I once heard grief is like a thumbprint. That no two are alike.
Now, more than ever, I really get that.
Grief is different for everyone.
After losing my mother a few months ago, I began my own roller coaster ride of grief.
Sometimes I felt terribly sad. That she, my one and only mother, had permanently left this world.
I didn’t care that she was almost 92. And had lived a long life. She was still my mother. And she was gone. Forever.
How could that possibly be? It shocked me to my core. And hurt like hell.
At other times I felt relieved.
Thank god she was no longer in pain! Nor sad, lonely and stuck in a body and mind that no longer cooperated with her. Or in a care facility where she never wanted to be.
Sometimes I was overcome with intense love for her. For the feisty, talkative, lively mother I was now better able to remember.
Before she got dementia and became so frail. Before I felt the guilt for not taking care of her the way I wished I could have. The way I assumed (rightly or wrongly) she would’ve wanted me to.
Other times I just felt numb. Completely and utterly numb. And I wished I could feel something. Anything.
About a month after my mother passed though, my grief dredged up a whole other feeling I hadn’t expected.
And I got stuck…in a loop of a different kind of loss.
One that had nothing whatsoever to do with my mother.
The loss of romantic love. Of the most significant relationship I’d had with a man since my divorce over a decade ago.
And that confused me. And made me mad. Really mad.
I didn’t want to think of that relationship. Of him. Not when I had just lost my mother!
I thought I was over him. That I’d let the relationship go.
But if so, why was I thinking about it then, of all times? In the middle of grieving my mother?!
It didn’t make sense to me.
But when I shared my experience with a few of my friends, many of whom had experienced their own grief, they reminded me of one very important thing.
Loss is loss.
The loss of one person (my mother) could trigger the loss of another (my ex-boyfriend). Especially if there were unresolved feelings from that loss. Feelings that hadn’t yet been fully processed.
Which in my case hadn’t.
When my relationship of 1.5 years ended abruptly earlier this year, I put it behind me. And quickly.
I simply shut down my heart. And moved on.
Or so I thought I had.
But all those unresolved emotions came back. And were begging to be acknowledged.
I resisted. Boy did I resist. Especially the anger.
I didn’t want to feel that way. It seemed pointless. And inappropriate.
I wanted my anger to stay hidden. To disappear altogether.
But this time I couldn’t shut down my feelings. I’d been cracked wide open by grief.
The more I tried to outsmart it…to wish, breathe, even meditate my anger away, the worse it got. It seemed to ooze out of every pore.
Intellectually I knew that made sense.
How many times had I said to others: “what you resist, persists?” Or “you can run (from your feelings), but you can’t hide?”
I knew from experience that the emotions you refused to accept or acknowledge would ALWAYS find a way out. Come hell or high water.
So it was time for me to deal with mine.
It was time for me to come to terms with ALL of my grief. Including (especially) my anger.
So I stopped running and instead, turned around and faced it.
I said hello to it. And welcomed it in.
Yes, I was angry. Damn rights I was! For a lot of reasons. And I needed to be OK with that.
I needed to sit with my anger. Accept it. Find healthy ways to express it.
Because contrary to what some might think, anger is not a negative emotion. It’s simply an emotion. One of many. Useful like all the others.
It’s your body (and spirit)’s way of getting your attention. Of making you sit up and take notice.
And when you listen – really listen – to what your anger is trying to tell you, there’s wisdom in its message.
So I finally listened to what my anger had to say. And made mental notes about what I would and wouldn’t accept in a future relationship.
And then, just like that, my anger began to dissipate.
Because all it had ever really wanted was to be acknowledged.
And once I’d done that, I could let go of it. Or rather, IT could let go of me.
And let go it did.
Not because I was trying to force it this time. But because my anger had finally run its course. And I could move on.
As for the rest of my grief? Well that’s taking a bit longer. She was my Mom after all.
But I’m OK with that. I know I’m moving through my grief as well. Layer by layer.
Because when you allow yourself to feel ALL of your emotions, no matter how uncomfortable or painful, you really do begin to heal.
(Now it’s your turn. Can you think of a time in your own life when you embraced a difficult emotion, and in doing so helped yourself heal? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.)