Wooden pier in the sea at sunset. text: a description of grief

Grief is such a personal thing. It would be impossible to write a roadmap of how it will affect a person and the stages they will go through. Or the timeline it will follow.

And that’s ok.

But it is reassuring to know that grief changes with time. And whilst it never goes away, it becomes more manageable.

It’s 2 years now since my Dad died, in fact yesterday was 2 years since his funeral. It’s true that, at the time, you can’t even imagine a week ahead without that person, let alone the rest of your life. But here we are – me, and my Dad’s wife, and his Mom, and the rest of the family – and we’re all still living life. Not just existing, which is how it sometimes feel when you lose a person. But actually living; enjoying ourselves, going on holidays, going on days and nights out, and experiencing joy.

I recently read an article linking to an (old) Reddit thread, where a self proclaimed “old man” shared his own take on grief.

It’s absolutely wonderful; heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures.

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

Isn’t that just perfect?

Grief means that we have loved, deeply. If grief didn’t hurt, then there was nothing lost.

The gentleman is also right about spotting the waves coming, further down the line. Although only two years since my dad died, I’ve already faced a handful of anniversaries and important dates. I feel them creeping up. I can sense that my mood changes. I become less social, less vocal, more introverted. Sure, I can hide it, because sometimes in life you have to. But it reaches a pinnacle. Like yesterday. The first thing I thought about when I woke up was my Dad’s funeral. I felt a dull ache in my head and heart all day. I stayed in my PJs. I wrapped myself in a blanket on the sofa and had no inclination to do anything or go anywhere.

And then today I feel better. Lighter. Nothing has changed. My Dad is still gone. Sometimes I don’t realise how negatively a day has affected me until the following day, when I feel differently.

I used to feel bad for letting grief consume me on a special day. After all, it’s just another day, right? But as I said at the beginning of this post, it’s personal. You can’t control it. Putting a brave face on things only masks the feelings you have. It doesn’t resolve them.

These days, where possible, I just indulge myself in the feeling. I allow myself to feel hollow and empty and “just not right”. I ride it out, let my head process it (or not, as the case may be!) and know that it will pass.

You can read the original Reddit post, and the subsequent replies, here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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