The holiday season is often a time of self-reflection and starting over; however, when you are grieving someone there is no respite. And with grief there no finish line. The loss is always present. Grief is hardcore. In other words, it is relentless, especially this time of year.
The very nature of bereavement means that you have suffered a deep wound. Unimaginable damage, both literally and figuratively, was done.The very process of healing that wound is extremely personal and internal. Certainly, there are some common themes, like anger and resentment, that those in grief can identify with but it would be callous of me to write that there is one way to heal. While the cause of death might be not be uncommon, each person is unique in way they experience loss.
The path to healing taught me more about myself than I often desired. This isn’t terribly attractive and huge crowds aren’t attracted to words like- death, hospice, cancer, grief. However, these are the very things that have brought me and countless others to our knees. Learning to write truthfully about this dimension of my journey was an integral part of my own healing.
Ironically, immersing myself in the lengthy process of writing and researching my book led to a more balanced life.
Delving into the deep wounds of others profoundly changed not only the way I faced my own grief, but also how I thought about it from a clinical and professional perspective. By the time my book was published, I had spent countless hours researching the effects of grief not just on widows but also on parents, siblings, and partners. Yet, the most influential and moving work I did was listening to the bereaved.
During those conversations I felt very little pressure to be anything but a listener. In many ways time stood still. The bereaved are heartsick and long to share their entire story without interruptions or judgment. After each conversation ended, I knew that I not only learned something new about loss itself but I also discovered something new in myself.
Although nine years have passed since I spoke to my late husband, Roy, I often think about this conversation I had with him. I remember one day in the hospital, Roy who knew at this point that the cancer was advanced, said to me, “You have a lot of living to do.”
Roy went on to list several things I could do. His voice never wavered, but my eyes were filling with tears because at that moment I couldn’t imagine moving on and living without him.
Living after a loss is not magical or blissful. There’s no escape to the pain. I am amazed at some of the places I’ve been since Roy’s funeral—for example a journey to Kenya. I’ve had moving conversations with ambassadors at the United Nations and also with famous people in New York City. Yet, I’ve found that in all of this living there still remains a hint of sorrow. And once I began to accept that it will always be this way it made the living not only more bearable, but once again gave it purpose.
My heart still breaks on certain dates, like our wedding anniversary or Christmas, and the hours seem slow to pass on those days. Now, things are less foggy and I can see things clearer. And a large part of that has to do with listening to others share their grief stories. Their voices are a little more remote now, since time has passed, but they still remain a part of me. It seems odd to say, but those conversations shaped my life. They were the kind of gift that you can’t fully appreciate the moment you receive it but looking at it later you realize the generosity and enormity of it all.
Unpressured time and deep listening are the greatest gifts you can give to the bereaved.
And if you are steeped in loss yourself, do not be afraid to share your narrative either on paper or in conversation. The path of grief is crooked and narrow, but telling your story can illuminate it.