This past year has been undoubtedly the one where all the pieces and experiences in my life have finally begun to come together coherently, and it’s also been one of my hardest without my hero. Yesterday made it officially one year since my Dad passed away. The shock of his death, the anger immediately after the loss, the incredible pain of moving on every morning without him were some of my most difficult days.
Then, just a few months later, another loss: my good friend Heather succumb to lyme disease after an intense, decades long battle. Not because it had finally ravaged her body, but because she decided that the best conclusion to her life was to walk in front of a train one night to end her pain.
It cracked my heart open all over again. It drained me completely, and left me back in that bewildered fog I had just pulled myself out of. I’ve read a lot in loss literature about “What to expect” from grief, but the truth is, our experiences are all completely different. Our losses are different. Our moment to moment feelings are different. So, instead of telling you what to expect – because I can’t – or telling you what I wish someone would have told me – because I heard it all and that really never made a dent – I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about grieving this past year. From my heart, to yours…
Take care of yourself – Putting yourself first is very important, especially in times of loss. If you haven’t figured this out by the time you lose someone you love, it can be a great time to start. Eat healthy, do some yoga, work out, get out of the house. Your loved one might be gone, but you’re still here, so make the most of it.
Get Grateful – This was one of the things I posted about when I first spoke about living my medicine a few months after Dad passed, and it’s only been more solidified for me. Appreciation will get you through just about anything. Stop to feel your departed loved ones presence with you. Smell the roses. Watch the sunsets. You won’t regret it.
Get Lively – Not Lonely – Don’t shut people out. One of the first things I did after a few days of phone-off, bed-ridden grief was to reach out to my dear friends and loved ones – many of whom I had no idea had experienced similar losses to mine! This is where I found a lot of my comfort and coping mechanisms.
There’s No Such Thing As Prepared – Did I know my Daddy was dying from cancer for 2 and a half years? Yup. Did anything prepare me for the emotional toll it took to help him in his last few months? Did anything prepare me for actually being there, watching him suffer, struggle and ultimately let go? No. Nothing could have. No matter who or what it is, nothing can ever really full prepare you for the shock to your body that comes with grief. So however you find yourself going through it, go. Go whole heartedly and with reckless abandon. Because no one could have told you about how this felt even if they tried (which they may have!)
A Distraction Is a Distraction – …. Is a distraction is a distraction. It doesn’t matter what name you call it, distracting or otherwise suppressing your grief is not helping you and certainly doesn’t help anyone around you. This tends to make us bitter and manifests itself as disease. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. But the sooner you face it, the sooner you can begin to heal.
When does this thing end? – I thought feeling grief was something I’d “get over”. Turns out, it doesn’t end. I’ve lost a lot of friends, in fact, so I thought I knew what to be prepared for. Uh, no. Losing a parent was an entirely different experience for me. It wasn’t long before I realized that the emptiness from losing my Dad was going to be there – FOREVER. And P.S. It’s going to get re-triggered every.single.time I lose someone else. But instead of getting panicked about it, I got grateful. I made it my mission to begin to do things not only for myself, but as a legacy to Dad. In this way, I feel I’ve accomplished more in the last year – emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically – than I feel I did for the 27 years he was with us. It’s given me an opportunity to grow, expand, learn and get better in a way I just never would have otherwise.
Don’t Stop Working – Pushing the pain away is, at the most, a temporary option. If you need a break, take one, but taking too much time off can lead to a depressive, loaf-tastic episode or worse, losing your job. But really, in the bigger sense, don’t stop working on yourself. Don’t let death take your life away. Keep smiling, keep laughing, and remember: the world is still spinning. I have worked more, harder and better on myself in the last year than I have ever before in my life. This is, for sure, a positive result of losing my Dad.
It’s natural – 5 Stages? I wish. Throw those notions about what grief is “supposed” to look like out the window. Grief is messy and confusing and comes and goes in waves and roller coaster rides. One of the most powerful things I learned is that grief is a completely natural response to losing a loved one. Your brain actually has to process what is not which is much harder to process than what is. We grieve because we loved, and the loss of love is very hard. Grief is a feeling in the process of moving onto a place of healing, but it’s not the whole process.
Comfort is everywhere – and it comes from very unexpected places. The first person who ever said something super comforting to me about my Dad was a stranger making a passing comment to me on the streets of NYC the day after the funeral. He had no idea what I was going through, but he said exactly what I needed to hear. Often times when we expect certain comfort from our friends or loved ones, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is often the time when friends and family will show their true colors, so be prepared. It’s sometimes necessary to seek out ways to grieve on your own. I’ve created meditation practices and little rituals for myself, for instance, that I do every day and especially on hard days. I also started taking (and making!) tinctures for myself specifically targeted for grief and shock, like 21 Drops Carry On blend and Dr. Bach’s Star of Bethlehem.
Focus on the big picture – Admittedly I still get peeved when people use the word ‘ grief’ haphazardly, or in relation to a breakup or the end of a friendship. I know, I know. I’m working on it. Grief is a powerful, unique, personal experience and it means something different to everyone. I’ve learned to also be careful with my own words and language. I’ve been very up on my NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I don’t use phrases like ‘ I hate.’ Or ‘ I can’t.’; instead I’m focused on making my words meaningful and most importantly, empowering. This keeps my thoughts empowering and keeps me moving on. Getting stuck on the little things – like ‘trigger words’, sad songs, or whatever is holding us back – can be caught and changed immediately. I’d say I’ve gone from JV to Pro at this in the last 12 months. Ain’t nobody got time for tiny pet peeves.
All in good time – It wasn’t until last week that I even touched the photo album I have with all my Dad’s photos in it. It took me about 6 weeks after the funeral to listen to all my Dad’s voicemails. I immediately recorded them to have forever, but I’ve barely heard them since. It goes in reverse, and they span over the 2 years he was sick, so Dad goes from sounding young and healthy to sick and dying as you listen, which makes it creepy and also incredibly real for me. The point is, there’s no ‘ right time’ to look back, remember, or cherish memories you had with your deceased loved one. Do it when it doesn’t hurt you. I can look at the photo album of my Dad now and smile, laugh, and tell stories and jokes. It took me almost a year, but it feels incredibly rewarding. You’ll never forget them, but you don’t have to flood yourself with tough memories to ‘ get over it’.
It’s your experience – I know I harp on having a PMA (positive mental attitude) a lot, but for me there’s no other choice because it has shown such massive results in my life to keep my head and chin up, even when I am feeling down. Even if I am “tricking” my body into feeling better, the ultimate result is more love, light and miracles in my life, so that doesn’t feel very deceptive to me. I can say that, even through the loss of my friends, or my Dad, I’ve been happy. There is a saying, “ Don’t let a bad phone call give you a bad day.” For instance, you may speak with someone who puts you in a negative mood for a moment, but that doesn’t have to put you in a bad mood for the next day or the next week! This is your experience and yours completely. Life rarely hands us things like that, so make the most of it and make it empowering for your life. Think of the good times, laugh through the bad times, forgive yourself, let yourself have some inspiring a-ha moments, and then relax. There is nothing more you could have done or said. Whether you write about your experience, give back to a cause in their name, or somehow share your experience in an empowering way, make the most of what you’re going through. What feels like the end of something if often a new beginning. When one door closes, sometimes a whole other house is built, just waiting for you to stop by and make a home.
Finally, a helpful meditation for those of you who are grieving a loss: