September 5th, 2022
Loss has seemed to follow me more this year than any other. Whether it is a newborn baby that never had a chance to take a crack at life, an 86 year old who lived a rich life or now a 20 year old in his prime, the loss is profound each and every time. My exposure is clearly occupational as well. However, how do we continue to process this time and time again? Does it get easier? How do we talk about it with those that have lost? How do we keep the faith and live for our best selves as we are the ones left behind as the dead cannot suffer?
Atul Gawande wrote, "What I recognized from following different people around who turned out to be really good at these conversations is that they were never giving up. They were fighters, but fighters for a different concept of hope — the hope that you would have as good a life as possible all the way to the very end, no matter what comes. You are often fighting to just have a good day today. And when you do that, if you sometimes ignore how much time there might be, the irony is that people not only don't live shorter, they often live longer."
Dean Koontz wrote: "Grief can destroy you — or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it.”
As we have discussed so many times, we have to focus on the present and not the past or future. Easier said than done, I know. However, it is exactly what we need to do. The death of a loved one is extremely painful, but we all know what they would want from the living. I know that I would want a party at my funeral.
The other key is to know that they lived well with the time that they had. This loses itself when we lose a newborn or really youngling, but the principle remains true in general. We can try and remember without suffering, but that is a difficult task at best. There is no easy way to swallow death that that is premature. I think of this quote here: "You gave me a forever within the numbered days…” John Green
Ultimately, we are truly mourning our own loss. The knowledge that we will not experience any further connection with the person. That is painful. Mourning is a necessary reality. How do we mourn effectively?
First off, start here at a Brene Brown podcast with David Kessler on Grief.
Second, realize that the grief is not going to go on forever. How long it lasts is person dependent, but it will fade over time. We all go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. How we pass through these stages is up to us and our collective support system. How long does it take? The answer is, as long as it takes!
Third, we can help the person in grief by showing up however they need us to. Maybe that is listening to stories about the past. Maybe it is letting them scream at the world with our witness. Maybe it is doing simple tasks to lighten their load. Maybe it is a prolonged hug and energy provision. However this looks will be up to the person to communicate it to you in whatever way that they can, if at all. This is a tricky spot if the person cannot communicate their needs. You will be left guessing. Best option here is to hold space and listen.
For me, this is the hardest part. Sitting with someone's grief for a prolonged time is very very hard. Most likely because it is very uncomfortable for me, a fixer, to sit in the darkness for a long time and not want a solution to be present and acted upon helping the person return to happiness. It is not in my nature to sit in sadness with others or myself for long time. Just who I am. We all have to honor our inner truths here. However, I did go that route this year more than ever before after my father's passing. I sat in the darkness for weeks diving into my inner thoughts to find the new future without his connection. The process was very difficult but also profoundly moving as I found many new truths about myself in the darkness. The obstacle was the way here.
This process has profoundly changed my ability to hold space and sit for others in their grief. Experiential learning is always more powerful than book learning. I will say that I still struggle in witnessing other's prolonged grief states. More work to do here.
Grieving is very complicated and there is no roadmap to healing for us all. It is just a path that we each have that will open up in front of us. We will follow it in our own way and in our own time.
Here are some thoughts:
"Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul. I find myself searching the crowds for your face—I know it’s an impossibility, but I cannot help myself.” Nicholas Sparks
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne
"Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone." Rodgers and Hammerstein
“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Annie Lamott
In our own way,
Music has always been my refuge in happiness and sadness. Here is a Spotify podcast playlist that I made in honor of my father: Dziadzio - give it a listen if you wish.