When Grief Catches You…

Martha Hayden’s “The Allegory of Grief”

It’s an odd sensation to come face to face with Grief when you’ve been avoiding her for so long. She catches you fiercely and winds around your chest and all the things make you catch your breath and squeeze feelings from your eyes.

It’s an even odder sensation to be in a mental/emotional/spiritual place to welcome Grief as a guest at your emotional table. Especially when, as the eternal optimist, I have never thought to leave a chair for her. I actually cast her as the villain in my story…alongside Anger, Sadness, and the cameo actress, Boundaries.

Grief snuck up on me quietly here in this space. I should of known she would…she’s been patiently waiting in the corner for everything else to quiet long enough for her to say, “Umm….hello…are you ready to chat now? Can we have a cup of tea and talk about all these other feelings in the corner over here?”

So I down an antidepressant with my coffee and pull up a chair at the table. “I’ve got a few days….what ya got?” I approach her like a to do list. Let’s get this one checked off, shall we? She smiles her gentle smile and shakes her head ruefully…Her big green eyes well with tears as she comes to the realization that I am not ready for her quite yet.

Grief…we prepare for it when we loose a loved one to physical death. It’s acceptable…allowed…heck, encouraged as part of the process of healing. So often, we forget that we experience death in so many ways in our lives….death of ideals, death of dreams, death of relationships, death of an identity. It feels like another world, but just last summer I helped write an original ballet about grief….you would think I would be a pro at accepting and processing it.

From the ballet, “Reckless Love.” Photo credit Flash 160

But truth be told, to grieve is to accept…and to feel…and I am so scared of those words right now. So I have powered through healing the giant hole that was left in my heart when I had to walk away from the dream I dreamed. I dealt with the guilt of pouring all my time, energy, heart, soul, health and finances into something that I eventually had to say I couldn’t be a part of anymore. With my therapist, I worked on healing the parts of me that had allowed relationships to become so terribly toxic they nearly tore me apart. I am working on setting boundaries and finding safe people to share my life with. I am learning so much about myself. It has been a golden road of self discovery and so, so cool to travel. Hard, at times, but very cool. But self discovery is a partially an intellectual process and easily compartmentalized in neat boxes that sit on the shelf of things I know about myself.

Grief is different. It’s a spaghetti bowl of emotions and memories and Kleenex commercials that tug at your heart. It’s missing people and situations and for me, it’s particularly difficult right now because all of those people, places and things have moved on without me. It’s fighting the envy monster inside that wants all of those things to grieve for me as much as I grieve for them. It’s not knowing if I should look at photos and watch videos and like all the instagram posts about how great things are without me (because truthfully, life goes on and shouldn’t I celebrate that?).

So I sit across from Grief at the table of my heart. She asks if I am ready for some others to join us…Anger saunters up and sits at the head of the table and Sadness and the bittersweet Nostalgia join us. I sit quiet and listen as they start to share with me. This is a process and more than one pot of tea and more than one moment of introspection will be shared here. I know that these companions will be with me for a bit, and that’s ok now. I also know if I want to invite Forgiveness and Acceptance to my table, that I must become friends with these here with me now.

Grief reaches across, and lays her hand on mine…”Let me introduce you to someone else who’s been waiting in the corner with us.”

I look up and look deep into two brown wells of compassion. “Cari, this is Peace. You’ve met before, but it’s been a while. ” He sits across from me with a smile and lays his hand on top of Grief’s on mine. This journey may be long, but it isn’t all discomfort and painful experience…Peace travels with us too.

A Resolution from a friend…

Breaking free is sometimes hard.

It was a delightful birthday meal with friends….great Cuban food, laughter, plans for future vacations. My heart felt safe and warm and reveled in feeling of it all.

This time of year, my good friend, Alisa, is all about the resolutions. She’s one of the few people I know that actually writes them down and tracks her progress throughout the year and it is always great fun to hear what crazy antics she is planning for herself each year. I think it drives her nuts that I don’t set resolutions anymore…so in a moment of seriousness, she leveled her gaze at me and said, “Let’s set each other a resolution for this year and promise to keep it.”

Ya’ll this is a loaded request. Alisa doesn’t play with her resolutions. They are hard! From run a marathon and jump out of a plane, to read a book a week and cut sugar out of your diet….they tend to be full on life changing type statements that she takes seriously. I looked at my husband, he nodded slightly, and I said, “Ok…let’s do it!”

We went around the table…some resolutions were immediately rejected. It was honestly difficult to come up with something as I love these people in their current state so much. It came time to receive my resolution from Alisa and she looked at me hard…pursed her lips…leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. This one was gonna be difficult. I could tell by her posture.

“Your resolution is to forgive all the stuff that happened this year and move on. Let it all go.”

Crap.

Ya’ll this year has been the hardest of my life. There are people who have hurt and wronged me beyond what I thought was possible. There were relationships that dismantled my identity to the point that I considered ending my life. There was cancer and systemic infection and cures that seemed as bad as both. There was a loss of a dream that I thought was from God and in result, the shaking of what I had previously thought was an unshakable faith. I stopped writing, painting and creating…I stopped speaking and teaching…I stopped living and started surviving and it nearly killed me.

Through it all, the people at the table with me had held me up and walked me along. They (and so many others) had fought for my heart and reminded me who I was and just wouldn’t let me give up, but, Dear God- it was so close! And now, she was challenging me to “Let it all go.”

There is so much wrapped up in that statement. Forgiveness foremost. Of people…of myself….OF GOD. On (mostly) the other side of things, I can see all the things that I have learned and all the beauty that has started to blossom from the ash, but it doesn’t make the hurt less and I am reminded of it each day. Each day, as I see it, the grieving I thought was grieved wells up alongside the tears in my eyes, and I feel the ache of the loss I have avoided dealing with for the last few months.

Checking your bags is hard when you are in the middle of unpacking them, but I met her gaze and said, “Ouch….OK.” I agreed to something I honestly have NO IDEA HOW TO ACCOMPLISH, but I know this pack of mine will surround me and help…and I guess I’ll bring you guys along with me as well. Buckle up, ya’ll, we may be in for some turbulence!