/ grēf / noun •
deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.
sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, dejection, despair; mourning, mournfulness, bereavement.
“she was overcome with grief”
At some point in our lives, we will all be met by Death. That part of life is expected. What comes completely out of left field is the way grief touches us.
When I was barely 21 years old, I experienced the deepest, darkest, most desperate touch of grief. Too keep my story short, I lost one of my best friends in the most senseless and meaningless way possible: murder. My (and our community’s) loss was tragic, public and still to this day, unexplained.
Ten years ago I was hurled onto a path of grief that would subtly influence my everyday way of being. Ten years ago, I wailed. Primally. Never have I flung myself to the floor in emotional paralysis. Never have I dry-heaved through floods of tears. Never have I sworn at a God I now believed to be sadistic and cruel. Never has my whole being been thrown into chaotic ruins.
O B L I T E R A T E D // destitute // D E C I M A T E D
I knew my world would be different, but I couldn’t have anticipated this. Ten years pass, and the waters calmed. Peace permeated my story, the stabbing dulled to a dry ache, and a new normality was found — or so I thought.
It’s ten years later and my life is far more beautiful than I expected. And then, a loss that is not my own, barrelled into my stratosphere and tore open my decade-old wound. Without warning, it was 2007 all over again. ‘But this is not my loss.’ On repeat.. this is not my loss, so why am I so fragile? Someone cherished in my partner’s life suddenly ceased to exist. Really, this had nothing to do with me. I shouldn’t feel this way. Guilt overturned my heart, and confusion clouded my head.
Why did everything feel so raw?
The only connection I drew was vague, but the connecting theme was that the deaths of our loved ones were unexpected. They were both young and fun-loving women with so much more to do and give. Sigh. Were.
I was triggered
As the hours and days passed by, the cloud of confusion began to settle and my a-ha moment arrived. Let it be known I am not a grief specialist, but I know what I was feeling. I had been triggered*. For a week I empathetically sat with my partner’s sorrow and witnessed him process his raw emotions as they surfaced.
Like a bullet it penetrated me. At close range, I was witnessing a process I went through ten years prior. What I was feeling now was what I had felt then. My grief had been re-opened and I felt it all over again. I was in my second wind of grief. I’m no grief specialist, but I am an expert in examining my own feelings.
I now know that grief:
- Is life-long and life-altering,
- Can exist in the presence of happiness, and
- Makes sacred space for new-coming grievers to be with their new emotions + realities.
Death came without warning, and it sucked the breath out of me. My dormant and unexpressed grief had been unveiled. I now see a more colourful an d3D version of grief. My second a-ha moment surfaced.
I had intentionally stopped processing my feelings of grief shortly after my friend died. I guess I was never really through the grief. Now I question if we ever really are.
Witnessing my partner’s grief has, in some respects, been traumatic, but it has also been cathartic. My experiences with grief have offered my partner a sacred + safe space to explore his emotions, and in turn, my partner’s grief has offered me safe haven to continue to experience mine.
In her book Courage to Grieve, social worker Judy Tatelbaum writes ‘we must thoroughly experience all the feelings evoked by our loss‘, and if we don’t ‘problems and symptoms of unsuccessful grief‘ will occur.
There is no one size fits all prescription when it comes to grief. It comes thick, powerful and in waves. We gain little experiential advantage for the next death.
what did I gain from my loss?
I’ve always been one to seek out the silver-lining in every situation, but death has endlessly challenged that. Up until now, I only saw how death gave me an appreciation for life. As time flies by, I realize I have gained so much more:
→ An ever-deepening sense of empathy,
→ The wherewithal to inspire, sustain and treasure intimate connectedness with others,
→ An unwavering sense of resilience,
→ An ability to recover, and
→ A life where I make more meaningful and heart-centred life choices.
Nothing will ever fill the void that was created by the death of my friend, but maybe I can create something beautiful in the space that has been left behind.
Liked this post? Stay tuned for ‘How to Stand with Grief’.