Posted by: Terri Johnston Fraracci | April 9, 2016

About this thing called grief: For those who grieve and those who love them

The truth of the matter is that I spent the first five years attempting to crawl out of a deep, dark well, carved out of grief.

In the beginning I didn’t even try to climb out. I didn’t care to see the sunshine, smell the fresh air, set myself free. I didn’t see the sense in re-entering a world that existed without my son. The walls of the well became my home.

Eventually, the gentle tugs of the rest of my precious loved ones, and a God who patiently waited as I made my peace with what I thought He had done, inspired me to at least try. And so I began to emerge ever so slowly. It is hard to say which was more painful at that point; embracing the light of the life that went on around me or remaining in the darkness of my grief.

I would pull myself up to the rim, look around with trepidation, step out for a time, and then dive back in because it was too much; or fall back in, exhausted by the effort to be okay, to contribute to a world that I wasn’t sure was worth it, to embrace a life that I felt had betrayed me.

Around two years in, I began to spend more and more time above the ground. I didn’t live on the surface just yet, but I frequented it more often, for longer periods of time, and I began to start needing the light more than I needed the darkness.

Somewhere around five years after my life changed forever I began to occupy the surface much more. Sometimes, even then, grief would come out of nowhere and stab me, and I would go scurrying for the security of that thick, heavy, gray blanket at the bottom of my well; but more often than not, I would only visit for a brief time. I no longer needed to live out of the glaring light of “life goes on without him” to be okay.

Today I am closing in on ten years from the day that changed me and my life forever. Losing my precious son so early and so unexpectedly, sent me down what felt like a useless, endless, impossible, painful path. But I am walking it. And I am still here.

I have learned that grief, for me, is far from linear and never ends, but instead continues to challenge me, change me, pain me, and grow me. And I have learned that it is a process unique to every individual, but that the common ground of loss is enough to breed compassion, empathy, and an openness to the value of support without judgment.

Over the course of the last ten years I have been down and up and down again. I’ve spent a lot of time resting on plateaus after exhausting rounds of climbing, slipping back down into the valley, climbing again; gaining ground, losing ground, resting on the ground.

I’ve learned that moving through grief can be at turns slow and painful, daunting and even impossible at times; anxious, frustrating, hopeful, stagnant; you name the emotion and someone in the midst of it will nod in understanding.

And yet we manage. We survive. In spite of the pitfalls along the way, we grow. We stop fighting the new world imposed upon us and begin to negotiate it. We begin to turn to others in support. We find ourselves willing to share our hearts and our stories with one another. Sharing, listening, learning together, crying together, and holding each other up is a miraculous balm for the broken hearts of not only the one we do this with, but for ourselves.

It is a gift. It is an incredible gift.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because those of you lovingly waiting at the surface often don’t understand why grieving people don’t just climb out. You understand that it may take time, but you don’t realize the true nature of grief unless you have been there.

And I’m telling you this because if you are the one grieving, giving yourself a hard time because you can’t just snap out of it, I want you to give yourself a pass. It’s a process, not an event. It’s up and down, gently climbing, sometimes falling, sometimes plateauing, never straight up, but up, all the same.

At this point on my path I have learned that:

I will never be the same again, and that’s okay. I accept that now. I don’t need to be the same. I’m not supposed to be the same. My life has changed. I accept that now.

I needed to stay in that well then, and I want to stay out of the well as much as possible now. That’s okay, too.

In between, I needed to let the journey unfold in my own way and accept it as it was; not push myself to make it what I thought, or what others thought, it should be.

I have also learned that when I step out to help others, even when it scares me – especially when it scares me – it helps me. Sometimes that means inspiring others to reach for spiritual goals that I am reaching for myself. Sometimes it means listening to the pain of another with the same patience, compassion, and lack of judgment that others have gifted me with. I can do that now. A lot of the time it means deciding to engage rather than retreat. I can do that most of the time now, too. Sometimes it means just helping in any way I can; following the grieving person’s lead.

And I have learned that once I was ready, all the time helping others means moving back into my light, little step by little step. I think one of God’s greatest gifts to us is the way that turning out to others benefits us, as well.

So about this thing called grief: When you lose someone close to you, it doesn’t ever go away. You don’t just stop missing them. But if you allow the process to take place, you allow yourself to heal enough to go back out there and live. Will you stay out of the well? I don’t know. I don’t think I will, but I am satisfied that my life in the darkness of grief has traded places with life in the light, and that the well is no longer my dark and heavy home, but a comforting, welcome place for those times when stepping back is stepping forward.

Helpful resources: Compassionate Friends, Ursuline Support Services, HELPGUIDE.ORG

we are not aloneFor a deeper insight into walking the path of grief: Author, fellow spiritual seeker, and fellow grieving mother on the path, D. A. Hickman’s  – The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

More essays on grief from this author can be found here.

*Note to my amazing family and friends: The greatest gift you have ever given me is allowing me to grieve freely, in my own way. I will never be able to find the words to express how grateful I am to you for your steadfast love, patience, compassion, and sensitivity. Thank you.

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Responses

  1. So well said. Thank you. I have learned about different kinds of grief and my personal responses. Each loss has been different but all of them significant.

    Like


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