that you can never really scratch.

You’ll feel like, if you allowed yourself to, you could cry every single day thinking about it, but you probably won’t let yourself. You should though. You’ll wonder what things would be like if it reality was different. You’ll also mourn all the memories and moments that you thought you’d have, that you never will. You’ll get triggered a lot, and it will make you feel like you’re weak, but I promise you it will make you stronger. 

And even though all these things feel incredibly painful, there’s a silver lining because I believe there’s always a silver lining. We all know that with every ending comes a new beginning, and with grief being that forever friend, we are ushered into a new relationship with what has been lost. Just like any other relationship, it has its highs and lows.

Like I said before, grief is forever, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing because the things that we feel surrounding grief are the reminders of someone or something that meant a tremendous amount to us. It’s the reminder that love was present, and that even if it’s no longer in its original form, that love still exists.

I’ve noticed that when I embrace my grief, and the feelings that come with it, I feel closer to what I lost. I will always feel a tinge of sadness when I hear an Alanis Morissette song on the radio, or eat Greek food, because it will always remind me of my dad, but I can usher that sadness into gratitude knowing that in those moments, I’m getting a little wink from him that he’s still around, although in a different form.

Grief is the the most humanizing process, it reminds you that we can lose, but that we also can heal. It’s unifying in that, at one point or another in this life we will become members of this club, and that’s weirdly comforting, isn’t it? It’s personal in that we will all maneuver through it differently, and we should always allow ourselves to create our own relationship with it. We all have to work through the trauma and feelings that come with it, and it’s necessary to allow yourself the time and the space to do so.

Judging yourself or putting yourself on a timeline won’t help you get through grief, it actually just makes things worse. Pushing your feelings down will turn you into someone that ultimately, you won’t be able to recognize. Shutting off from the new reality will keep you in a perpetual state of loss. The magic or the key to cultivating a healthy relationship with grief is remembering that you are responsible for the relationship you have with it, and honing the awareness to care for yourself and that relationship. 

I know I’ve used a lot of metaphors for grief today, and I’ll give you one more as my parting thought. Think of grief as the ocean, with waves. Some waves are big, and can feel like they’ll take you out. Remember to keep your head above water, and do your best to keep breathing through it. Some waves come with storms that will require preparation and help, remember it’s always safe and appropriate to ask for help. Some waves are small that you’ll feel for a brief moment and it will pass. Some waves are fun and joyful, relish in them.

And of course you’ll have moments when it’s a clear blue sky with not a ripple in the sea. If we can learn to ride these waves, whenever and however they appear, grief will no longer feel like a burden, but a strength because it means that ultimately, we’ve learned how to weather it.

xo, Michelle

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