As I’ve traversed my grief recovery journey, I’ve always proclaimed how awful it is when well-meaning people tell me to just “move on”.
There is no “moving on” from losing a beloved husband.
I like to say I’m “moving forward”, but are they really that different? I realize now, it’s all semantics. The bottom line is, we can’t move on or move forward until we have processed our grief. And, sometimes, we can’t move at all. And that’s okay too.
Effectively, telling a griever to move on, before they are ready, can seem very insensitive.
Telling a griever that “time will heal all” can also seem very insensitive, especially in the midst of their grief, but I think I understand the old adage now. From the outside it does appear that TIME is healing ALL. But it isn’t time that is healing us. WE are HEALING US….while time is passing.
Does that make sense?
It’s been 3 years and 7 months since my beloved husband, Hawk, died. It feels like a threshold for me. There seems to be this sort of unwritten timeline where grievers feel like they can finally “move on”. For some it’s sooner and others later, depending on the circumstances, but 4 years seems like the general arena for being able to finally move forward.
What does MOVING ON mean? Just like grieving, it’s personal. It’s an envious place to be as a griever. I always wanted to be where I am now. I wanted to be where I didn’t feel pain in every waking moment and couldn’t sleep at night. I wanted to be beyond the pain and into a new dimension where I might be able to begin to feel alive again.
Well – guess what? I’ve finally arrived, and it wasn’t for lack of working on it! I did all the hard stuff. I sobbed, I wished I'd get hit by a truck, I sat with my feelings, I found therapy, I got healing work, I sat with my feelings. (Did I already say that? Can’t say it enough.) Reading through my articles, one can learn what I’ve been through. We all have our individual grief stories. It’s a portal, a transformation. How can we ever be the same again? We can’t. It’s that simple. We are different. We are changed. We have walked through the fire of losing our beloved and lived. We have risen from the ashes. We are reborn.
Will I ever feel deep grief again? Oh, yes. I still feel it occasionally, especially when triggered. It’s jolting. It cries for attention, as much as I try to ignore it with distractions and endless “to-do” lists. It often happens when I least expect it. I must re-orient, take time out for serious self-care and use the tools I’ve learned over the past 3 and a half years.
Riding the Waves
I’ve talked about this many times before – the importance of being gentle with ourselves as we surf the waves of grief.
Okay, let’s take a realistic look at this:
Number One – Grief is part of life. We must accept this truth. When we left our mother’s womb, we grieved the loss of our safe place and were literally pushed out into the unknown world. We must accept the fact that there is no life lived without loss: death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, unfulfilled dreams, losing one’s home, and many more. Grief is as much a part of life as joy.
Number Two – Feeling our grief is imperative. We must allow ourselves to feel grief when it happens. We’ve been trained to stuff sadness. This isn’t helpful for grief recovery. We must allow ourselves to feel our pain when it happens. Children cry out when they feel pain, emotional or physical. We are taught to avoid this, but the more we allow ourselves to feel and express our pain, the healthier we become.
Number Three – The way out is through. Staying still with our grief allows us to move forward. We are among the living. We can choose to live, but first we must feel our pain and sadness, as awful as it is. It’s a personal journey, and while we can seek out many forms of help, we must go within and be with our own personal experience.
The good news?
All of this can be done in a very gentle and loving way. We can learn to be kind to ourselves, the way we would comfort a hurt child. We are the child. Once we embrace our loss, and the sadness it brings, we will be able to gently surf the waves of grief, throughout our life, whenever they arise.
Here’s my recent personal example: I’ve done a lot of healing on my grief recovery journey. I feel like I’m doing pretty well, and then, boom – a trigger. What can that be? Well, how about some wildfires and the possibility of evacuation on top of a global pandemic? Suddenly, I feel myself falling, spiraling down that slippery slope into sadness. I miss my beloved husband. We always weathered these storms together. Now I am alone. It’s scary. I’m very sad.
It takes a couple of days for me to realize that my grief has been triggered. There’s real loss added to past grief – loss of a lifestyle I created to stay stable and heal, plus the uncertainty of what life will be like as we navigate Covid-19, on top of the uncertainty of becoming a widow unexpectedly at 62-years old and not knowing what the future holds. And…and…
WHEW! Suddenly I feel like I haven’t gained any ground. So, what do I do?
What I mean is that I choose to DO nothing, except sit with my feelings and take care of myself. (Revisit my previous articles to see what that entails, especially the Tools for Healing Parts 1 & 2.) I sit, hand on heart, hand on solar plexus and I breathe. I get in touch with what is happening. I feel the fear, the sadness, the longing, the grief. I give myself this gift. I feel no guilt for taking time out to give myself this important healing time because I have the experience and knowing that this is the only way forward for me.
The Beginning of a New Story
I’m happy to share that I weathered that storm. Would it have been much better to have my husband with me during these challenging times? It sure would! I miss him like crazy, but I feel like I’m entering a new phase where I can talk about him and our times together with less emotional charge.
I’m entering a new phase of my life story. It’s a new beginning. There are unknowns ahead, new chapters unfolding, new adventures AND challenges lie ahead. I don’t know what they look like and I still have many moments of fear, but it feels like I CAN move ahead. Whereas, before, I literally didn’t want to move, didn’t know if I could move, or had no inkling of how to move, in that order.
I still don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m headed, but I’ve learned to be comfortable in this “don’t know”, as the Buddhists call it. Not knowing is a state of being in itself, and it’s an okay state to be in. It may not feel comfortable at first because, along with stuffing our feelings, we’ve been taught that not knowing exactly what we are doing at any given time is a no-no.
While I would never want to go through the pain of anything like what I’ve been through again, I’m able to find gratitude for everything I’ve learned. And isn’t that what a painful experience is? A learning opportunity?
So what have I learned?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can take care of myself, that I can survive (and hopefully THRIVE) on my own. I’ve learned that if I allow myself to feel my feelings in every moment, without shame, blame or guilt, I become a better person. I’ve learned that feeling my feelings makes me vulnerable which in turn opens my heart even more. I’ve learned not to be dependent on others for my sense of worthiness. I’ve learned to trust my intuition, take things more slowly and listen to my body.
I’m more in tune with nature and with Spirit.
All of this has led to the beginning of a new chapter in my life. The title is “The Beginning of My New Life”, but I haven’t even turned the page yet. I’m floating in limbo right now, praying, waiting for divine direction which I know will come the more I open to it, the more I trust. I never learned to trust anyone or anything before my beloved husband came along. He taught me how to trust another human being. His leaving taught me how to trust myself.
I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t a strong person. I was productive, I could make things happen, I wasn’t afraid to talk in front of large groups or walk up to a stranger.
I was OUTER strong, but I wasn’t INNER strong. My husband’s illness and death brought me to the edge of myself. There was nowhere to turn. I had to look at myself.
Some people who lose a spouse turn to distractions like work or traveling to ease their pain. Some get into relationships too soon or anesthetize themselves with drink and drugs. I do not judge. Grief sucks. Deep emotional pain is no picnic and all of us who have experienced it know this. Something led me to go on the grief recovery journey I did. I believe I was guided by my LIGHT BEINGS, including my husband, and that they have been watching over me and subtly guiding me all this time.
I chose to write because I needed to tell my story. I was not able to do the writing during my grief group. It was too early in my process. I could only begin to write after I had done a lot of healing. Three years after my husband died and a few weeks after my mother’s death, a spark ignited inside. At the beginning I was publishing an article every week. It was pouring out of me. Then it went to two weeks, then once a month and finally, well, I think it’s been nearly three months since I’ve written.
There is another big lesson in this for me. I began writing for myself, to express my story on the page. My grief counselor suggested that other people may like to read what I’ve been through. That sounded okay to me but finding my blog would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I decided to start a Facebook page to bring awareness to my blog. This was a good decision in that many people who had lost their beloveds found my blog and found some solace from what I wrote. I never expected this, but I’m glad it happened.
My Facebook page grew quickly and now I have over 600 followers. This is amazing, but I never expected that either. I was honored and grateful to possibly help people, but at the same time I don’t feel qualified to give advice or counsel. I only continued to tell my story, through posts and videos (Notes from The Trail.)
As I was healing and writing, I was also moving forward, finally reaching the blessed freedom from constant pain I had been working towards which I never really believed would come. But it did. The grief is there, but it’s different. I can go a whole day without feeling pain. The awful memories of my husband’s illness and death no longer are in the forefront of my daily life.
A couple of months ago I found myself no longer motivated to walk on my trail. I went for walks in other places or near my home. It’s interesting that this coincided with having no inspiration for writing an article for my blog or posting on Facebook. I started to feel a tremendous responsibility that I would be letting all my “followers” down. I talked to my grief counselor about it and she asked if possibly I might be “finished” with this part of my journey. She told me that it was OKAY to feel done.
Shortly thereafter, on a very hot day, I decided to get out in the evening to my trail. It had been quite a few weeks since I was up there. I followed my normal route and stopped at the turnaround to stretch. As soon as I started back a strange sensation came over me. I had been on that trail almost every day since my husband died. I had hugged the giant cedars and pines and felt like they hugged me back. I know every turn and the way the sun’s light shines through the trees. But this time I knew it was my last walk on my trail. I KNEW I was DONE. I said goodbye to my special trees and thanked them for their unconditional support over the past three and a half years. It was bittersweet, but I knew it was time to move forward. The trail takes me back. It’s my past, and a very painful one at that.
That awakening on the trail is like a metaphor for coming to terms with my readiness to MOVE ON from my blog and my Facebook page. I don’t feel the need to write about my grief anymore. In fact, I want to write about anything BUT my grief. I’ve lived it, I’ve journeyed through it and I’m coming out the other side. I’m living in the PRESENT and looking forward to the future. I never thought I would say these words or see this day, but my deepest wish is that it gives HOPE to all the grievers who read this.
I will keep my blog LIVE so it will be here for any grievers who happen to find my story and perhaps get something from it. I’ve been waiting to write this last article for some time now because I wasn’t sure how to do it, but here it is.
I will keep gently surfing the waves no matter how small or big.
I'll leave with this prayer: