I have been a follower of her work with bereaved families, and was excited to be with her as a guide as I explored my grief and healing over the long weekend.
One aspect of my grief I’ve been aware of since its onset is its demand to be felt and processed. Many times, the overwhelming weight of grief was so strong, I could think of or do nothing else but let it out.
I sobbed. I screamed. I raged. I stared off into space. I hurt with an intensity I would not have thought possible before this. I would shake with anger and sadness and remorse and anguish and injustice and every other thing that makes you feel like you could literally burst from the pressure.
But as horrifying as it could be, I decided very early on I would not fight those feelings, those urges, those automatic processes that turn on when you hear your child has died. I would let them come.
I welcomed them because I felt them as strongly as I felt my love for my son.
Many people, including some people I thought would be there for me in my darkest night of grief, did not like my reaction to the normal and natural feelings that I was facing.
Many times, I was rebuked and scolded, and told – in no uncertain terms – that I was “doing it wrong.”
My very own brother told me I was dishonoring my son’s memory by grieving, just three months after he died. (Needless to say, he has lost his place in my life).
My first reaction to these remarks was anger and resentment at the person who dared to question my intense feelings, without having a clue what it was like for me.
But then, I would begin to question myself: Was I doing it wrong? Should I have “moved on by now,” or realized “other people have bad things happen to them too?”
Was I dishonoring my son by crying out for him with such ferocity I would lose my voice and end up breathless and heaving? Was it wrong to grieve for more than a few months?
Nothing about those questions made any sense to me. All I could feel was his constant absence and my heart was so broken I knew its complete healing was impossible.
I knew in my soul they were wrong.
So, I followed my instincts, and stayed true to my grief. My heart knew the path to healing, I just had to allow it to do its work; even when others didn’t understand, and things got really ugly.
Being three years into this grief journey that will last until my last breath, I have found a way to carry my grief that works for me.
I’ve found a measure of healing, and I’ve made peace with the sadness that never leaves my heart. I still have moments that bring me right back to those first days/weeks/months where I could only hurt and nothing more.
As odd as it may seem, I actually find those moments when I meet up with those all encompassing feelings of pain cathartic because they are so closely linked to my son.
But now I can also feel close to him in moments of calm, even moments of happiness.
Just like all those before me, and all those coming behind, I’ve learned how grief works for me, and as I give it the space it needs, I find it’s not so hard to carry as it once was.
Being at the retreat gave me extra space to explore my current state of grief. It was hard, and tear-filled, and ugly, and wonderful.
Being in the company of the fellow-bereaved has a way of lightening the load, and I found myself feeling free to just be.
Like most things are, it was complex. Many people have trouble realizing you can think and feel two seemingly conflicting things simultaneously, but grief has taught me that’s exactly how it works.
You absolutely can feel deep sorrow for your loss, and a great appreciation for your child’s life at the same time.
You can cry until you laugh, and back again. You can rage and want to die, while also being heartbroken and empty. T
his is the way grief works.
As I took in the teaching and sharing during the retreat, I wrote down some thoughts. I hope they have meaning to you.
What if instead of fighting with grief, or trying to “get through it” as fast as possible, you simply allowed your grief to do its job? If you feel like crying, you cry. If you need to safely rage, you rage.
If you need to sit and stare, you do so for as long as you need. If you need to feel sorry for yourself, you don’t judge it, but just allow those feelings to be as they are.
What if you allowed your emotions to come out – whenever, wherever, however – and felt them fully instead of trying to diminish their intensity, make sense of them, or put a label on them?
What if you didn’t allow pressure from family, friends, or a society that refuses to accept the normality and necessity of grief to impact your response to grief?
What if you welcomed grief as the proof of the vast and unending love you have for your child, and reminded yourself that grief only comes in where love was first?
What if you just allowed grief to do its very important work in your heart, body, and soul, without trying to hide from it or interfere? Grief, as we know, demands to be felt.
What if you showed people your grief and didn’t stop to wonder what the reaction might be?
What if you allowed your heart to be your guide through grief, as it’s the one who knows best anyways?
I believe grief is natural and important. I believe it knows exactly what you need to survive the terrible loss you’ve faced.
I have learned to trust it.
And when I do, when I allowed it to just be what it is, I always find myself in a better place than when I try to change it, or hide from it.
I’ve learned to give in to my grief, how about you?
Diana is owner and editor-in-chief of Still Standing Magazine and blogs her own life story at Diana Wrote. She and her military retired husband have two girls and three sons who passed away after birth; Preston and Julian, identical twin boys who were born at 20 weeks, and Kaden, who unexpectedly had cardiomyopathy due to a rare virus called ciHHV-6. He died in her arms at 3 weeks old.
In 2014 she traveled with World Vision to learn about maternal health and infant mortality in Zimbabwe, and is now working on her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. You can also find her work on Babble, Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post.