Page 47: Ever Evolving Grief

I came to the coffee shop this afternoon with a goal and that goal was to finish one blog post. And you know what? I forgot my charging cord. So it’s kind of a race against the clock battery to see if I’m going to meet that goal. We’re at 57% currently and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the usual 60-90 minutes of dicking around on the internet that I usually have to account for.

I’m turning 32 next week. That feels like, okay, I’ve officially reached an age where my birthday isn’t a big deal to anybody at all. Not even me, really? Which is kind of a new thing. For the past 13 years I’ve always made a point to make legit plans for my birthday and hype it up big time.

Okay, so, my dad died fourteen years ago–on the day before my 18th birthday. I’m not going to intentionally bum you out or anything but it’s a good point of reference. It’s a really strange topic to bring up. It isn’t something that everyone knows. It’s not a secret by any means but it certainly isn’t something that you lead with during initial getting-to-know-you conversation. But then later when it does come up, it’s usually because your friend asked a light hearted question like, “what is your dad like?” and I’m like “Oh no, I’m gonna bring the energy way down, right now. Sry.” It’s not that talking about him makes me sad. It doesn’t. I love to talk about my dad. My husband and I laid in bed and talked about our dads all night the other day. It was so nice. But–it can tend to give other people this deer in the headlights look.

Other people who have lost an immediate family member at a relatively young age, do you have a way that you deal with this? I’ve been struggling for about a decade and a half and could really use some pointers.

So, anyway, because of timing, I’ve always made big plans. Something to get excited about and look forward to in hopes of getting myself distracted about the fact that the day before is the day that something reasonably traumatizing happened to my family. But it never really works. Which, I’ve learned, is okay.

It’s good to feel sad. It’s important to let yourself feel sad about things that you should feel sad about. It took a really long time for me to realize that things like sadness, anger, loneliness are no mark of a moral failing. And even more–if you can lean into the feeling and really let yourself feel it, it can be useful. Because, at least in my experience, the more you fight it the more unpleasant it is. And it lasts longer. Just let it run its course.

In yoga and meditation you learn about quieting your mind and how that’s not necessarily about eliminating all thought–because that’s kind of impossible. Have you ever tried to do that? Have you ever tried to think about nothing? If you ever have trouble thinking about the name of every single kid in your kindergarten class–just try thinking about nothing. Because that’s when that ish is going to pop up. But instead of getting frustrated, they suggest acknowledging the thoughts as though they’re people that you walk by on the street. “Entire kindergarten class–I can see you’re here but I’m doing a thing right now and if you want to stick around I’ll be with you once I finish up here.” “Good to see you again, What Am I Doing With My Life, take a number. I’ll be with you when I can.”

And I think it’s the same way with feelings. If I try to clear my mind, I’m going to get cluttered up with thoughts that don’t belong. If I try to push these feelings out before I’ve given myself a chance to sit with them a little while–they’re going to bring in a hell of a lot more that I wasn’t prepared for. That’s when the anxiety pops in. Guilt about seemingly unrelated topics. Inexplicable panic at 11:00 pm on a school night.

My therapist once told me that I probably will always get depressed, anxious, panicky in October and that’s just a reality that I’ll have to work with. She said that it’s a little bit like a cousin to PTSD and, in essence, my bones remember it. It’s imprinted on me and it’s going to pop up when the seasons move over into something similar to what it was when he died. At first this was really upsetting news to me. But the more I worked with her, the more I found ways to live with it and sit with it and not be upset by it as often. And by now, fourteen years later, all I really have left of him is my grief over him. And I’m not sure that I want to lose that anyway.

I don’t want to be happy all the time. I want to be real all the time.

When I sat down to write, today, I didn’t want to get too serious. I didn’t know I was even thinking about this right now. But it keeps popping up out of nowhere these past few days.

But I like how, as I grow, I feel less and less inclined to try to forget. I like how I feel less and less compelled to throw a big birthday party and keep myself distracted. I like how it feels to feel it when I need to feel it.

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I’m curious about grief and the grief of other people that I know. Have you lost someone? Does this happen to you where when that time of year comes around, you feel that person more and more than usual?
Do you have any tips or tricks that you use when you make new friends and know that, eventually, the topic of your loved one is going to come up?

I hope you’re having a really nice week. I am.
xoxo, lib

5 thoughts on “Page 47: Ever Evolving Grief

  1. Jessicavaliant

    That’s a tricky one for me since I never knew my father (and he wasn’t a great guy) So I think I deal with it differently. It was weird when I passed the age he was when he died, but in general I just miss having the possibility of a person who was supposed to be in my life at this age.
    As for the birthday thing, I really hope you get to a place that you can have a big party again but not as a distraction. Simply because you are worth celebration!

  2. Pingback: Page 48: A Birthday Party at Hatch Studios | XOXO, Lib.

  3. Pingback: Page 51: About Me | XOXO, Lib.

  4. Hi Libby, I know this has been a little while since you posted this but I have an interest in grief as well, I lost my dad at a young too. I was eight. I also lost a daughter almost 7 years ago. Both losses have shaped my life in profound ways. If I could compare it to something I would say it is like pruning a plant. It doesn’t actually kill you but it makes you grow in a completely new way. These two griefs for me were very, very different.
    The loss of my father came at a time when I hardly knew what emotions were. I coped with my pain by imagining myself in a different situation, in happy situations. I made up elaborate scenarios where things were good and I was happy and safe. They were my escape. This worked until I became a teenager and outgrew the protection of fantasy.

    The grief of my daughter has been very different. I’ve felt much more like an observer. I’ve leaned into the pain instead of hiding from it. I’ve been acutely aware of the physiological disruption grieving brings. The difficulty to focus, the fragile emotional state, and the unending complete lack of joy.

    But the thing that both of these seasons of grief brought me were questions about God. Deep hard questions that scare people. Theological propositions and confessionals are simply inadequate to answer these hard questions,and the only person to answer for them is God himself.

    As far as tips and tricks to deal with revealing your grief. That is a tough one. On one hand you want people to understand some of the things that have shaped you, on the other, because it is such a tender spot, how safe is it to reveal? I don’t really get questions about my parents at this point, my mom has been gone for 14 years as well. (I will say, that grief was very different than both losing my dad or my daughter, but that’s another story)
    But has been hard to deal with is the question: how many children do you have? Well the answer is four. I have four children, I’ve given birth to four children. But the awkward and puzzled looks to an innocent question just isn’t worth it. So I just hesitate just a little bit then smile… I have these three.

    1. Sharon–
      Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so tender and beautiful and thoughtful.
      So maybe not everyone will know that you have four kids but I know and I honor that and I honor your little girl and your grief and I feel really blessed to be on the receiving end of your truth today. 🙂

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