In the beginning, grief is a fog; a thick, dense, and never ending barrier between you and the world as you once knew it. At one point you figured it would lift, as fog tends to do, but after days and then weeks spent under its heavy cloak, you begin to wonder if it’s become a part of your everyday life. In those moments, you might have thought, “All I want is to feel better,” because you want to feel normal, whatever that may mean to you. Yet the simplicity of a ‘normal’ existence seems unfathomable. Impossible even.
Then one day you look around and realize you can see a little further in front of you, things are more colorful, and they’re coming into clarity. The days start getting a little bit easier, the nights a little more restful. The tears come a little less and things like laughter, joy, and gratitude are once again a part of your emotional repertoire. The smallest sliver of light cuts into the dark and you realize that this must be what ‘healing from grief’ looks like. You also realize, that progress doesn’t feel as sweet as you imagined.
“Something feels off,” you say to yourself. “I should feel better about feeling better.”
Grief is funny, you know? You desperately want it to go away, except for sometimes when you don’t want it to go away.
Over the course of time, it seems, love has gotten all mixed up with pain and grief. You realize your pain has become the expression of love lost; the way you honor your loved one; the one consistent link between life with them and life without them; and an element of proof that their life left an indelible mark on those they leave behind.
Apparently, while you were wishing the pain of grief away, it turned into something else entirely. Maybe, in some ways, grief has even come to define you in the context of life after loss. Who are you if you are not someone grieving the loss of someone very special? And who are they if you are not here, in life, holding vigil for them?
If you are grappling with any of these thoughts or concerns, you are not the only one. These sorts of feelings come over many people and they might look a little something like this:
I feel okay today, this must mean I am forgetting my loved one!!
My suffering is a sign of how much my loved one meant to me. If I’m not suffering my love for them must be diminishing!
If I stop feeling the deep pain of grief it is a sign life can move on without my loved one and I just won’t let that be true.
I knew how to be a wife and I know how to be a grieving widow, but I don’t know how to be a widow who has good days and is moving forward.
The only thing that keeps me connected to my loved one and keeps their memory alive is the deep pain of my grief. Any little piece of that grief that disappears is another piece of my loved one disappearing.
These feelings are oh-so-common, I promise. It is common to feel extremely conflicted about feeling better and, although it may not seem rational, it is also common to gravitate towards the pain. When it feels like the alternative to feeling pain is losing connection to your loved one, what other choice do you have?
So, what to do? What to do? I suspect that the answer to that question will be personal and specific to you, but here is what I suggest:
Step one (and this is the biggest step):
Remember, your loved one’s memory does not live in the pain of your grief.
Say it with me: My loved one’s memory does not live in the pain of my grief.
Then where does your loved one’s memory live? As cheesy as it sounds, your loved one’s memory lives in YOU.
It lives in the stories that you tell people about your loved one. It lives in the memories you share together with friends and family. It lives in the things you do that your loved one taught you. I lives in the things you do in their honor and memory. It lives in every silly little thing you do to stay connected to them – from taking photographs, to listening to music they loved, to baking their favorite cake, to whatever other thing you do to continue bonds.
Now, it is easy to see why this reality might be confusing, because in the beginning many of the above things used to bring you a lot of pain. Things like music and photographs and reminders could easily spur an uncontrollable crying spell and endless hours on the couch eating Ben and Jerry’s. Reminders once equalled sad – so it isn’t a far leap to think if the pain starts to go away that these things mean less to you –> which means your loved one’s memory is disappearing –> which means your love for them is diminishing.
But this is not what is happening – I promise.
We as humans are capable of some amazing things, like resilience and adaptability. As time passes your brain learns to manage the emotional pain and, slowly but surely, you get a little more control over the memory. As you get further from your loss, the pain starts to ease just a bit. What you must realize, is not that your loved one is disappearing as your pain diminishes; rather, you are learning to live with the memory of your loved one in a different way.
Embrace the idea that as pain diminishes, you may actually find more space to continue bonds and to keep your loved one’s memory alive.
Example: right after my dad died, if a CCR song came on the radio in the car I had to change the station immediately. It was too much, I was immediately crying hysterically and a safety hazard to myself and other drivers. Now when as CCR song comes on the radio, chances are I will sing along, do a ridiculous car-dance, and tell whoever is around how much the song reminds me of my dad.
Make a conscious decision to continue bonds. Your connection to your loved one can be part of your daily life, even as you move forward and find a ‘new normal’ (apologies to the folks I know hate that term!). So figure out what that looks like for you, and use these 16 ideas to get you started. You may be surprised to see that, as you find positive ways to continue bonds with the person you have lost, you can let go of more and more of the pain without fear that you are letting go of the person you love.
Struggled with the fear of “moving on”? Leave a comment to let us know. And don’t forget to subscribe to get 2 new posts about grief sent straight to your inbox each week!