Learning As You Go: Musings On Mourning
When someone in your life passes, no matter how much notice you may have received, it’s never expected. By the time the news sinks in, it’s already happened; the death is already in the past. Your task, now, is to teach yourself how to take care of yourself. We’re all familiar with the “five stages of grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You’ll find when loss lands at your door that these are just silly ways to try and organize the chaos. Those words and distinctions mean nothing in reality. Everything is a blur and nothing is real. You enter a new world. You’ve just crossed a threshold there is no turning back from.
In my recent experience, we had notice. My father was put on hospice for months leading up to his death, so we had time to process. But that time wasn’t fully spent processing. I spent a lot of it trying to avoid the thought completely. I focused on each day as it came, and nothing more. I suppose this would be called the denial stage. After a while, you come to realize that this denial is an essential step in the grieving process. Your brain is in preservation mode. It limits the amount of information coming in order for the whole world to not feel overwhelming. There’s a shadow of reality, but when you look around, it’s still just 2 p.m on a Tuesday and you’re at work.
You have to take everything one step at a time. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to be patient with yourself. Allow what is happening in your brain to happen. Give yourself the time and space you need. When everything is upside down, there’s no “wrong” way to feel.
I also recommend keeping a journal. Before my father’s passing, I always thought it would be a fun exercise, but it wasn’t until I was in the grieving process myself that I began keeping one consistently. Even if you just write a sentence or two about what happened during your day, it’s a good place to get your thoughts out. Write for yourself and yourself only. Give yourself the gift of allowing yourself to go through these difficult cycles on the page.
In an article published by Harvard Health Publishing, it’s stated that grief journaling works best if done over an extended period of time. Through journaling, you’re able to see a pattern of experience. There will come moments where you think you can’t take it anymore, and then you write about it, and then later you look back on it and you see that you have the power to overcome whatever obstacles the process will throw at you.
It can help even more if you have someone to talk to. Whether it be a close friend, a therapist or someone in your family, it’s good to find a safe and supportive sounding board. I found it helpful to have people to talk to who were both inside and outside of the grieving process. I was able to confide in my family, and we were able to relate to each other on what we were going through. Outside of this, I talked frequently with close friends. I also have a therapist. In spending time with others during this process, we see beyond the death, and can have some retreat and time to heal together. Grief can branch to other forms of loss outside of death or hardship we face over the course of our existence. Loss is one of the most universal experiences we humans know, yet it is also one of the most mystifying and isolating. The loss is out of reach because it is the absence. We’re surrounded by death through the life we experience everyday. It is when that life gets extinguished that we fully recognize it.
If you’re in the grieving process right now, I doubt that these words will mean much for you. Just after my father passed, nothing was real and everything was ridiculous. Any attempt made at making sense of what was happening was pointless and silly. This reality in front of us makes everything moot.
That’s okay. This is a process where only you will know what is best for you. Listen to your body and mind. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Feel what you need to feel. No one grieves exactly the same way, yet what is felt is universal. We are to find solace in the fact that life continues, and so do we.
Art by Lucas MacCormack