Grief and Grieving
Grief is one of the beautiful experiences of life that I am blessed to have the opportunity to write about from a place of knowing. It is my hope that my experience can shine a light for others who are suffering.
Grief is only a reflection of love. One can’t exist without the other.
For most of my life I lived in reaction to how I felt. I ran towards good feelings and away from painful ones. I didn’t understand the value of negative emotions because they hurt. Why would anyone want to hurt?
The first time I faced a major trauma in my life, the passing of my mother, I ran from the pain. The grief was fresh and present, but I turned my back and hid in a cloud of marijuana smoke because that was the only thing that made me feel okay. I had no perception of the value of grief, especially when it was fresh, so I missed a golden opportunity to grieve well.
I paid for that for years to come. The pain associated with grief doesn’t go away with time. The common saying “time will heal” is false. Time is just a container, it’s what you do in that time that is meaningful. Time won’t heal; grieving will heal. Without processing grief, time will allow that grief to settle into the crevices of your being and present itself in unpredictable ways.
I experienced this first hand. My heart learned not to love because love leads to pain, which is bad. I would get triggered by loss of any kind, whether in a movie or a book, or a story in the news; the thought of someone dying could drag me down into a funk for a whole day. I suffered greatly for years.
It took a lot of work, a very patient partner, and a good therapist to allow these deep pockets of grief to come out and be felt and expressed. At the time, it was a practice of recovery. Through intentional grieving, I was able to re-open my heart to love again and develop a profound relationship with myself and Karina, who eventually became my fiance.
This process took several years, it was very painful and often confusing because I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand what grief or grieving really was. But I learned. And when Karina passed earlier this year, I knew enough to make a concerted effort to grieve well, because I knew what life was like if I didn’t and I could not let myself repeat the pattern.
I came to understand grief in this way: Grief is love with nowhere to go. It is a recognition that the person or thing you loved is no longer present in your life, and the love you used to share now does not have a destination. Grieving, then, is the reclamation of that love energy, so the destination of that love is no longer external. This process hurts, and the more you love, the more painful it is.
For a long time after my mom passed, I questioned why loss was so painful. After all, every human who has ever lived and will ever live will die. So why is death so hard? The answer, I believe, is because of the power of grieving to evolve the heart to a capacity for greater Love, which is the ultimate goal in this life.
This was the mindset I carried into the loss of my beloved fiance. I leaned into it while the connection was still fresh. Instead of running away as I did before, I made the decision to re-absorb as much of that love energy as possible while it was still at the surface. It was even more painful than losing my mother, a pain I never thought was possible to exist. Gut-wrenching, sickening, dizzying, drowning, all of it. I kept my head down, stayed focused, and felt every last bit I could.
All the while, I kept telling myself, “this is just love, this is just love.” This process was readily accessible in the first few weeks because the pain was so fresh, but after a couple of months of intense grieving, I started to feel better, and the pain was not as available to access. At this point, the grieving became very intentional. I sat down every single day, brought myself to the pain, conjuring up images that were hard to see, remembering the darkest moments, and feeling the ground slip away. Crying became a skill, and the process was like going to the gym for my emotional self. Each time I went deeper, each time I became stronger, each time I felt better. The pain was transforming into gratitude, my vibration was lifting, and my heart was expanding.
I learned this is actually a good thing. There is no end point to grief. The recognition that a person I loved so dearly is no longer here will never go away. Those moments when the pain seeps back in, I say “thank you”! That is more love energy that I get to collect. That is more expansion for my heart. It is a gift that I cherish. It sure doesn’t feel like a gift, because it hurts like crazy, but I recognize it for what it is and always find gratitude afterward.
My advice to anyone who is experiencing extreme grief from a loss, whether through death or a breakup, is to lean in. Don’t run away. No drugs or alcohol. Nothing that will numb the pain. Healthy habits like exercise are great, only if not used as an escape. If you feel the tears coming, let them rip, don’t push them away.
An example of this, a moment that I am very proud of, came while I was at a reunion for my college soccer team. It was a great gathering of old friends, and everyone was enjoying catching up, a bunch of grown men reliving the glory days. At one point, I was having a conversation with a friend who was a firefighter, and he was telling me of his experience responding to medical emergencies. This triggered a memory of the firefighters being the first to arrive on the night that Karina passed and I felt the tears coming. Instead of holding them down, I excused myself, walked out into the woods, sat under a tree, and cried for 15 minutes. When I was ready, I came back, took a few deep breaths, washed my face, and rejoined the party. I ended up having an amazing night with friends and that moment of release only enhanced the joy I felt for being there.
A younger me would have been embarrassed to have done this and would have avoided it at all costs. Men who cry are seen as weak or feminine. The truth is, crying, being vulnerable, and showing up to feel your emotions is true strength. It is much easier to push down the tears and hide your emotions than to confront them, sit with them, accept that you are feeling the way you are, and deal with it in a healthy manner.
Grieving is hard. It hurts, sometimes unbearably so. But grief is one of the great human experiences that we all get to have. Grief is the other side of Love, and Love is what makes life worth living.
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