I don’t want to “get over” my grief. No, no I do not. I have had people say I will get over it eventually, that somewhere down the line I will be done with it. First of all, I don’t agree that I will ever be done with it. I don’t think any of us will ever be done with it. And I don’t think we will ever really get over it, nor do I want to.
I want to embrace it. Sounds odd, but I do. I want to embrace my grief and learn from it. I want to enjoy and apply all the gifts I have been given from it. Using “grief” and “gift” in the same sentence might sound like an oxymoron, but it is true that grief gives the grieving person certain gifts that non-grieving people don’t know about. And, for that, in some sense, we’re lucky.
I lost my husband, the love of my life, to pancreatic cancer. The world stopped when we learned his diagnosis.
If you have read my writing before, you know some of my story. I have said and written often about how, during a cancer diagnosis, people start their grief process at that moment. Not only do you start to grieve the person who is still alive, but you grieve your life as you once knew it. While normal and predictable, it’s also very confusing. It’s weird to grieve somebody you love when you can still look at them, talk to them and hold them. And when they do pass, your grieving is still there, along with all sorts of other emotions you’re trying to process, and your grief process is not so clean. It’s not a 1-2-3-4-5 process that starts and finishes. You don’t really know what “stage” you’re in, because you’re not starting from the beginning and you’re not really at the end. You’re in some middle, puzzling state of existence.
My first “grief gifts” came when Chad was still living. After his diagnosis, everything changed. I remember one of the first, very clear grief gifts I received was no longer caring what people thought about me, him, or our life. No matter our personality, we all care on some level. It’s human nature. But, I went through a period of time where I really did not care. I remember somebody telling me something they thought about me one night, and I heard the first part of what they were saying until eventually, all I heard was, “wah, wah, wah,” like Charlie Brown’s teacher in the old cartoons. What they were saying to me in that moment was so unimportant and so insignificant that while it might have bothered me before, it didn’t that time. Not only did it not bother me, but it was at that moment where I knew, without a doubt, how free I was from the outside world. I knew what my priority was at that instant. One single priority had never been so clear to me up until then. And, it wasn’t the person in front of me.
I also realized during that time who I wanted in my life, and who I didn’t. I didn’t realize this until right before he died, but I was subconsciously taking mental notes of how people treated me or him or my kids and was making decisions about who I would allow into my life and who I wouldn’t. So, when he died, I as so angry about his death and so frustrated with some people that I actually envisioned myself at his funeral turning them away if they showed up. Thankfully, they did not, but I was ready. I don’t know why it was so important to me at the time, but I was ready to do it. By God, I was going to make my point. I was going to show them that they could not be awful to us one day and put on fake grief the next. They didn’t get to have that. They didn’t get to experience that with me. They didn’t get to be part of that process.
After he died, it quickly became apparent who was there for us and who was not. This brought the loss of people I thought were my friends, and the gain of real friends who were previously strangers. During a loss, some of your best friends become strangers, and strangers become your best friends, but that’s not what this article is about. However, it was another grief gift to have such clarity because at the time, none of us needed the drama. And while there were experiences that were very hard, I did learn that it’s ok to let go sometimes. It’s ok to let people leave your life. It’s ok to change your surroundings because that might be the exact thing you need. It’s ok to move forward, even if some people don’t go with you.
I have also learned that it’s ok to feel what true grief is. It’s ok to not be ok. I have said that so many times before, but it’s one of the truest statements there is. But, I should clarify that if you’re really “not ok,” that it might be time to see somebody about it. It’s ok to have moments of grief, but it is not ok to never work through it.
What I mean by it is, it’s very normal to feel what you do. I had a good friend experience loss recently. And what she told me was that it’s like “walking through heavy snow.” If you have never experienced a snow storm before, it’s like walking in mud, which was another analogy she used. I equated it to quicksand, where you literally have to pick up one leg, put it down in front of you, pick up the other leg, put that down, and repeat, all the while feeling like you’re being sucked down. It’s hard. It’s really hard. You’re in a fog and just when you think it lifts, it comes back and the cycle repeats. But, the fact you’re doing it, no matter how hard it is, is what matters in the end. If you were really being sucked in by quicksand, you wouldn’t just stand there, right? You would try to get out. You would do something. So, keep doing it.
We fight to get out of it, and we instinctively fight to get out of our grief. We want to claw and climb and scream and yell until we feel better. We’re angry and irritable and sad and confused and lonely and frustrated all at the same time. We want people around, and then we don’t. We want to hang on, and we want to let go. We want to cry, and we want to laugh. Nothing makes any sense. I’m not totally convinced anything will ever make sense again.
I am ok with that.
I am ok with that. I keep telling myself and you should, too. I am ok with that. I am ok with the fact that nothing will ever make sense again. I will not get wrapped up in the “what-ifs” or the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’s.” I will not get trapped in the quicksand. I will not sit in my grief. I will not be defeated by this grief. I will not be destroyed.
But, I will learn from it. I will embrace it. I will be a better version of myself because of it.
I will be more empathetic towards people’s suffering because I learned that not everybody will be. I will offer my story, no matter how hard it is to repeat if it will help others, because I have learned there is strength in people coming together. I will love so much deeper than I did before because I have learned what it is like to lose love wishing you had loved more. I will be more kind because I have learned how somebody’s unkind words and actions can unravel you at your weakest. I will be more appreciative of people and things, because I have learned the value in that. I will be more selective about my inner circle, because I have learned that not everybody has your best interest at heart. I will be quicker to forgive because I have learned that sometimes, you run out of time. I will be more available to receive love because I have learned that sometimes, that is all somebody has to give. I will pause more and reflect because I have learned the great lesson in reevaluating. I will be more accepting, because I have learned how important being accepted is. I will be less judgmental, because I have learned that nobody really knows what you feel but you. I will extend my support more, because I have learned what it is like to not feel supported. I will be present in the small moments more, because I have learned how easily those can be taken away. I will take more pictures, because I have learned that the mental snapshots fade. I will be more patient because I have learned what it’s like to met with impatience. I will be less anxious, because I have learned that worrying does me no good. I will take more chances because I have learned that life is short, and those chances sometimes disappear.
No, I do not want to “get over my grief.” I want to embrace it. I want to remember it. I want to learn from it. I want to allow it to make me a better person. I will never let my grief control me, but I will allow it to walk alongside of me and guide me as my life goes on. Because, it does friends. Life does go on. But, it does not have to go on sadly or with regret. Life is weird after you lose somebody you love. But, it can be – and it will be – beautiful and magical and full of wonder. You just have to let it.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book, “Grief Life,” will be released in the fall. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:
‘We pulled into the cemetery. It struck me we didn’t have anything to leave behind. As she opened the door, there it was. Two vials of glitter.’
‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis
‘I could barely speak’: Grieving woman struck by coffee barista’s ‘simple act of kindness’
‘I let my 15-year-old daughter get a tattoo, and no, I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’
‘We do not think of dispatchers as heroes, but that night, Jeff was mine.’
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