Grief: The Accelerated Learning Program
Grief is exhausting! I have been so tired this past month. I feel like I just had a newborn baby that I've been nursing all night. I don't know how much energy I use grieving. I have struggled to get going in the morning. I've skipped the gym a lot because it feels like that would take all the energy I have left. It's tricky because there is no way to quantify the work I'm doing when I grieve. Because I'm a therapist I'm very aware that emotional work is physically exhausting. Even though I sit all day when I work, I'm totally burnt out by the end of the day. I never do anything after work unless it absolutely has to be done that night.
People who know me well know that I'm a fast talker and an even faster thinker. Grief gives me LOTS to think about and all the processing can be exhausting. I used to think that distracting myself from my grief is necessary because life doesn't stop. I also used to think that it would be bad if I was choosing to distract myself from my grief. Now, I think that it isn't bad to distract. My brain and my body need a break sometimes! I'm realizing that if I were to quit life and sit down and process my grief, my brain or heart, or both, would probably explode! This is probably why grieving never really ends. It seems important that it be paced.
I was scrolling on my Facebook the other day when I saw that Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, had lost her husband a year ago. She stated, "I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser." I totally get that! I don't feel 62 and I definitely don't feel 30 years wiser but I do feel like I reached emotional places that I wouldn't have hit until probably 45. It kind of feels like I'm a piece of coal but rather than waiting all those years for the natural process of transforming into a diamond, someone put me in a machine and has put a lot of pressure and heat on me and I'm like, "No, I was really cool with just being a lump of coal." The good news is that pretty soon, I'm gonna be a diamond! Insert winky face.
The other day I was talking to someone about their own grief and they told me that as much as they miss their loved one, they wouldn't wish them back. They were happy that their loved one had made it to heaven. I don't feel that way. I get it. I should be happy that Isaac no longer suffers, but if I could have Isaac back, I wouldn't hesitate. Maybe I'm selfish. I know this is God's plan. I know that I've already grown and changed because of his death. I see that great things are coming but I'd give up wisdom for Isaac any day. Right after Isaac died, part of me really wished he was a CIA agent so that I could hope that maybe he was faking his death and that one day he'd show up on my doorstep. It's silly, I know. Obviously, I watch too many action movies. It's not really important whether I'd wish him back or not. He's gone. I accept that. I have to accept that. I'm trying to embrace the life that God is giving me. I have no choice to live another life, so it isn't enough to merely accept that this is my life. I have to somehow get beyond reconciling myself to my new challenges. Sometimes it feels like I'm living in an alternate reality. There was this other reality where Isaac and I kept living our lives together and we grow old together. Now the reality is that I'm a single mom, going back to school. Somedays I still feel in shock from it all. This is such a big turn. It's disorienting to be moving in a different direction.
Grief has already changed me. It has added a layer of understanding. When I hear sirens, I no longer just think about sirens. I realize that someone is hurt or maybe even dead. When I'm driving and I see an accident on the side of the road I worry that someone may have just died. When I see a cross on the side of the highway I get this sinking feeling. Someone died there. Their loved ones lives will NEVER be the same. All these things that just fill the background are now in focus. Nothing is small or inconsequential. I see the stories behind the events that surround me. Similarly it has expanded my understanding of pain. As a therapist, I listen to a lot of people talk about their pain. I have empathy and compassion. Now that I'm experiencing a level of pain that I have never felt before and that has never lasted so long, I'm baffled that I ever thought I understood pain. I'm not sure that I will ever be able to understand another person's pain. The thing is, you can't really walk in another person's shoes. This doesn't mean that empathy isn't important. It is miraculous to me that empathy can be so powerful when it doesn't come close to truly understanding what another person feels. It seems that just honoring someone else's pain is enough to help.
Grief tests my faith. Before Isaac died, I loved thinking about how I married him in the LDS temple where marriages are performed and couples are sealed together forever. But what does forever mean when it isn't right now? That's the point of forever, right? That it won't end. But this feels like an end. A big dead end. No pun intended but it does work. I realize that I understand very little about eternity. Isaac and I would often say silly things like "I love you infinity." The the other one would say, "I love you infinity times infinity." Then the other one would reply, "I love you infinity to the power of infinity!" We were real mathematicians here! After Isaac died, I realized that I know nothing. When I married Isaac forever, I didn't understand what that meant concerning time. Time is such a finite thing in our world. How would I be able to understand eternity? What I did understand is that my love for Isaac felt boundless. I didn't want to limit our love by time or death. I wanted that love to grow as much as my little heart could nurture it. So i can understand infinity in terms of feeling like my love would never stop. But death feels limiting. It's easier to talk about an afterlife when you are in a place of blissful love. When you lose someone and they feel so distant, it becomes harder to feel like you really know the answer to that question. Does Isaac really still exist? What if that was it? What if that really was the last time I'll ever see him? Oh, that though crushes me! If he still exists, why doesn't he visit me? Why can't I feel him near? If there is an afterlife, what will our reunion be like? When I think about being reunited with him, I can barely stand to stay in that thought. It seems so magical, so full of joy and I can't stay there. I can't stay there because it feels so far away. It feels so far from my reality. It is also hard to believe that a reunion wouldn't also be laced with pain in the realization that the reunion is only brought about because our absence from one another. I don't feel that the pain of grief has caused me to not believe in the things I know about God but it does feel like someone is asking me to jump out of a plane using the parachute that I made all by myself. There is this sense of fear when it seems that everything is riding on whether my faith is solid and secure enough to ensure my safety.
Frequently in my life I've had people tell me that I'm wise. I'm sure there are a few people that might laugh at that. As I experience this grief and loss, it reiterates a lesson that I've learned through many different experiences. The lesson is that the more knowledge and experience you gain, the more you realize that your knowledge is insufficient and your experience is limited. I think that's what wisdom is, knowing that you don't know. There is a lot of power in that place because it opens you up to so many possibilities. Losing Isaac has devastated me but it has also empowered me because I realize that I can survive hard things. His death has also forced me to confront my limited view that my life could or should go the way I thought it would. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we have control. There is very little in our lives that we truly control. I think experiences like this help me to see that I don't need to have control and that I should be careful not to confuse control with purpose or happiness. Grief is a strange place to be. I still feel happy a lot. I've just never felt so much sadness. I always thought of happiness as the absence of sadness but in grief they coexist. It's a complex, layered, and beautiful place but it will take some getting used to.