“In our lives, change is unavoidable, loss is unavoidable. In the adaptability and ease with which we experience change lies our happiness and freedom.” ~Buddha
The universe was conspiring against me, I was sure of it. By the time I was thirty-six, I had lost everything in life that I had set out to accomplish—my marriage, my pregnancies, my two dogs, and eventually my house. The perfect family model I was so desperate to create was completely lost.
Living alone and in fear of the future, I worried about what may or may not come, because everything I had tried up until that point had failed.
I began doubting myself, as I wasn’t sure if all of my effort was worth it anymore. Anxiety and sadness gripped my heart and I drank to escape, because I really wasn’t up to the task of figuring out how to love myself in spite of my failed expectations.
Then the universe added insult to injury: I found out my dad had metastatic colon cancer, and it was a total devastating surprise. I don’t know how it could have been, since as a nurse I could already see his sunken eyes, pale and ashen lips and skin, and the lack of energy in his step.
Everything about him was telling me that he was dying, but when you love someone, it’s easy to see what you want to see.
Selfishly, I needed to see my dad as the healthy, solid dad I knew. The dad I could rely on for advice and his pick-me-ups of “good job, kiddo.” But most importantly, I needed him to stay the man who helped me when things in my life were most dire.
The thing is, it was not a white knight on a horse, it was my dad who loved and rescued me. It was he in his black Toyota pickup driving over 800 miles from Seattle to San Francisco to rescue me from my abusive marriage. He literally helped to pick me up off the floor after my husband had thrown me to the ground and tried to suffocate me.
It was my dad who collected me and what little remained of my belongings, and without any questions or “I told you so’s,” packed me up and drove me back home to heal. And it was my dad who helped me hire a lawyer to file for divorce.
When I learned that my dependable dad was dying, my mind tried to race against the symbolism of the metastatic invasion into my life that I refused to accept. I was losing again.
How was I going to survive all of this loss? Would I have anything left or would I harden into a shell of a hollow woman?
Despite attempts to plead and bargain with the universe, my dad died on a Friday. Friday June 21st. It was summer solstice and a day that not even the longest day of the year could light up. It was my darkest hour.
At 10:00pm exactly, my dad took his last breath. It wasn’t until the undertaker came to pick him up and placed his lifeless body in their white plastic bag and I heard the sound of the zipper closing him in, that I turned in a childlike panic to face my mom and cry to her in half-truth, half questioning, “I’ll never see my dad again.”
She looked at me blankly as the tidal wave of panic took over and I was drowning in pain.
Many people run from the pain when they lose someone they love. They drown out the sound and fury of the feelings by numbing themselves in a variety of ways. I could have easily called my life quits and elected to stay living in the pain of loss, but instead something greater than me began to appear in my life. A spiritual side took over in a true form of resuscitative life support.
I started to ask myself the bigger picture questions, “What else can I be doing?” “What else does life have in store for me?” “Why am I going through all of this?”
Over the following months, I developed new hobbies and outlets for my self-care such as writing, meditation, and simply being quiet.
I told myself it was okay to live in each moment and take life as it was presented to me.
But the most importantly, I felt I was being spiritually guided through my dreams and my intuition, to my own inner wisdom showing me how to heal and activate my spiritual strength through my loss.
“You can lose other people without losing yourself.”
“You can have loss without being lost.”
Living beyond grief and loss is an evolution through a set of choices beginning with TRUST. Trust the process. Trust yourself in the process. Trust that you can heal and flourish again in time.
If you’re grieving right now…
1. Know that time is your friend.
We all learn to let go in our own way, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Sometimes in parts, sometimes all at once. And then all over again. It is a process, and a process worth trusting.
Choose to be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve and permission for the times you want to bounce out of it and watch TV.
It can take months or years to absorb a major loss and to accept that life has changed. In whatever way it has changed, be kind to yourself by taking further pressure off, and don’t purposefully make any more major changes.
Don’t worry about pleasing everyone else, completing everything on your to-do list, or keeping up with everyone around you. Sometimes it may take all your energy just to get through the day, and that’s okay. Sometimes that’s enough.
2. Accept yourself and where you are from moment to moment.
Grief isn’t always linear or convenient. Allow yourself to be sad, to be calm, to laugh, and to return back to being sad again. Lose all attachment to anything happening in a specific way. I remember being at work dealing with sick patients and having to leave the room because the tears and sadness would suddenly take over. It happens—let it.
While it takes effort to begin to live in the present again and not dwell on the past, remember who you are in each moment—a beautiful soul dealing with transitory feelings—and know that is enough.
3. Let the tears flow.
If there is one thing I do well, it’s cry. Do you allow sobbing wails and tears? Allow the feelings of grief to arise and to pass. Emotional expression through grieving is normal and tears are a part of that process. There is no reason to be embarrassed or try to suppress your tears. Crying is a normal human response to emotion and has a number of health benefits, including pain relief and self-soothing effects.
Every time you allow an aspect of your pain to be felt and released, you are healing.
A successful spiritual practice and one that gave me great freedom was to know, regardless of what loss I experienced in life, I can love myself through it all. Remember, you are not your pain and are worthy of love at all times.
Though I walked through the valley of the shadow of loss, I will not live there. And you don’t have to either.