I read a posting on Facebook the other day. It said:
When I look back on my life, I see pain, mistakes, and heartache.
When I look in the mirror, I see strength, learned lessons, and pride in myself.
The author is anonymous, and it was posted by trustyourjourney.com. I could have written that, except that I see a whole lot more than just pain when I look back on my life…and yes, I’ve had my share (and then some) of hard times along the way. I remember good, easy, soft times as well. It takes more than mistakes or heartache to shape a strong, bold, brave woman! Regardless of the path you’ve taken, here are a few truths I’ve learned and held on to, through a divorce, a child’s long hospitalization, a second marriage, having both of my parents pass away, and now “slowing” for the past year.
1. Love doesn’t die.
I still love my husband and my parents, all of whom have died. I even hold a special place in my heart for my ex-husband, because of the good times we did share. We had 3 lovely babies who have all become wonderful young adults,, so it wasn’t ALL bad. Which is in itself proof that we can love more than one person at a time. The dreams will change, the reality will change, but the treasured feelings of having been loved, accepted, cared for, trusted, and supported do not change. I can’t see Kevin or my parents the way I used to, but I can talk to them and feel their presence. I also am not unloved, as proven by the family and friends who continue to be in my life, actively.
2. Grief doesn’t have to last forever.
I know people who continue to grieve 10 and 20 and more years after a significant loss in their lives. I hurt for them, because it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m not saying grieve and forget. I’m saying that the work of grief can be productive and run its course, so to speak. Here is what I have discovered in the past year.
Grief is a solo journey, an individual process. It starts when you experience some kind of ending, and then you wander along an emotional path through hills and valleys, until you have a new beginning of another kind. The ending can take some time, as in a deteriorating marriage or through an illness, or it can be abrupt as in that phone call in the middle of the night that changes everything. The wandering time takes quite a bit longer. Maybe you remember, or maybe you try to forget; you cry, you get angry, you are confused, you feel out of sorts; auto-pilot takes over for a bit and it’s hard to regain control. You might experience guilt, insecurity, or any number of other emotions…including occasional happiness, relaxation, calmness, forgiveness, focus, anticipation. Even when you start to feel some energy, some confidence, some optimism about the future, there’s not a straight path, but it does get easier…if you let it. And then you’ll start thinking about what’s next, and making plans, and getting on with the business of life. It’s when you can let go of the person you used to be and the way your life used to be, that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the new beginning. It may not be clear, but it’s there. Will there still be times when a song remembers when, and you’ll feel sad? Or a new wedding reminds you of the daddy that won’t walk down the aisle? Or the new baby that reminds you you’re still going to have to face this other grandparent on and on and on at birthdays and baseball games? Sure. But that shouldn’t sustain continued, ongoing, grieving. Unless maybe you tried to take a shortcut on the wandering path (by ignoring your feelings, for example) or never completed your letting go of who you used to be (the anger took up too much room maybe?).
3. The grief experience is a gift.
A gift of time, of freedom to feel your feelings when everyone else will understand – at least for a while, an opportunity to reflect and reprioritize and reorganize your Self and your life. I would bet that the majority of people spend at least a few days planning a vacation, depending on where they are going. And I would bet that most people spend at least a few days researching good deals when buying a car or a washing machine. But how much time do you spend considering whether or not your life is On Purpose, what makes you happy, why you do what you do every day?
This past year of grieving has taught me more about myself. I have been confronted with who I am without him, with what is really important, with how valuable time is. I am more deliberate right now, I think more critically, and I live more deeply. I appreciate more, I am more selective. I know I used to spend a lot of time complaining about trivial things and did nothing about them. I know I also spent time whining about bigger things – and also did nothing about that. I used to think I had time to figure it all out someday, so I was a pro at fulfilling obligations at work, conforming to society’s expectations, seeking approval, doing my duty. And it wasn’t as if that was bad, but it didn’t have enough meaning for me or leave any room for what I wanted to do. I was given a clear message when my husband died that my clock is ticking too. I don’t know when my time will be up here, and so if there are things I’d rather do, people I’d rather be with, places I’d rather go, then that time is now. This awareness, this clarity, this no-doubt-about-it confidence is a gift unlike any other.
4. Finally, there is life after life.
For him, and for me. My belief is that my husband is in a better place, a place his spirit needed to be more than here. His life was about him; he was the lead actor, and I had a supporting role. My life is about me, and I get to play the lead. I am still here. It’s up to me what the rest of my life will be like. I want to be happy, do meaningful work, be a blessing to someone every day. No one wants me to forget him, or for me to get on with things so it’s easier for them. We all want to know that we all will be okay, and the way to prove this is for me to get on with my life.
I’ve learned more than these 4 truths, but these are the main ones: Love Doesn’t Die; Grief Doesn’t Have to Last Forever; Grief is a Gift, and There Is Life After Life. If you are grieving or know someone who is, be encouraged that every ending is followed by a new beginning. The wandering time in between may be longer or shorter because of all the many variables that affect individual grief, but the outcome will be similar. Remember, all who wander are not lost!