This is Grief

Fog on Table RockGrief is not about the person we lost. It is not an exercise in doing what they would have wanted. Grief is for the person who is grieving. It is self care; a process of integrating the loss into our life. Just as her presence in my life changed the person I am, the loss of my daughter’s presence is changing me.This integration of loss is different from the integration of presence.

The integration of presence is like this… Her influence in my life was gradual. Like all my precious daughters, her presence influenced me constantly. It was not a forceful impact, but a natural change agent. Natural as in the things that happen day in and day out that cause us to love, tolerate, forgive, lead, guide, follow, forgive, empathize with, listen to, share thoughts & feelings with, laugh with, cry with, forgive… Without even trying or being aware of it, each of us is changed by the people in our lives. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is what I mean by the integration of presence.

Unlike the gradual integration of her presence, the loss of her presence was sudden. A shock. Yes, we knew she was ill. We even knew at the end that she was at death’s door, but it was still an abrupt ending to a precious life and to all of the relationships associated with that life. All of us who loved her felt the shock. We all felt the pain. This is difficult to integrate. I don’t want to admit she is gone, much less surrender to it, and yet here I am.

Grief is not at all what I expected. I expected something unfamiliar. What I found was the same old me. I expected a deep sadness that would eventually go away. Of course I am sad at times, but grief is much more than sadness. Grief is a confusing mess of conflicting emotions connected with my loss. It is personal. Pleasant memories that sometimes make me laugh out loud, not so pleasant memories that I would rather forget, pain, emptiness (sometimes shared, sometimes held close) . It’s all part of the package. Each of us experiences it differently. No one has the right to say, “I know just how you feel.” Grief is personal! Even her mom and I are traveling very different versions of the same road. “Get over it and move on with life,” you say? I don’t know what that means. I have no doubt that it will soften as time passes, but when do you stop grieving? To be sure, we do not want to be debilitated by sadness and depression, although there may be periods where that is just what we experience. Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

How is her loss changing me?

  • Since she left us, I understand better how fragile and tenuous life is, which makes it easier to let others off the hook for the odd things they (and I) do. It also makes it harder to say goodbye to those I love.
  • Sure, I still get upset about things, but I find that I get over them more quickly. Her illness and death have helped me understand better that the things I cannot change vastly outnumber the things I can change.
  • I know about things that I never wanted to know about. When I hear that someone has cancer, I can’t help projecting my experience onto them and feeling the weight of what is coming for them.
  • I still know the discomfort of not knowing what to say to someone, but now I also know how much it means to hear simple words of empathy. “I am so sorry.” or “I am thinking of you.”

One year has passed now and it still hurts. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I realize anew that my youngest daughter is not coming home. It still shocks me. It is still abrupt. It doesn’t happen as often, but the similarities with the initial shock of her death are striking. As much as we knew she was dying, her departure was still unexpected. Similarly, as much as missing her has become part of everyday life, that sharp pain of sadness still overtakes me when I least expect it. Just as there is truly no slow, steady movement towards death, there is no getting used to this, no getting over it.

This is grief

Living Presence

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Each of us lives in the lives of others. Sometimes we are fortunate to witness a glimpse of our influence in the life of another person. It could be a word, a quote, a gesture, a choice of restaurants… and we smile to ourselves, “I know where that came from.” But the real treasure, the the beauty of recognizing the influence of another in ourselves, is available anytime anywhere, at the bargain basement cost of a mere moment of reflection.

I know that we live in the lives of those we touch. I have felt in me the living presence of many I have loved and who have loved me. I experience my daughter’s presence with me daily. And I know that this is not limited to those we know in the flesh, for many guests of my life shared neither time nor space with me.

~Elizabeth Watson (quoted in Healing After Loss-Sept 8th)

Reading this quote of Elizabeth Watson this morning, my thoughts went immediately to Kat and her influence in my life. She influenced me greatly both in her life and her death (that word is still so raw and painful). But how do I pin it down and definitively say, “This is how Kat influenced my life”?  In answer to that question, in my imagination a picture appeared of Kat opening a door to a vast beautiful landscape. A garden with full, shady trees, wild grasses and beautifully colorful wildflowers. I step into this landscape which is now part of my world, always there for me to enjoy. Now that I live in this new world, I could try to name every aspect of this landscape to give her credit or I can simply say, “Kat opened the door for me to see life in a new and amazingly beautiful way. My life will never be the same.”