The following piece I wrote ages ago, it is currently being considered for publication – but I wanted to share it here anyway!
Loss is never planned, it just comes upon you – and when it does you have to keep moving otherwise you drown in sorrow.
This excerpt above comes from my book Placing Bets. I’ve always felt that healing is found in the act of moving forward, and for the most part I believe that. But recently I’ve had to question whether or not this frame of thinking is really true. I’ve had to ask myself whether pushing through until the pain dwindles is the best way of overcome it.
According to Jewish tradition, when you lose someone you love there are three phases of mourning you must go through. Each phase has different components, for instance, during the initial phase the mourner tears his clothes – the tear is specifically made over the chest as a representation of a broken heart. The mourner will avoid celebrations and other things meant to bring pleasure. Part of the mourning is done individually and part is done with friends and family. In some instances the whole process can take twelve months. The purpose is to live out a full expression of grief.
Recently I’ve discovered that grieving and mourning aren’t necessarily restricted to the loss of a loved one. After a whirlwind of life changes I am only now settled enough to realize I haven’t yet grieved the loss that resulted from my choices. I didn’t even know it was possible to grieve choices but I am learning this now. It’s just occurred to me that by choosing to marry my husband and leave everything behind to move to England, I had to give up a lot, and the culmination of everything I gave up to be here is now taking effect. I am feeling pain because of what I’ve lost, because of the choices I made. Currently I am grieving the loss of my close friendships, my culture, and the person I was before I got married and had my son. I have to assume that many experience this but don’t know what to call it.
With each passing milestone, there is a bout of sadness. That’s not to say I regret my choices, because I can’t imagine life any other way. But I am recognizing that it is okay to feel pain, even when it comes as a result of a normal, natural transition in life.
Unlike the Jewish tradition, our culture teaches us to value happiness above all else, and anything that deviates from that is looked down upon. We expect pleasant and cheerful the majority of the time, much to our detriment. Grief makes us uncomfortable.
Yet we all experience periods of struggle and sadness, but for some reason we don’t think it’s okay to have these feelings. So we mask the pain, or we try to cope with it in unhealthy ways: Alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling, shopping. We don’t recognize that there are periods in our lives when we need to grieve. We’re not ready to accept that this is an okay thing to do.
The process for mourning I mentioned above lasts twelve months! Nowadays if someone spent twelve months grieving, he’d be asked to seek professional help. We don’t do grief well. If someone is having a bad day, okay we might get that. A bad week? We’d probably think he needs to chill out and relax. A bad month? Something must be seriously wrong with him, so we’d likely just write him off and go about our merry way.
What if we could learn to accept that there is value in experiencing pain?
When the sadness first came, I thought that maybe I was being ungrateful. My initial instinct was to assume something was wrong with me. But why? Because my culture told me I should swallow my feelings and carry on. However, something about that didn’t sit right with me. On this occasion I didn’t think it was best to push through these feelings. What felt like the right thing to do was let myself experience the pain. This led to me exploring the ways in which we mourn. Through that I realized there is an art to grieving – and it’s something we should embrace.
The key to grieving is to allow the process to take its course. It doesn’t happen quickly and it can be painstaking at times. We have to accept that grieving can’t be rushed. It must sit and ferment until it’s ripe.
I love the way JM Schneider describes grief. That it’s a “normal, healthy, healing and ultimately transforming response to a significant loss…to heal the broken strands of life and to affirm existing ones.”
We all have broken strands of life, they help to form us and make us into who we are meant to become. I’m learning that periods of grieving can be just as revealing as periods of fullness.
The bout of sadness I am feeling now is a testament of how rich my past has been. It makes me realize that I’ve been lucky to have such amazing friendships. It makes me grateful to have a family whom I miss terribly, because many cannot say they actually love where they come from. It’s affirmed that because I miss the person I used to be, somewhere along the way, despite my struggles with self-hate, I learned to love myself. And that proves to me I can love the person I am now.
Learning to grieve properly can heal. It can transform our lives and put us on a path of renewed hope. Enduring what I feel will build my character and grow my sense of personal strength in ways I never imagined.
I think it’s time we re-discovered the practice of grieving. Understanding that grief is okay is a means to living a whole and fulfilled life. We are human. We are meant to experience a multitude of feelings.
That’s what it means to be alive.