I picked up the book The Grief Club by Melody Beattie a few days after my dad died. I had a plan for my grief. This book would be my solution for navigating the immense heartache and anxiety that I felt. I am an expert at navigating my way through trauma and hard times and have coached many in my years as a Crisis Counsellor, so this would be a piece of cake, right? I thought that being solution-focused and pushing myself right in the middle of my grief would help me get through it faster and get back to that place of feeling like life was manageable again. I was going to dive right into the pain, allow the healing to begin and soon enough my pain would barely even be noticeable. Instead of navigating through the grief like an expert though, I became stuck. I tried to read the book a few more times, but I couldn’t get past those first few pages.
Life had to go on everyone said, but my heart was broken and depression was setting in. Life doesn’t wait for your pain to subside. It nudges you every day to get up, show up and be present even when you don’t want to. Time doesn’t take away the grief.
I went through the motions of the days, then weeks, then months. It was difficult to be social at the best of times for me, but during this time, in particular, it was very hard. Some days, I didn’t shower or get out of bed. Some days, I didn’t eat. Other days I hid my pain and put on that happy face while I cooked and cleaned and played my role of wife and mother. But, most of the time, I felt paralyzed by the grief. I would wake up in the middle of the night to use the washroom and lay back in bed and have a wave of sadness hit and would spend the next half hour crying myself back to sleep.
This happened at least three to four times a week, even months later. I felt ashamed I wasn’t just getting over it. I would try to channel my sadness into art therapy and although a good distraction for a while, I felt like I was merely just existing. I felt the need to be rooted in my grief to feel connected and close to my dad. I didn’t want to get too far away from the memories. The pain somehow kept me feeling close to him.
The Kubler-Ross model for grief theory suggests that someone experiences five emotional stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance that can happen in any random order and circle around each other as they process loss. It was all normal, but I felt anything but normal for a long time.
As I approached the first year after my dad died, I reflected on the ever-shifting emotions I had experienced and needed to reach out for support from others. Even though I am great at helping others navigate crises and help them discover their strength and courage to move through difficult times, learning how to do grief has not been an easy task. It has been a great reminder that we are all human and vulnerable.
The only steadfast thing about grief is the love still felt for someone that is gone. It is an unwavering truth that love never dies. With emotions changing day to day, uncertainty and confusion of so many different feelings, it was the love that I consistently felt.
As the quote by Jamie Anderson reads “Grief, I have learned is really just love. It’s all the love that you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
I had to learn to take all that love with no place to go and find somewhere to let it exist within this realm of time. I had to find a way to continue to have a metaphysical relationship with my dad that was enough. Traditions have been established, monuments have been created, conversations with pictures have taken place, journaling and writing music have all helped me to maintain that conscious contact with him. He is not here, but he is.
After someone you love dies there is a time of transition. How long it can last is different for everyone and finding a new normal is a personal journey of self-discovery. Learning to fully comprehend my grief — the terrifying pain that accompanies it — and coming to a place of learning that grief is just love, has been transformative.
Grief isn’t something to get over. It is a response and process to deep emotional pain with many peaks and valleys. Finding gratitude is not easy, but if you open yourself up to starting with love it is possible. I have begun to see the gifts that grief can offer, even when it still hurts. I found gratitude to have had such a deep capacity to love my dad the way that I did while he was here, and I find gratitude that I can still love him after he is gone.