Change

Golden Pupal macro in Ishigaki, Japan

After we have dealt with grief for a period of time, we will reach a point where it feels like we are turning away from our loved one and moving on. We probably are, even though we don’t want to.

We will have changed some aspects of our life. Maybe we have given most of their possessions away and reset our home. Perhaps we’ve been taking care of a child or elderly parent and now have empty hours each day when we don’t know what to do. Maybe it’s been 10, 20, or 30 years since we lived by ourselves, and we’re learning who we are as a single person. 

Take this time to explore possibilities. There may be an activity we stopped doing because there wasn’t enough time or our spouse didn’t like to do it, like cross-country skiing. We can now pick it back up.

There is a natural evolution to grief because grief is a natural part of life.

What we discover, when someone we love dies, is that even though our first choice in life has been taken away, a second choice exists, as well as a third, and even a fourth. The future is not set, as we’ve learned, nor are our options.

Abraham Maslow said that throughout our life we either step forward into growth, or we step back into safety. For those who grieve, we’ve lost so much that we fear taking any risk and losing what little we have left. For the first months, many of us choose to step to the side, dwell in a neutral space, and let the world pass by. We do need to hunker down for a while, gather our resources, and wait for the storm to pass.

There comes a time when we need to step back in and take chances again. Our friends have been waiting for us to come out of our cocoon and smile, dance, and play again, if only a little.

I wanted this, too, but it took time before I was ready to think about my options and make the transition from what had been to what might be. I needed to deal with the changes patiently, with kindness for myself and with curiosity about the world.

Grief is a chrysalis. So is love. But sometimes the process of becoming moves way too slow.

There is a story about Zorba being impatient to see the emergence of a butterfly. He warms the cocoon with his breath to hurry the process along, and the butterfly emerges, but it’s too soon in its formation and it dies. Zorba wanted to see its beauty now. He wanted to celebrate life now, not put it off. He goes through life like this, wanting to drink wine if it’s around, and love the women who want to be loved. 

We want to be happy again without always seeing death in the background. We want to take risks without expecting the worst. We want our friends who have lost children, parents, or siblings to laugh again without memories roaring up and pulling them down into a funk. What we are discovering is that we will always be aware of how fragile life is, and that there is enough joy to hold the shadows at bay. 

The reality is that we don’t move on from those who died. They move on with us.

I would love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below, and I’ll respond.

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah Dawson-Shepherd on May 21, 2019 at 12:45 am

    I listened to a podcast the other day about a woman whose husband (whom she adored) had taken his own life. 9 months later, she had fallen into another relationship and then got married. I felt a number of emotions at this – rage – that she could re-relate so fast, what about grieving for her “adored” husband? Sadness – that I couldn’t imagine doing anything similar, even after 2 and a half years, guilt – that I would ever want to consider it. And yet, I know that life goes on, that my friends are getting a tad fed up with my inability to “have fun”, that at 65, I probably have another 15 years and need to find a way to make that meaningful. And in all of that, I find the weight of carrying the grief, loss, pain a little heavy. No, I rarely get avalanched by it, but it’s there, a constant ache. Hurrying it along hasn’t helped and I know it will take its own time, but gee . . . . .

    • Mark Liebenow on May 21, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      Yes, it’s still there, Sarah, that ache. Grief moves to its own timetable, and it would be nice if it kept us in the loop. As for the podcast woman, nine months seems fast, but I don’t know her situation or everything she was dealing with. Nine months seems more like a man’s response to grief. I hope she is dealing with her grief and not ignoring it, and I hope that he is accepting of it. I was in your camp. After two years I still didn’t have much interest in dating, but I was also in my 40s and didn’t relish the idea of 40 years on my own. I knew it would come eventually. You are the who who gets to decide what you need, what you are looking for, where you find enjoyment, and how to find meaning in your life. Fun will come, but maybe not in the way that your friends expect.

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