It’s such a complex emotion, and it’s one no two people handle in the same manner. I’m not even convinced the same person handles grief in the same manner on different occasions. When I lost my grandmother last year, my grief was profound. It also turns out that it’s prolonged. Even after almost a year-and-a-half, there are moments I feel such intense grief when something makes me think of her such as a certain scent or the sight of everyone’s azaleas blooming in abundance, or a memory that hits unexpectedly. I still pick up my phone to send her a photo or text her a story I know she’d love or find hilarious. It takes me a moment to remember she’s not here, and the grief is overwhelming.
Anticipatory grief, however, is a different story. When someone you love finds out their life is ending…it’s a different type of grief. The phone rings, and panic sets in. A text goes unanswered longer than usual, and panic sets in. Every conversation – is it your last? Knowing that you’re looking so forward to seeing someone and spending time with them but also knowing that the goodbye you’ve said a million times before is very likely the last goodbye you’ll share…it’s crippling.
I don’t handle grief well if we are being honest. I don’t handle it well at all. It affects my entire person. Physically, mentally, and emotionally – it makes me feel like I’m living my own life from the outside looking in. I can hear my family speaking, but it takes me a moment to process their words. I can smile and laugh and make memories with my kids and my husband on the outside, but on the inside, I’m not fully present. I struggle to find joy in anything when I’m grieving, and I struggle to think of anything else. My body hurts, I don’t have a lot of energy, and I feel it everywhere. Grief, while necessary, is hard.
Take all the time you need
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is certainly no right or wrong way to grieve someone who is not yet gone. For me, in the weeks that I’ve been reconciling future loss in my own mind, I know I’ve been distant. I don’t have the energy or the desire to be social, to answer texts or calls, to go anywhere or do anything. I’m going through the motions, but if it’s not necessary or required, I’m just not interested. I’m in a funk, and it’s difficult for me to remove myself from that feeling. I need time to process this information, and I haven’t had the proper time to do so since finding out due to already having so much going on. Slowing down and taking time are two things I need very much. There is no such thing as a set amount of time. Take what you need even if it is longer than you think it should be.
Talk about it
The problem with talking about grief is that no one wants to bring others down. When someone you love is dying, it’s a difficult conversation to have. It’s natural to want to discuss the good things, the happy memories, and fun things…but it’s also important to talk about how you’re feeling. One thing I do well is discuss my feelings with my husband, my friends, and my therapist. They are all great listeners, and they always know what to say or what not to say, and I always feel better talking about it. For example, I spent some time talking about it with my best friend this weekend as I struggled booking tickets to say goodbye because it just felt so…final.
“We don’t get to choose how things happen. All we can choose is how we respond t them. Click the button and have fun and make good memories while you can…you have time to do that. Most people don’t get that time. They just wake up and somebody they loved died without the ability. At least you know the hand that is dealt, now find the most productive, effective way to play the hand. Nobody is getting outta here alive. Enjoy the moments you have. They are fleeting for everyone. Get your head outta your ass and don’t be miserable.”
Those who love you and know you know exactly what to say to you to make you feel better, and believe me when I tell you that what they have to say is necessary. Talking helps – don’t forget that.
Spend time together
I can tell you right now that it is going to take every last bit of strength I have both mentally and emotionally to make this trip, but I know that I am so blessed to be able to make this trip. I get to say goodbye. I get to spend time with someone I love, and you better believe I’m going to make some good memories. We’re going to have fun, we’re going to laugh hysterically, and we are going to make the most of this time we have together. I don’t take it for granted. I know I’ll be inconsolable when it’s time to come home, but I also know that when my loved one is gone, I will never look back on our time together saying goodbye with regret.
It might sound callous to some, but humor is a helpful tool. My therapist urges me regularly to use humor when I feel my anxiety creeping up on me. It sounded silly when she first asked, but I can tell you with certainty that it’s been a tremendous tool in helping with my anxiety.
Another callous one, I know, but it’s impossible to find happiness when you’re looking for everything but. Let moments of grief into your life. Let them happen. Face them. Deal with them, and then focus on what’s good. You can’t rid yourself of grief, but you can use the feeling of grief to find feelings of joy and happiness. Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful for the people in your life. For time. For beauty. For the little things.
Move your body
Grief manifests itself to me in a way that brings me absolutely no appetite. I can’t eat. I don’t want to eat. I don’t feel hungry. But, I make myself have something healthy and then I move my body. I always feel lighter and so much better after a good workout. I can take it to the extreme when my funk is a deep one – for example, yesterday I ran 3 miles, walked two more, did a 28-minute weight class, and then did a 40-minute yoga class. Ordinarily, I’ll do a yoga class and maybe a quick upper or lower body class, or I’ll run and do a quick upper body class. Yesterday, I just did it all because I needed it at the time. Today, a mile and a half were all I needed to make myself feel much better.
As I navigate my own feelings of grief, I am hyper-aware of how precious time is. It’s not something you can re-do or start over. You have what you have, and that’s it. It’s moments like these that make me so profoundly aware of how precious time is, and I find myself wanting to be very selfish with my time. I want to spend it with my family. I want to spend as much possible time with my kids and my husband as I possibly can making memories and being together. Maybe this is how I cope. By intentionally choosing to stay up late and let the kids swim with the pool lights on long after bedtime, or by having family movie night every night during summer, by taking more family walks, going out to dinner together, or asking them what they want to and doing it even if it doesn’t sound like fun to me because it’s fun for them. I find myself coping by intentionally bringing them as close to me as I can and not letting them go.
I am a feeler. I feel everything deeply. It stays with me. I overthink it. I let my imagination run wild, and I feel too much. It’s both a blessing and a curse at times, but it’s who I am. I’m working on better handling my own anxiety, but grief is completely different territory for me, and I know I handle it poorly. For now, though, all I can do is try. Try to understand. Try to make good memories. Try to make the best of a situation that doesn’t have a “best”. Try to immerse me in the things that bring me the most happiness and joy. I can try, and I hope that I said something that might strike a chord with someone reading this. You are not alone.