*Yes, it’s been over a year. I know this. I’ve been working.
**Blogging: because sometimes you have more to say than you can fit in a Facebook status.
There are 5 stages of grieving. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. What people tell you is that these stages exist. What nobody ever says is that you will jump from one to the next with zero warning, and then you’ll jump back, and then to another stage, and another, and then back again. This is not linear. There is no “getting through.” There is no through, because there is no ending, only acceptance. And three days after acceptance, you’ll be gripped by paralyzing guilt and sadness, and there you are, back in the clutches of depression again. Maybe anger. Welcome to your new normal.
At year one after my grandparents died, I walked through woodland on the other side of the country and literally said out loud to myself: “Maybe this will be easier by the second anniversary. Maybe I’ll be okay then.”
And mostly for that year, I was okay. I waffled between anger and acceptance. And then a month before the second anniversary, early one morning before I had to start getting ready for work, I decided to rip and burn a few copies of an old family movie my Grandma filmed over the course of more than a decade while her kids were young. Rip, burn. Let’s see if it’s playable… Not even five minutes into the video, and I’m sobbing on my living room floor in my pajamas, feeling every emotion ever. Right back into the throws of depression. I called in sick that day, barely choking the words out. Not really moving from that corner of floor for the next 8 hours.
You go between every emotion, and every stage – including some stages that don’t even exist. And you learn who you can count on, who can handle this sticky mess that you have become. Some people walk away, and that’s okay at first because you’re over here trying to swim through cement, and who cares if the girl who was your friend since day one of high school can’t bother to say anything to you except to berate your choice of funeral home. As if you even wanted to have to make any choice. She’s gone from your life now because this muddled version of you is too much for her. What will quietly kill a tiny part of you is when, a year or two later, you meet someone who you think you can count on (she’s only told you this four million times so far), who really seems to understand where you are and the mountain of sloppy emotions you keep trying to stuff down deeper and deeper – into your ankle, if at all possible – because you need to be an adult when you go to work, and then she, too, walks away. Just like that. Because you’re too complicated. Because you can’t just get over it. Because on Monday you’re in acceptance mode and by Wednesday you’re crying like a three-year-old, and on Thursday you’re a giant ball of rage, and then on Friday you’re a speed-talking squirrel on crack? She will walk away, quietly or loudly, and she won’t be the only one. And maybe you’ll stop letting people in so easily. Maybe you’ll close yourself off just a little bit more. And that’s okay. Or you’ll be careless and let your emotions fly everywhere. And that’s okay, too. Maybe you’ll be both, depending on the day.
And if you’re at all like me, you will keep your sadness close and fling your anger everywhere. The tiniest whispered “it’s been two years” will send me into a rage. “My grandparents died, too…” Really? Together? Literally on the same day?? Were you there? Did your grandmother take her last ever breath while maintaining eye contact with you until you felt her soul leaving the room???? No?? I didn’t think so.
Don’t misunderstand me. All grief is hard. All loss is unspeakably painful. When you try to minimize how someone feels because it doesn’t quite mesh with your experience, you are actually diminishing their experience of loss. It doesn’t mean you loved your person any less. It doesn’t mean I loved mine more. Grief manifests differently.
There is no “through.” There is no other side.
This morning, a woman I know whose brother recently passed away told me how she is distracting herself. She told me about the walks she takes in the wee hours of the morning because she can’t sit still, she can’t let herself think. I’ve been there. Walking clear across the city, walking from my house to downtown and back, to the river, to the woods I love to wander through. Because sitting seemed like an impossibility at first. It hasn’t hit her yet, she told me. She asked when it will. She’s planning for it, booking time off work. I booked a flight back to Alberta a month and a half after my grandparents died. That was when I was going to fall apart. I had this planned. Except: it didn’t happen. I was sad, yes. I was grieving, in my own weird little way. But it hadn’t really hit me yet. It hit me eleven months after the fact. Out of nowhere. I’d just started my job two months before, and on the bus on my way to work one morning, the tiny sliver holding this mess together snapped and I was swallowed into the abyss. With absolutely no warning.
And a month before the second anniversary, it hit me like a ton of bricks again. So. There’s that.
And on the second anniversary, I stayed in my apartment and painted teals and pinks and browns across stretched canvas. I looked at my reflection in the mirror over my sink, all the new little grey hairs and lines around my eyes, and I said: “maybe it will be easier next year.”
There are 3 rules for grieving:
1. Everyone experiences grief differently. No two experiences are the same, even when you’re grieving the same person (or people).
2. In all of the chaos and all of the turmoil, you have to find something that brings you joy. For some of us, that’s a new hobby. For some, it’s a whole new life. A new soundtrack on constant repeat. At first, this will make you sad, and then it will make you quiet and reflective, and maybe one day it will make you smile.
3. There are no rules. You don’t get through it – you adapt, and this loss becomes a part of you. The person you were before isn’t equipped for this, and you will build a new you. And eventually, you will be okay.