#14 Time doesn't heal grief
here's what does
Time doesn’t heal grief.
This is what does.
Photo of Steve & Luke 1988
Today (2nd June) is the day between my dead son’s birthday and my dead brother’s birthday. It's a day I reflect on their lives and remember.
It’s the Space in between.
It's been 15 years since they died eight months apart and both in road crashes. Our friend Mark also died with my brother Steve. And four months later, in yet another road crash, our dear uncle Jim. Three road crashes. Four people gone. One year.
Still not a day goes by without me thinking about them. Or maybe it does. We don’t remember most things and the things we do remember are often distorted over time.
Time doesn't heal.
What does heal is a gradual acceptance after the storm of emotions come.
The spaces in between the emotional soup of grief.
My emotions spanned from sadness, to bitterness, anger and even rage. Dark insipid, murky emotions that sit in the belly or surge up through the heart into the jaw. Sometimes I felt Every Single One of those emotions within a few minutes.
And I was so afraid to keep feeling these emotions. I was afraid of feeling sad forever. I was afraid of getting so stuck in sadness that I became depressed. I was afraid of what others might think of me. I was afraid it would stop me getting on with my life. I was afraid it would damage my children.
And because I was so afraid of all these things I stuffed my emotions down. I denied their existence. And in doing so I made my body hold on to the energy of the emotions. And this in turn led to chronic health issues, fatigue, pain and depression.
It was mostly unconscious and an automatic default I had learned in childhood. A protection mechanism that, to begin with, was a way of surviving but became unhealthy.
Emotions are energy that needs to move. Emotions need to be honoured, felt and expressed (safely) in order to move through us.
At first the spaces in between are there for only moments.
Eventually the spaces in between start spanning a day or two.
The grief is fed by thoughts about what happened and images at the scenes, painted from the accounts of others.
And then the spaces in between these emotions gradually, bit by bit, get longer, get wider. They don’t visit so often.
What not to do
But I had to bolt down my emotions. Stifle them. To me, being strong meant knuckling down and getting on with it. I didn't realise what I was doing then. I didn’t have the awareness or knowledge. I was shrouded in a dull cloak of resignation and numbness. I don’t recommend this.
My teenage son Jake saw his brother die bleeding on the road but I couldn't help him. He spent months with friends crying and drinking and staying at their parent’s houses. I couldn't touch him. I couldn't reach him and I did not have the energy to try.
My brother Nick saw his brother and best friend die together. And I couldn’t help him either.
My cousins had lost their father and I tried to help but really had nothing to give. I was empty.
My younger sons were only 9 and 7 and I carried on going through the motions of being a parent. I carried on ensuring that they got to school; that they were fed and bathed; that they saw friends; got to after school clubs; that they got their bedtime story.
I went through the motions all parents go through but I went through them feeling numb and I thought I had done a pretty good job of hiding how I was really feeling. I thought that I had made them believe that I was OK. That was what I wanted. For them to think that I was still whole; that I was still mum; that I was still there for them. It was only when speaking to Ollie (now almost 25) a few years ago that he said it was like I was hollow, that he would say things to me, and it was like I wasn't there.
My heart broke open again on hearing this.
I had done what I thought was best but stopping myself feeling meant I was also stopping myself connecting.
We need to feel to be connected to ourselves and others. Emotions make us feel alive. The whole rainbow spectrum of emotions are what it means to be human.
To be human means to be fully expressed.
To reject one emotion is to reject them all. Suppression of emotions is not the answer.
I didn’t really feel for six or seven years apart from this kind of heavy lump at my core and dragging fatigue but I was so used to it, it felt normal.
What is depression if not the suppression of emotions?
The heaviness, the darkness, the fog, the limpness of the jaw, the feeling of pointlessness. I was just carrying on for my children and parents, my other brothers and my husband. There were days when I wished I could just curl up and quietly die but knowing I had the love of my family kept me going.
What changed it?
Things began to change as I found myself engaging with people again and having interesting conversations that lit me up with a warm feeling in my heart. Fortunately, I became curious and I followed that spark and doing that led me to the help and support from the people I needed.
Healing from grief is a gradual acceptance of what is. An acceptance of attachment to those we love. An acceptance of the uncomfortable emotions that are felt after the loss of a loved one.
To feel is to receive.
To receive is to feel.
If we want to receive, we have to feel.
If we want to connect, we have to feel.
First with ourselves.
A vibration in our body that wants to be expressed.
It’s so important to feel All of it.
How We Heal From Grief
At some point the spaces in between allow space for memories of good times with our lost loved ones, rather than the loss itself. And when those memories become more dominant, we remember the reasons we are grateful for having had them in our lives beyond the sadness. The fun we had. The scrapes we got into. The laughter. The myriad of experiences.
And in those spaces in between, it’s also important to take care of ourselves with a healthy lifestyle, fresh air, creativity, good relationships and space for ourselves to evolve.
Until finally we can forgive ourselves for the mistakes, the regrets and for not saving them. Knowing it was never our job to be the rescuer.
Luke and Steve were full of life kind of people. Passionate. Expressive. And fun. Luke would have been thirty-seven yesterday. And I wonder what kind of life he would have made for himself. Steve would have been fifty-four! Fifty-four! I cannot imagine him growing into middle age or being old!
Neither of them had children but they each left a legacy of what it means to be alive. Each of them, my cheer leaders, wanting me (and everyone else) to be happy. Wanting me (and everyone else) to be who I/we want to be. They both loved to dance…
And I believe life should be a passionate dance that embraces all we go through. That fully embracing who we are nourishes us and strengthens us so that when the shit hits the fan we are more resilient.
I still have my moments. I still miss them when there’s something I want to share with them. But I also feel them with me. The spirit of them close. Fanning life’s energy my way so that I may dance through my life too.