I wrote the following piece about my own experience in dealing with the loss of loved ones and the grief that follows. Although this is in no way meant to take the place of professional advice and is solely based on my own experiences, I hope for those of you who may be looking for solace from your own grief, you might find some inspiration here. What I’ve learned is that grief comes in waves and you have to find ways to ride the wave as it hits, knowing a break in the surf is coming. This post is in memory of my father, who always loved the ocean and riding the waves.
It was 6:30am on a Tuesday. I sat in the dark, in a quiet house not yet awake. The anxious feeling I had woken up with sat alongside me.
I took deep breaths, my heart pounding in my ears. The weight of my grief felt like it was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe.
Why now? Why this moment?
It was January. The month of my father’s birthday. My father, the strong rock of our family who had been crushed by a swift battle with terminal cancer seven years ago.
January. The month my beloved uncle had suddenly passed away three years prior.
Cold, bitter January. The month a dear friend, nearly family to me, currently lay in a hospital bed, no longer living, but kept alive by beeping machines.
The shock of the situation still raw. I couldn’t make sense of the incomprehensible.
And I couldn’t breathe at 6:30am on a Tuesday.
That’s the thing about grief. It’s always there, lurking beneath the surface, waiting for an opportunity to remind you of its power.
Sometimes it’s a song that comes on the radio. The memory flashes in my mind and my eyes brim over with tears. Sometimes it’s just a slow rolling tear down my cheek and other times it’s a body-shaking sob that takes over.
You never know what you’re gonna get with grief. It has its own plan.
After the loss of a loved one, people say it gets easier in time and it does. Most days you’re fine, even happy. But grief will sneak up on you, always seeking to let you know that it’s in charge.
When you lose someone you love, the loss changes you forever. Years later, you are like a post-war country. Parts of you that were once devastated and destroyed are now rebuilt, even stronger than before, but the remnants of the war last forever more, reminding you around each street corner.
So what can you do when grief knocks on your door? Let it in to take over your home? Give it the control it’s seeking?
For me, no, I refuse to let grief overtake me, at least not for too long.
I sit in the space with grief temporarily.
I recognize that leaning into my grief at times helps me move through it. Grief is not something that can be avoided or outrun. It will always catch up to you, so I’ve found it’s best to embrace it when it comes.
I will invite grief in when it knocks and sit with it for a few moments, even a few hours or days if that’s what feels right. I will let it think it may have won me over, but not for too long. I am in charge of my home. I decide when to let grief in and when it’s time for grief’s visit to end.
I ask myself what I need
At 6:30am on a Tuesday, I needed to cry for a few moments. Then I needed a few deep breaths to calm myself. I needed comforting things like a soft pillow touching my face, beautiful words from one of my favorite writers, and thoughts of a day filled with writing, chai lattes, and the hug of a blanket around my shoulders.
I needed to give my children extra love and affection when I woke them for school. To breathe in the scent of their heads as I kissed them good morning and take special care with preparing their breakfasts, as caring for my children has always given me purpose and brought love into the moment.
Whatever your self-care practice, find ways to care for yourself so you have enough air until the wave of grief breaks.
I reframe grief’s story.
Grief does not get to write the story of January. I refuse to think of January as an unlucky month, a month that makes me think of loss.
No, January is a month of birth.
I can choose to think of all the lost January birthdays my father did not get to have or I can instead find gratitude in the simple fact that he was born in this month and celebrate the life he had and the life that he created for me.
January is also the month my first born son came into this world, bestowing upon me the most important responsibility and honor of my lifetime.
January made me a mother, the best gift I could ever have in this life.
That is my story of January.
I don’t ask “why” to questions that can’t be answered.
It is human nature to try to find meaning when something bad happens, to look for the “blessing in disguise” or a way to rationalize it. But, I know that some meanings are beyond my grasp. There is no REASON.
Sure, I can perhaps find some good that has come out of the loss, some silver lining if you will, but I will never make sense of it and thus it is futile to focus on the WHY.
I can only look to the present and acknowledge what IS.
I can try to live a full life with intention, focusing on what matters most to me.
I let gratitude show me that grief is love.
I choose to be grateful for the past, for all the memories and times we shared. I understand that feeling grief means I’ve loved deeply and I’m grateful for that love.
The end of my father’s life was heart-breaking to experience for us and for him, but I try to look back on that time as a period of great love. I hope he felt the love that came together around him and that he left this world knowing that he loved greatly in his lifetime and is loved forever more.
I also choose to be grateful for the present and for all the good that has come to me since he left us. Choosing gratitude helps me to remember that despite loss, life can be full of joy and happiness.
Perhaps grief is love. It’s how we love someone who is no longer with us. May we look at grief as a way to connect the past’s love with the present.
Of course, I only know what I know as I navigate my own path, which may be different from yours. Everyone has their own ocean to swim in.
In that ocean, the waves of grief will come crashing over you at times. All you can do is try your best to ride those waves with grace, intention, gratitude, and love until the waves break and the ocean becomes calm once more….then gather yourself, stronger than before, to ride the next wave.
You may want to visit HelpGuide.org for additional advice on dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one and information on bereavement resources that are available.
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Carly is a wife, mom, and former fashion industry executive turned blogger, who is on a journey to live life as the best version of herself. Through her website, littlevoicebigmatter.com, she shares practical advice and heartfelt insights to inspire and support women in motherhood, relationships, wellness, and life.