Yesterday I came across an article on Lifehacker, “The Things Nobody Tells You About Grief,” and it struck me as one of those random moments where the pieces floating around in various parts of your life come together in strikingly beautiful and sometimes painful perfection. The writer of the post, Sarah Parmenter, mentions that her mother passed away just under a year ago, and she is finally getting around to writing down the various lessons she has learned in that time about handling her own grief and further understanding the grief of others. My mother died a bit farther back, going on nine years ago, but I was the same age as Sarah when it happened. As she talks about looking back at those first few months and the denial that she couldn’t recognize, it was like looking into the mirror for me. I was just starting a new relationship at the time and I unknowingly hid myself inside it, wrapped it around me like a protective cloak to shield me from anything and everything that wasn’t happiness. Dealing with that level of denial is hard enough on one person, never mind trying to throw that weight on someone else you just met.
When that relationship ended I found myself mourning two losses at once and I dropped into a place darker than I consciously knew existed for me. At that time I didn’t know of my later diagnosis of anxiety and depression, but looking back on those weeks and months I wish I had. It might have made things make more sense in my head.
Yet, like Sarah mentions, you learn to deal with it. Learn to factor those memories and emotions into your daily life. Sarah correctly responds to the fallacy we are all raised on: “Time heals all wounds.” It doesn’t. Not by a long shot, but it will hurt less. You just become used to it, learn to be happy in spite of it, and sometimes even because of it when you feel those you’ve lost still inside your heart and your mind.
The beautiful and painful perfection I mentioned before came when I got home and found the official birth certificate for my son Logan had finally arrived. Looking at that piece of paper with words like “Father” and “Mother” on it, knowing what that meant in all its context, made me wish that my own mother were there to see it (and of course see the little man it refers to). The pang came swiftly, but I’ve lived with the loss long enough now to where I’ve reached that equilibrium of despair and acceptance. It felt bad, but I knew it should and I was all right with that.
I’m far from advocating that everyone learn to wallow and never try to dig yourself out of black holes, but I also believe the bar of “total recovery” or “you’ll be fine in time” are shamefully inaccurate responses told by people who don’t know what else to say. Sarah’s post has some really good steps on how to handle and recognize grief for yourself and what to say to people you know who are dealing with it, so I won’t redundantly write them here. Those are the many heads of the monster I mention in the title to this article. Your own grief is the original head, but then come the other heads: your family, your friends, society, and random people on the street, swirling and snapping at you with their advice and well-intentioned efforts. How you handle those can be almost as important as how you handle yourself.
When we are faced with these blows dealt by life, we need to remember there is a difference between being happy once again and forgetting the pain. You don’t have to do one to get the other.