A certain haze often accompanies life after loss. Particularly when the loss is new, we move through life as if surrounded by fog. We are easily overwhelmed and prone to stumbling. Shortly after the death of our second daughter, I found myself so overcome with anxiety in an unfamiliar grocery store that I completely abandoned my cart full of food and retreated to the safety of my car. The following week, I arrived at Mommy & Me gymnastics class with my daughter, only to realize, as the class progressed, that we had arrived an hour early and were, in fact, crashing the wrong class. I accidentally wore my slippers in public, not once, not twice, but three(!) times. On each of these occasions, I threw up my hands and chalked my mishaps up to grief.
Related: The Unexpected Waves of Grief
We blame grief for our mistakes, our oversights. But the reality is that grief is not the enemy. The real opponent is the pressure we place on ourselves, or perhaps the pressure society forces upon us, to move on with our lives. To get over it. To resume regularly-scheduled programming and stop making those around us uncomfortable. We are encouraged to make plans, to stay busy, to achieve some normalcy, in an attempt to distract from the very real trauma that we have endured. But no amount of distraction will erase what our hearts know to be true – that we are living in an after, and we cannot possibly return to before. What we are left with is our grief, and it becomes the scapegoat for the shortcomings of our new normal.
But I assure you, grief is not the enemy. An enemy can be battled, conquered, outlived. One can wage a war against an enemy and hope to prevail. The same cannot be said for grief. There is no escaping it. It may change its shape over time, but as long as there is love, grief so too remains. As bereaved parents, we are fully aware that at any given moment, our grief can demand our undivided attention, often without warning. But over time, we learn to shape our lives around it, to live beside it peacefully. We accept it as a piece of our existence, as much a part of us as the hearts beating within our chests.
It is indeed tempting to treat our grief as an adversary to overcome, as a problem in need of a solution. But let us remember that there is much to be learned from someone who has accepted their grief and survived their greatest fear. Let us forge a world where grief is no longer frowned upon, where the bereaved are embraced and accepted for the people they have become – a little broken, a little crazy, but all sorts of beautiful.
Photo credit: April Pitzen