How can we watch what is happening and maintain any level of joy? And should we? Or should we dip deeply into our grief and stay there? And how do we know when to emerge?
Here’s the tricky thing about grief – it doesn’t wait for our logical mind to accept it. Our intuitive self knows what we need emotionally, and it will drag us into grief if it must. We might think we’re handling any personal or societal tragedy until we find ourselves balling our eyes out at a dog food commercial.
Like an annoying friend, grief knocks on the door of our emotions and won’t stop until we acknowledge it. C.S. Lewis once said that nobody told him how much grief feels like fear. It can cause us to feel paranoid, or numb, or physically ill.
Grief has a purpose. It cleanses our bodies and minds by allowing us to release stress hormones. It forces us to look at our pain and acknowledge why it hurts. Pain is the friend that feels like a foe – it reminds us that we care, that other people matter, that love is worth it and hatred is wrong.
The trick is figuring out when grief has left the building but our left brain has decided to wallow. To stay safe and secure. To lock its emotional doors and keep the rest of the world out.
After my mom died in October, I thought I was handling it all very well. I reignited my consulting business and let go of all security. I am superwoman, after all. I can do anything.
In retrospect, I can do anything but mourn effectively. I fought my grief like Ali, although floating less like a butterfly and more like a zombie. I watched television non-stop, avoided phone calls, and ate like crap. I didn’t spend one hour in bed letting myself cry. I just stopped feeling much of anything.
As the months went by, I grasped at security, sorry that I decided to change my life at the very time grief had slowed my momentum. I jumped at internal job opportunities that weren’t right for me just to have something that felt safe. I stopped talking to friends and meeting colleagues for lunch. I wasn’t even hanging out with me. My favorite friend was Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen.
Now, more than six months after mom’s death, I’m starting to feel again. I’m realizing that being “strong” doesn’t mean ignoring pain. And with the news providing new tragedies every day, I’ve realized that I can’t take it all on and flip my cape in the wind. So I’m more selective about my sadness, applying it to what I can impact. And I’m starting to acknowledge that grief and pain are as necessary as love and joy, and need to be acknowledged and befriended.
Because that is what life is – caring enough to love greatly, and being brave enough to grieve deeply.
We are all in constant states of grief right now, and maybe we need to let someone else’s pain go so we can deal with our own. If you are grieving, I hope for you some deep tears, some loud wails, some beating of your pillow. I will hold a space for you in my heart, and will remind you that while grief hurts, it has a purpose. No pain, no gain. Sorry I said that.
Face your sadness. Let it soak right into your soul. Cry it out. Then jump back in with enough enthusiasm and love and connection that someday you will feel it all over again.