Living with Grief: What I've Learned Along the Way - The Curated Collective
Living with Grief: What I’ve Learned Along the Way

June 26, 2017

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Five years ago. It feels wildly surreal to comprehend that my warm-hearted, beautiful, courageous mother has been gone for five years today. Five years ago I was catapulted into adulthood in a way I had never anticipated. Each day in that five years has brought on different waves of heartache. Each moment she hasn’t been here is so profound. I feel each moment she’s missed like there’s a physical hole in my heart. But each morning, the wounds I carry daily, start to scar over a bit more. Scars are funny like that, aren’t they? Upon the initial impact of pain, they are messy, bloody, and it is so clear to everyone around to see the pain you are experiencing.

But, as the days and weeks go by, the messiness of your wound becomes a bit cleaner. As the months go by, the area once affected begins to physically scar over. To those around you, the scar becomes invisible completely. As the years go by, the scar itself may just become so ingrained into your skin, at times the pain you felt in that moment is pushed to the back of your mind and the scar has just become a part of who you are.

Scars are much like grief, in this way. I read something the other day that equated grief to the expansiveness and power of the ocean. It comes on like waves, and I’m not sure if anything has ever rung truer for me. In the beginning, you’re drowning, grasping for anything at all to hang onto just to so you can come up for one breath of air. You search for something in the wreckage to hang onto, whether it’s a photograph. A note. An old birthday card. A sweater they wore that still smells like them. The last voicemail you received, that you play over and over just to hear their voice. Or maybe it’s another person who’s out there just floating with you, finding solace in the knowledge there’s another soul on this planet who understands the fight for air you have. When that pain is so fresh, those waves will hit you without mercy. You have no control over when they’ll rush to the shore, knocking you off your feet, and stealing the air from you.

As the sun continues to rise on each new day, you’ll find that those waves don’t come quite as often. They won’t be as big. They won’t knock you on your feet quite as much. You’ll learn what triggers the waves. An anniversary. A birthday. The smell of a certain perfume. Or when you try to read the book “Wild” everyone’s been raving about, only to not be able to make it past page two because it hits so damn close to home. Someone who’s voice sounds so similar, you could swear it was your loved one.

Then, in-between the waves, something happens. Life. You learn how to survive. You realize that those waves will always be there in the distance, never quite out of sight. But you keep living. I’ve learned a few things as those waves have been a part of my life, and though I’m already experiencing the “vulnerability hangover” I might have from sharing all of this, if it’s able to shed light or understanding to one person lost in the waves, it’s worth it.

The World Keeps Turning

I think this is possibly one of the toughest things to accept. My father passed away when I was six years old, and I have such vivid memories from this time in my young-life. Such was one that my mother said to me soon after my dad passed. We were at a gas station, and she started crying, right there. She said to me, while looking at another family pumping gas, “To them, this is just another day. But to us, our whole world has changed.” Perhaps I didn’t quite understand the impact of such a sentiment at six years old, but as the years passed, I’ve learned that that statement couldn’t be more true. After losing a loved one, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a child: the world continues as normal. But to you, it feels as though the universe has completely stopped. 

In the beginning, you’ll be surrounded by an outpouring of support, and of love. As the weeks go by, the texts, calls, and emails will become fewer and far between. Then, the silence sets in. As that silence sets in, you realize that the internal battle you’re fighting isn’t at the forefront of others minds. Everyone fights their own battles. And that’s okay. In this realization, you’ll find an inner-strength you didn’t know you had. Embrace that strength, it will help you heal. Eventually, you’re able to place one foot in front of the other. Your heart begins to find a place of healing, and finally, you’ll keep moving along with the world.

You’re Stronger Than You Think

It may feel like there will never be an end to the waves we talked about earlier, but eventually, even though it may feel like it will never happen, there will be a reprieve. You have an inner-strength you might be unaware of, but I promise you it’s there. In this same thought, know that it’s okay to lean on your loved ones. I have an incredibly difficult time being vulnerable (hence the hesitation in writing this post to begin with) but, your loved ones will see you through. You’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever, maybe a little battered and bruised, but you’ll come out again. You’ll learn that you are strong enough. You’re good enough. And you are brave enough to face the light of another day.

There’s No How-To Guide on Grief

I realize as I write this there are five well known stages of grief, and I agree, there are. Sort of. At the end of the day, no one can tell you how to grieve. There will be moments in your life when that grief comes back in full force. On your wedding day. Or when your first child is born. Or sometimes the simplest moments when you’re least expecting it, like instinctually picking up the phone to share good news, knowing the other person won’t pick up the line. The ache you feel after losing someone will always be there, but the sharp-pain you feel now will begin to dull over time. There’s no deadline in place that dictates when you’re allowed to still feel sad, or angry, or upset, or pissed off, or hurt. Feel what you need to feel in order to heal in the way that you need to. Every single beautiful soul on this planet is different, and everyone will heal differently. Remember that it’s okay to embrace and accept your struggle. Remember what we talked about? You’re stronger than you think, I promise.

Friends May Not Understand-and That’s Okay

When our dad passed away when we were young, I didn’t know anyone who had lost a parent at that time in my life. My brother and I grew up in our small but mighty family of three. We also had an incredible support system in aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. We grew up quickly, knowing how fast life can be taken away. When our beautiful mother left this world five years ago, I truly felt like no one could understand the pain we were feeling. It felt impossible to reach out to anyone, because it seemed I just couldn’t relate to them. Then I learned that this is okay. It’s okay that the journey you’re on might be different than your friends. Know that they love you, and that they’re thinking of you always. Know that sometimes (most of the time) there just aren’t words to express that feeling. And know that it’s okay they might not understand, but don’t allow this feeling to make you feel bitter. Instead, try to remember all of the wonderful years you were given. All the memories made, and all of the lessons learned. I believe there’s a saying out there that perception is everything, and I couldn’t agree more. On days when you might feel like you’re alone in this, remember all of the people, blessings and cherished memories in your life you have to be grateful for. 

You’ll Learn to Fight For Your Dreams, and Find Happiness Again

The fragility of life is brought into the forefront of your mind when you experience loss. It can be easy to fall into a hole that you can’t seem to get out of. Life doesn’t always go as planned, but that’s life, isn’t it? You learn to deal with the curveballs life’s dealt you. Don’t let those curveballs make you stay on the bench. You’ll learn that it’s okay to laugh again. That it’s okay to feel joy again. It’s okay to feel happy again. Embrace the messiness. Embrace the chance. Embrace it all. Don’t stay at that job you hate, or in that relationship that doesn’t bring you joy. This is YOUR life. Embrace every single glorious day of it. Take chances, even though they might be terrifying. Move to that city you’ve always wanted to live in. Start that blog you’ve always wanted to do 😉 Ask for the promotion you know you deserve. Don’t let the scars of your past define you, but let them help shape you into the strong, capable, human being that you always knew you could be. In moments of doubt, I have referred to the below sentiment again and again, and I’d encourage you to do the same. 

Remember: Gratitude. Always Gratitude.

I truly believe that those that are happiest, are the ones who are grateful for what they have in this life. I couldn’t possibly feel more grateful for the support system in my life. My amazing husband. The bond I have with my brother. My Grandmother. The precious years I shared with my parents. My family and friends who brought me back to life. Happiness can sometimes (a lot of the times) be a choice. Choosing to see the good in life, despite the bad, will make that heart of yours feel less heavy day-by-day. Sometimes you have to fight for that happiness. Don’t give up on the fight. Don’t give up on yourself. Life is a beautifully messy, gratifying, heartwarming, heartbreaking, rollercoaster ride. Always remember that you now have an angel (or, an army of angels) with you along every twist and turn this ride takes you on. And know that you will carry them in your heart everyday, until you meet again.