Step 1 and Grief

I have really struggled with writing this post.  Grief is a very unique and individual thing.  No two people go through it the same.  It’s like trying to walk through quicksand.  Some days, you do pretty well and other days you feel like you are going to be swallowed up.  In the first few days following a death, you’re just trying to keep your head above the water.  You just have to survive.  The breathing and relaxation techniques that I talk about in the menu bar might help.  Mostly you just need your family and friends.  You need to know that you’re loved and that you’re not alone, even if it feels like it.  Loneliness is a crazy thing.  You can be in a room full of people and still feel very much alone.  That’s when you discover your real strength and resiliency.  You can do this.  You can and you will  get through this.  But, it will suck from here to there.  There is no use in sugarcoating that.  It sucks.  Death sucks.  But, it can’t be undone, so the only choice we have is to make it through the quicksand as quickly as we can so that we come out on the other side with as few scrapes and bruises as possible.  That’s where I’m hoping this blog might help.  Please forgive me if I sound blunt in what I’m about to say.  I don’t mean to be hurtful or insensitive.  This is a tough subject and sometimes it needs straightforward talk.  So take my hand and we will walk through the quicksand together.

Step 1 is the quickest step to explain and it can be the longest step to get through.  It’s a hard one.  Step 1 is all about owning your feelings.  You need to own your grief.  You don’t need to like it.  You don’t need to want it.  But you have to accept it, if you want to bring peace back to your life.  What’s even worse is, you have to accept the fact that your loved one is gone and they aren’t coming back.  You have to accept the fact that you’re sad, angry, scared, overwhelmed, lonely, or all of the above.  That’s a harsh thing to hear and it’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s the first step to getting your life back.  It’s the first step to fighting the grief.  And that’s what this is.  It’s a fight – a fight to get peace back in your life.  You can do this.  You have the strength in you.  You can do this.  It will take work and a level of determination that you never knew you had.  But, you can do this.  So let’s put on our muck boots and get out of the quicksand.

Quicksand is a weird thing.  The more you struggle against it, the more you sink to the bottom.  It’s not until you stop fighting it and accept what it is, that you can get out.  Grief is kind of like that.  The more you struggle against the changes in your life the faster you sink.  When someone you love dies and the bottom falls out of your world, life as you know it changes.   It changes and you want nothing more than for it to get back to the way it was.  That’s all you want.  You want your old life back.  You want your loved one back and that’s ok.  It’s ok to want your life back.  It’s ok.  You don’t have to put a smile on your face and pretend like you love your new life.  You don’t and that’s ok.  It’s ok to be mad.  It’s ok to be scared.  It’s ok to be confused.  It’s ok to be lonely.  You don’t have to pretend that you’re happy.   What I hope you can do is accept whatever it is that you feel.  How do you do that?  Just say “I’m scared to live without _______ in my life, but I’m going to work to bring peace to my life”.  That’s it.  That was easy.  Right?  Wrong.  It’s waaaaay harder than that.  You not only have to say the words, you have to believe them and you have to do the work.  And it is work to survive grief.  Hard, ugly, messy work.

Why should you do this?  Why do you need to accept your feelings when you just want to numb your pain, and not look at it.  If you can own your feelings and accept them, then you can change them.  And that is power.  Accepting your feelings is giving yourself power.  A natural reaction to anything unpleasant is to avoid it.  Grief is more than unpleasant.  It’s a pain like nothing else.  We sure don’t want to look at that.  We usually want nothing more than to put it away and avoid it.  But putting it away and avoiding it, doesn’t get rid of it.  It just puts it off until later.  And what’s wrong with that?  It has a bad habit of bubbling it’s ugly self up and making itself known at the worst possible time.  When we shove it down, we can’t control when it comes up.  When we look at it and face it head on, we get to decide when and how it gets handled.  That’s power.  How do we face something so awful?  When we get that sick feeling in our stomach and we ache from missing our loved one, we say (out loud if you can) “I’m scared to live without ____________, but I’m going to work to bring peace to my life”.  And then you move on to the other steps.  That’s all you have to do.  Look at it.  Face it.  Call it by name.  That’s all there is to it.  You just have to do that everyday for months and months.  Like I said – work.  Might as well tell you to walk through fire.  It’s hard.  It’s awful.  But, doing it will help to break up the pain and bring peace back to your life.

This is all so much easier said than done.  I know that.  It’s so much easier to say “I’m mad because the kids didn’t take the garbage out”  than it is to say  “I’m acting mad at the kids, because I’m scared.  I’m scared to live my life without my mom in it.”  The problem is, if you don’t accept your pain, then you get stuck.  I know a man who lost his wife and baby in an incredibly tragic car accident.  I can’t begin to understand his pain.  I would never tell him “You have to accept your pain to move on”.  It was too fresh and too raw and too powerful.  How can I even begin to tell that man what to do?  I can’t.  But, I will say if you can’t get through step 1 and accept the situation, you will get stuck in it.  I’m guessing that if that man was reading this he would say “I know they’re dead.  I know that everyday when I come home to an empty house.  I know they are gone.”  Knowing it and accepting it are two different things.  He knew they were dead, but he wouldn’t let anyone touch any of their things.  The house was just like it was when they left home that day.  So you say, “You can’t expect him to leave the cemetary and go home and get rid of everything”.  It had been a year since they died and not one thing had been moved.  Nothing had changed a year later.  He was stuck and didn’t know how to move on.  His pain paralyzed him.  Please don’t think I’m judging him.  Again, I can’t begin to understand that kind of pain.  What I’m getting at is, he was stuck in pain.  He knew they were dead, but he didn’t accept it and he got stuck.  Nobody wants to be in that agony one second longer than necessary.  Accepting your grief and looking at it will help to keep you from getting stuck.

There are a lot of reasons why people get stuck and can’t accept that the person they love is dead.  It could be that they feel like letting go of their pain would be letting go of the person – and they don’t want to let go.  Believe me,  you will not forget them.  Accepting their death is not saying you like it.  It’s not saying that you are ok with them being gone.  It is simply accepting the reality of the situation and releasing your pain.  When you can break up the pain it gets replaced by peace.  And that peace allows you to remember them in a loving, calming way.  Not in a way that causes more pain and sorrow.  I hope that makes sense.  Other people seem to hold on to their pain and not accept the death because they feel like moving on with their life is betraying the person who died.  After all, they don’t get to move on.  It’s not fair.  No it isn’t fair.  But you staying stuck is not fair either.  Would you want your loved one to live the rest of their days in pain and suffering if you had been the one who died?  Of course not.  You would want them to enjoy their life.  Holding on to your pain is not holding on to them or showing them how much you love them.

You can’t move through step 1 in one night after reading this blog.  It may take a week, it may take a month, it may take many months.  I’m a visual person and when I think about things, it helps to see something in my mind.  When I think about grief, one of the things that I see is a beautiful vase that gets dropped to the ground and broken.  You are that vase.  You’ve been broken.  But you can be put back together again.  You can get out a jar of glue, pick up the pieces one-by-one, and put them back together again.  There may be places that you can’t reach and other people will have to help you glue those on, but you will be put back together.  Will you look the same?  No.  Will you be the same?  No.  But you will be whole and you will be a vase again.  There may be some cracks and some chips.  There may even be a little piece missing.  But you will be put back together again.  You will get through it.  You can do this.  You have the strength.  You can use the other steps to contentment to help you get through it.  I am so, so sorry that you have to experience this.  I wish it was different.  I wish you didn’t have to go through it.  But you are stronger than you know.  You have more determination than you know.  I hope these tools help to make your journey a little easier.  I hope these steps can be your bottle of glue.

Wishing you much peace and love,