“When will this be over?” This is a question that I’ve been asked hundreds of times over the 40 years since Mom died. I’ve been asked at SOS meetings, asked by clients, and asked by friends of friends. My answer may vary in words from time-to-time but the meaning remains the same: “It’s ‘over’ never and the intense pain hangs out for around 2 years.
The question itself, I believe, focuses on the intense pain, the constant recycling of “what could I have done to change this”, and when will life return to “normal.” I’ve likened grief to an old friend or a friend we no longer want to hang out with but who won’t disappear and go away. Grief is patient; it has more time than you have. Forcing grief away, eliminating the process of active grief, isn’t possible. Yes, you can block out the incident, the pain, and pretend you’re fine. The facts, however, irrefutably tell us that the patience of grief is non-ending.
Shove it away….it will return with a force and vengeance worse than it was had we dealt with it head on. Deal with it. THAT takes many forms. Cry, scream, be angry, stare into space, recycle thoughts, cry, cry, cry. Your eyes will burn. Grief is exhausting. Continue to push it away and you’ll become physically ill. To deal with it, we may just sit with it. There is absolutely no way around, over, or under grief.
Grief is the result of love and what is left when the human version of our loved one is no longer visible. As survivors, we will never have that final piece of the puzzle. I can tell you why mom took her life but what doesn’t fit for me is that 4 months after dad died she tried to kill herself. In the ensuring 2 years, she had many losses. The losses of those years make her final decision clear to me.
“Okay,” I say to myself. “You’re one of the lucky ones. You know.” Then, BAM, the thought of the first attempt plants itself within me yet again. Many survivors can and do say, “Well, they were mentally ill”, or “they were always in trouble,” or….BUT, we also say that many people have a mental illness or are in trouble and they live; why did our person die by his/her own hand? Knowing this commonality that we survivors share, the next important piece is what do we do to help ourselves?
We can attend meetings, see a therapist, talk with other survivors, buy more Kleenex, and try to put their total life, not just their final act, into perspective. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. Walking also clears the head and allows us to clear away our cobwebby brains. Looking at pictures of happier times may help. Journaling may help. Knowing the stages of grief can help. Know that if you’ve lost interest in things you found pleasurable prior to the death, that is part of the grief process.
Grief will not be cheated. The process will take the time it needs. Every time we tell our story a bit of that grief breaks away from the huge iceberg in our hearts and flows out to sea. Yet, grief is self-limiting. When it is done with you, it only comes and goes as bits of dust in your eye.
Our brains are amazing. If we had to take the full impact of the horror that befell us, we wouldn’t be able to walk. Breathing is difficult but we still breathe. I recently saw that a survivor celebrated the 25th birthday of her loved one who was 15 when she died. A group of people gathered at the grave and then went out to eat. This is a yearly tradition. Many, many survivors celebrate the life that was this way. Birthdays are celebrated, major events are celebrated, an empty plate is on the table or a candle is lit in memory of them.
People get involved in fundraisers, volunteering for boards and other agency opportunities. THIS is how we remember and, in a strange way, thumb our nose at grief. And…know what? Grief winks and nods right back at us as if to say, “You did it and you keep on doing it…I served my purpose.” Keep on doing it….