Here we are again, but this year I am moving through this month with focused determination not to let it throw me off my game. Not because I am unwilling to allow myself to feel the things that this change in season brings up for me, but because I feel that now, ten years later, I should be able to achieve a better balance.
I can be there (in my thoughts) and here (in my actions) all at the same time.
At least that's the theory.
So, I have been making to-do lists and dutifully checking things off each day. I have been showering regularly (any of you who have been following along know this is HUGE for me). I have been spending time reading things that keep me grounded in my faith. And I have been making a concerted effort to be present in the world, spending time with friends, being available to substitute teach when needed, and just generally leaving the house (again, HUGE).
Next week, I have an incredible girl's weekend to look forward to down in sunny California with some of my dearest college friends. It couldn't come at a better time and I am gearing myself up for extended bouts of laughter, conversation and minimal sleep.
It's easy to look at someone else's situation and determine that any emotional obstacle is really just as simple as "mind over matter." Other people's problems or griefs appear so darn fixable to those of us standing on the outside. Maybe not immediately though- usually, depending on where the loss falls on our internal scale of sorrow, we allow for a certain period of mourning. But my experience is that the timeframe for grief we on the outside allow and the reality of what goes on inside a grieving person are wildly different.
It's hard to say what prompted this post today other than I keep seeing loss around me. It just keeps coming and the older we get the more likely it is to hit close to home. And without over-generalizing things, knowing that everyone is different, I wanted to offer just a couple of thoughts to anyone who might not yet have experienced a profound loss and deep grief. Or, perhaps someone close to you is suffering and you are floundering to understand her experience and what she might need.
Here goes... my completely non-expert perspective:
-Grief is physical as much as it is emotional. It is an actual weight on your body. You literally feel that everything is heavier and that makes accomplishing the simplest tasks that much harder. Imagine trying to clean your house, pick up your kids from school, go to the grocery store...everything...with 10 lb. weights strapped around your ankles and wrapped around your neck. Life is heavy when you are grieving. And the weights don't come off all at once in one glorious "I'm all better!" moment. They slowly peel off, ounces at a time, and even when they are mostly gone they can find you again. Holidays, special dates, changing seasons, both happy and sad occasions can make everything heavy again.
When your grieving friend seems too tired to even go to the movies, she probably is.
-Grief looks a lot like depression but they aren't the same. This was one of the most helpful things our grief counselor told my husband. He wanted to see me bounce back and get back to my old self not because he didn't understand and share the reason for my sorrow, but because he was scared of who I had become. He didn't recognize this quiet, tired woman who never wanted to leave the house. He needed reassurance that this was okay and not a permanent condition. Once he could wrap his head around the idea that grief is long and heavy and not super pretty, but isn't the same as depression, he was able to support me where I was. Of course sometimes grief and depression can overlap and that is something to mindful of, but according to my counselor you'd be surprised how seldom they do. True depression is chemical, grief is a natural response to a broken heart.
-Profound grief is long. I hesitate to use words like "profound grief" and "deep grief" because it implies a scale or measure of grief. No such measure exists and the reality is that if you feel your loss deeply, regardless of what others have felt in similar situations, then you have to move through it in whatever way you need to. But my point is, if your loss has rocked you to your very soul then it is going to take a long time to find your footing again. So much longer than anyone wants to believe.
I'm sure there are people reading this right now who can't help but think that ten years is a long time to still be remembering two babies who died at birth. It's such a common loss, right? But common doesn't mean easy. And just because someone stops talking about something doesn't mean they don't still feel that loss. It might just mean that they don't feel safe enough to let anyone in on how much they are still affected by that part of their story.
We do a pretty good job in our culture of subtly (and not so subtly) letting people know, "Enough. Time's up. I gave you 'x' number of days, weeks, months and now it's time." And what we are really saying is it is time for you to stop talking about this because I can't hear about it anymore.
I hold myself as accountable for this as anyone. It's hard to continue to bear each other's burdens. And there are those people who seem to wallow in and relish some measure of despair. We have to watch for that and it's okay to distance yourself from someone who truly seems to just love company in their misery. But if you have a friend who has experienced something truly traumatic- the loss of a child, a spouse, a marriage, a sibling...the pain is not going to go away in six months, or even a year, or even two years... These are life altering losses. Be gentle. Be patient. Be that friend who is still there when the laughter starts to bubble up again and the weights have fallen off their shoulders.
I know I am so grateful for my friends who stayed.
Be the friend who stays, even if you don't know what you're doing. Even if your friend says she wants to be alone and doesn't want to talk (I was that person). Even if you think it's been too long and you think if she would "just do 'x y or z"..." Just wait...quietly, patiently.
Be the friend who stays.
Thank you to all of mine who did.
"Lend me your hope for awhile. A time will come when I will heal, and I will lend my renewed hope to others."