Grief is a complex journey. It is a process neither linear nor easy. If you’ve experienced loss, there are many helpful resources and professionals that can support your process. But you know there is no getting over or forgetting about the one you’re grieving. Rather, there is life beyond their existence, a life marked by deep love and deep loss.
Because, like love, the experience of loss expands who we are and leaves a lasting mark.
At the beginning of summer break, I was hit with the painful and vaguely familiar state of profound grief. It is a feeling I dread, and yet I understand it is inescapable for someone who loves deeply and travels a human journey. It started with a shocking phone call that set off a 24-hour nightmare and, ultimately, a life forever changed once more.
My beautiful, vibrant 40-year-old sister-in-law and friend suffered a massive stroke out of nowhere. She left behind two young daughters, a husband, parents, a sister, nieces and nephews, and a great number of close family and friends —whose lives will never be the same.
While the forward motion of life is inevitable, losing someone you love is a lifelong journey. Loss can change how you think and feel and how you view the world before you. It has the potential to open your heart to the blessings around you or to harden and weather you to your very core.
There is no right or wrong way to do life or to journey through grief and loss. When we are gentle with ourselves and acknowledge that grief takes countless forms, we are reminded that our feelings are a human experience —not a life sentence or evidence that we are doing it wrong.
Having experienced deep love and deep loss at various points along my human journey, I have found the grief process to be personal, at times chaotic, and at other times flat. It can also be surprising and profound and, to a certain degree, beautiful. In a strange way, the experience of loss has given me a heightened sense of feeling alive.
Feelings can become amplified as a result of loss. The tender ache in your heart and queasy sensation in your stomach can swallow you up as you come to grips with the absurd idea that you’ll never see your loved one in human form again. Time can feel distorted as you move through the days in a daze or, perhaps, in a blur. You might bumble about in the world, doing your regular tasks, surrounded by regular people who have no idea that the lump in your throat and the tears welling in the corners of your eyes are never far away.
Loss triggers sorrow for ourselves and for the person who no longer walks beside us in human form —but it also causes heartache for others who are missing their loved one. I grieve deeply my genuine, loyal, and level-headed sister-in-law, who started out as my roommate and friend years ago. And yet my heart is heaviest for my brother, who lost his wife of nearly twenty years, and my two beautiful nieces, who no longer have their mommy to soften life’s blows. The death of a loved one has the potential to expand the compassion and love we have for each other.
It is also possible to experience love and a sense of purpose after loss. As the days go on, being able to sleep, eat, and breathe without your loved one can get easier. Throughout my life, I’ve witnessed others who have experienced unthinkable loss move forward in their lives. Their strength has been a pillar for me as I’ve navigated life after loss.
As the summer comes to a close and a new season begins, my journey with grieving is far from over. Yet as the days go on, I feel myself gently integrating this immense loss and finding purpose once again. I want to create a life with more meaning than before because I know that being here, alive and well, is the ultimate blessing and gift.
Losing a loved one throws our priorities, everything we hold dear, into question. Death makes it glaringly clear that everything in life is temporary —including life itself.
Losing a loved one has the potential to teach us the value of living. We can pay tribute to our loved one by carrying forward their memory in our heart and by holding the hands and hearts of our loved ones who are still here. And if we subtly notice it’s a luxury to hold a hand, an honor to feel deep sorrow, and a privilege to cry an honest tear for those beside us and those no longer here, we give ourselves the greatest gift: the gift of feeling alive right now.