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Leaving the Bench for the Second Time

The past few weeks have given me opportunities to reach back and reflect on my own process of grief and arriving at a new waypoint. What happened? The more I live, read, and experience, the more I understand the journey I’m on with building a new life.

I’ve reflected on the many people who post early on in support groups. Their partner is newly deceased and they are asking after one or two weeks, “When will the tears end?” I understand why they’re asking this. This type of pain hurts physically. The people who respond, who have had more time in the grief cycle, usually tell the newbies that things will change, and to give it time, which is not what anyone wants to hear when the physical and emotional pain are so intense. 

Here’s my question for people who jump into these groups so soon: Why are you here so soon? That is the first question I ask as I read. I answer it with a list of reasons they might have: times have changed, and society is no longer connected like it used to be. People have lost communities of support.

I’ll say this until I don’t need to say it any more: the Western world has become a place of instant everything. In the West, we’re losing the skill of self-soothing. The need to sit in silence has never been so needed, and yet the volume levels are turned up so that we fail to hear what our bodies, hearts, and heads are telling us to do: sit in quietness and be still. We’ve also lost community. Community enables us to soothe ourselves, and in time turn to others for what we aren’t able to do for ourselves. This is a huge reason people show up to a Facebook group. Instant community that isn’t community. Some of what is there is helpful, and at times some things on these pages are not helpful. 

This last weekend a friend said goodbye to her mum. It has been some time in coming, and when the end came it was a peaceful ending. I’ve been aware that she and her family are in a “thin place.” I sometimes call it the funeral bubble. It is a place of reflection, where time stops while the rest of the world continues on. For those in the thin place, things are altered. We cry; we touch the spiritual; we reflect; we can think new thoughts, and in some ways, it can be rather mystical. It can be a place of solace. Eventually, we’ll leave the thin place and get back on the conveyor belt. It is when we enter the fast-paced arena of life that we demand the instant stopping of tears. We want the pain gone. We fail to realize that just like physical pain telling us and our bodies to take notice of what is going on, emotional pain is telling us the exact same thing: take notice, sit down, you are hurt.

Sitting here, I reflect on the day of August 29th, when I sat at my dining room table wondering the unthinkable: How will I survive? I wasn’t thinking of tears or the path I’d need to follow. The crazy crying jags appeared on the scene right on schedule: as soon as the emotional numbing thawed out. Looking back on it now, I think I was more scared of the crying than questioning when the tears would stop. This type of crying is physically violent. You feel it well up inside, and like an earthquake you hear the rumble of the approaching event. Ready? Shake. Hold your breath and wait for the thing to go away. And then the aftershock hits just when you think it’s over, and it starts up again. These crazy crying jags happen anywhere, nowhere, and some are triggered by memories while others have no rhyme or reason. They happen, and we who survive become embarrassed by the crazy state that doesn’t make sense to us. We leave a grocery cart in a store as we exit stage at right and bolt for the car in hopes of a safe place to let the tears out. We want them gone. Our minds are sending us a clear signal that we’re in pain. 

At this point we might be well into the grief, and well-meaning friends and family want to help by fixing it, and so they offer up help that might not be helpful. The catch here is that they may not understand, and you may not be able to explain any of what you’re going through. The words may arrive on the scene when the pain has lessened. You don’t fully understand any of this until you are years down the road. Don’t rush it—you’ll miss the essential nuggets and treasures that will be so valuable to you in your new future. 

In that new future the pain dims, and the quality of the tears changes to something else. We cry until we cry rarely. We remember with joy and fondness the good and wonderful things. We can objectively look at the relationship with its strengths and weaknesses. We gain understanding. We question; we contemplate; and we ask questions about the paths we didn’t travel down. In our questioning we become open to new pathways. We act by beginning to move towards something new. 

This movement is healthy and essential to living our lives in a new way. Along this new path we might begin to smell the trees and flowers. We meet those on this path and either engage with them or move on. Maybe we find a lovely place to sit and notice what is going on in our lives. 

We leave that space and move forward. We might make some changes, or we may choose to wait and see what changes come to us. I allowed life to be gentle with me. I realized somewhere along the path that I needed to practice better self-care. I needed to honor myself.

One of the deepest realizations I’ve had to sit with is that grief and its aftermath have allowed me to consider options for my life that I had not thought of ten years ago. How I see myself now isn’t the view I once held. This time, while sitting in a lovely spot on the path, something came along and challenged it all. I returned to the crying. I was able to call up the feelings I experienced as a new widow. I remembered. Now I write this. The difference is that this time I’m not in severe pain, and I realize that what I’m feeling and thinking is “get up off the bench, move—this is not your place now.” The tears are gone, and I stand up and step onto a new path—one I had not seen for myself. 

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