Connecting with grief after loss

When mom died, I spent the first several months helping dad take care of things, taking care of my girls, and otherwise going through the motions. I did not spend time or energy connecting with my grief. As we approached a year after her death, I found myself with an opportunity to spend some time alone. I knew that I hadn’t really allowed myself to process my loss. I also knew that I needed to experience and live through my grief if I wanted to live a life being present in the moment, feeling all the feelings.

Live through the grief

Since losing mom, I’ve had more than one occasion to offer solace to a friend. The most important thing I could offer, next to acknowledging their hurt, is to allow yourself to live through the grief. It cannot be avoided, but by allowing yourself to connect with your grief and experience the pain you can move through it.

One thing I know is that we cannot numb feelings selectively. If we numb the tough feelings, we also numb the joyful ones. So, if we want to have the full experience of life, and of joy specifically, then we must allow ourselves to experience the full extent of the heartache too.

Be intentional

So, on this date back in 2012, I sat myself down on the floor of my living room, with family photo albums from my childhood, and my girls’. And I intentionally relived the memories captured in those photos.

As I allowed the memories of family gatherings like movie nights at the corporal’s mess at Canadian Forces Station – Inuvik; Christmases with my Grampy (mom’s dad); family reunions at our home in Arcadia – like when all of the immediate McCourt Family came together for a couple of weeks one summer; and watching from the sidelines as my little brother performed in his Christmas concerts… I found myself sobbing. I sobbed until my head physically pained me. I cried for the loss of future memories with mom. I cried with gratitude for the life we had together. I cried for my children who would never know the joy of sharing their next milestones with their Nanny.

It was a purge of sorts. Not that it took the memories away, but it took away a cloud that had obscured them from me as I had been blindly walking through the days, weeks and months following mom’s death.

The pain of loss doesn’t ever go away entirely, and sometimes revisits us suddenly. But as time passes the pain becomes less intense. The human experience means that everyone one of us will experience loss of a loved one, if we are fortunate to live long enough.

Preserve their stories

Anderson Cooper has a new podcast, “All There Is”, about grief and loss. Interestingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about many of the same things he talks about. In his first episode he speaks of the importance of sharing the stories of his family with his children, so that the stories will live on. By sharing stories of our departed loved ones, we keep them alive within us. These stories shared with lost loves are also a part of us, and the only way to preserve them is to share them with those we care about and who care for us.

That’s a project I’ve been working on since before my children were even born. I have been gathering family tree research, photographs and other mementos. But the part that I’m still missing is recording a lot of the stories. Many of those stories have now been lost with my mother and grandparents’ passing. I’m trying to document some of them now.

There is no winning against grief

In the second episode of “All There Is”, Anderson Cooper speaks with late night talk show host Stephen Colbert. One of the most profound things Colbert says is that “…grief is a doorway … to another you.” He is so right. It is impossible to experience grief and not be changed by it.

One thing that those of us who have lost loved ones all eventually learn is that there is no holding grief off. There is only pausing it, until it rears its head again. And it will continue to do so, until we live through the experience of it. Colbert said “…we think we can win against grief. We think we can fix it. But you can’t. You can only experience it. And to fully experience it you have to accept that it’s real. The loss is real.” … “Grief is not a bad thing. Grief is a reaction to a bad thing. Grief itself is a natural process that has to be experienced.”

Accept support

If you have experienced a loss and not allowed yourself the grace of connecting with grief, be gentle with yourself. But don’t let yourself off the hook, it will only sneak up on you when you least expect it. Rather, allow yourself the space and accept support when it is offered, by talking about your loss with people who care. Talking is a form of acceptance and will help you to come out on the other side of grief. As Colbert says, you will arrive at a place where you can enjoy the beauty of life and the world, in spite of its grief.

One of the most profound ways that we can live an authentically connected life, is to have the courage to suffer. And with suffering, eventually comes healing and growth.

Have you been trying to win against grief? Has some offered help that you can accept and talk through your grief with? Making the space to connect with your grief will help to connect with joy as well.

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