Grief - a simple word we give to the complex and heavy feelings of loss. Often, grief can be completely debilitating. From one minute to the next, the person is no longer physically here with you, creating an inexplicable void and making you feel like your life has been shattered into a million broken pieces. In many ways, the loss feels infinite and final. There is no going back. You feel empty, confused and utterly shaken to your core.
In your world, it feels like the Earth has done a 180 degree turn without your permission. You are completely redirected, uprooted, and left to fend for yourself. Suddenly, your life becomes a really dark and scary forest that runs miles to your left and right. And it feels like there is no escape; you don’t know how long it runs forward, or what to expect once you’ve reached the other side. Now, free will offers you the choice - to stand in place and become consumed by your grief, or to be courageous and walk through. You can choose to ignore grief out of fear and absolute denial because the thought of dealing with these feelings is torture enough without walking through this forest of grief. Or you get up from the fall and take your first step into the forest with the hopes of coming out the other side free. This walk takes courage. Not the kind we need when we ride a roller coaster, or ask someone out on a date. This is the truest depiction of courage. Brené Brown makes a point that connects to grief, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Grief is one way this Life brings darkness to you. It is asking you to have the courage to be broken open and to fall so that you may rise again.
Studies suggest that grief can be explained and categorized into phases: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One look at this list and I can say “Yup, that sounds about right.” But then I wonder “Is it really?” Yes, these are the phases we go through at the initial stages of grief, but what about the grief that continues even after you have reached acceptance? Do you ever really reach acceptance to begin with? Or does time have a way of forcing you to accept it because that is how we can move forward with our Life? Notice, I write ‘move forward,’ and not ‘move on’ - we do not move on from a major loss. Moving on would suggest that there is an expiry date on grief. It implies that you can force yourself to switch off your emotions, pretending like it never happened and leaving it all in the past. When the truth is that we remain energetically connected to the person we’ve lost, and we are forever emotionally changed by this situation. In reality, grief follows you and impacts every decision you make from that day forward. You will never be the same person you were before, nor should you feel an obligation to be that same person. The person you were before the grief, disappears in a cloud of smoke and you are left with this raw and new version of yourself emerging from the old. We do not only grieve the person or the situation, we also grieve ourselves and life as we knew it.
I have learned that grief adapts and changes. It never quite stays the same. When the initial grief strikes, you go through the phases and hopefully you put in the challenging work of moving forward. Finally, you find yourself reaching a place where the grief doesn’t feel so heavy anymore. It is a liberating, freeing and gratifying feeling. A moment you can truly appreciate because you know what it feels like to have the weight of grief sitting on your chest. It is lifted and you can breathe again. A beautiful moment. However, grief never leaves. It is always there somewhere, lurking in the shadows. Now, this does not mean that your life is forever doomed to have a looming grey cloud of grief over your head. On the contrary, actually. Grief is the teacher and the phases are the students. The teacher remains present and faithful to the task, no matter which student is speaking (no matter what phase you are in), the teacher reminds you that each student has something to learn and something to teach if only we listen. The teacher, Grief, brings so much pain, agony & challenges. But our teacher also offers to teach you bravery, courage, vulnerability and openness- the values you need to not only to walk through the dark forest, but also the ones that will offer you so much light on the other side. You cannot have one without the other when learning from the great teacher, Grief. You must choose the lessons and all of it’s challenges in order to receive some of the greatest gifts you will every receive in this human life. I hope you choose to learn.
The thing about grief is that it comes in waves. Sometimes, it feels as though we are sitting in the audience, watching as grief takes centre stage. It is in those moments that we feel lost, vulnerable, hopeless and broken. But as time progresses, you will soon come to realize that losing someone, while it forever changes you, doesn’t mean that you won’t also experience joy and happiness again. You grieve in the place YOU are in.
Years after you experience loss, the teacher (Grief) may force you to learn yet another lesson. You graduate college, buy your first home, marry the one you love, or experience any other pivotal moment. The initial grief you once experienced has hopefully healed. But now the grief for this same loss comes rushing back in a new way - a way you never had to experience before. Through certain phases of your life, you will find yourself standing in front of a new dark forest asking you to grieve all over again in a different way. It is always there, ready to teach and to remind you of the lessons it taught you even after you have already learned them. It reminds you that pain demands to be felt and most importantly, it reminds you how precious and delicate life can be. The teacher can only give the lesson, it is always up to you, the student, to choose to take in the lesson and to choose to walk the dark forest. The beautiful part of it all is that every time this new version of an old grief comes back into your life, you remember and call on the light inside of you that grew from loss. The light that carries the wisdom and courage you have earned. Now you will walk the path of grief with less fear, because the light that shines within you illuminates the path before you. This time you step boldly and willingly into the dark forest holding grief’s hand, and dare I say even thanking grief for reminding you that to hurt when you have lost means to have loved so deeply. That itself is what Life is about.