The Ambivalence of Grief

The thing about life is that it is predictable, while also being unpredictable. We make every effort to ensure that our lives are busy because we fear the quiet stillness. That quiet interrupts our active lifestyle and forces us to ponder on things we would rather ignore. The quiet can take our most joyous moments and muddy them to the point of utter sorrow. The sweetness of life can be, at times, tainted with bitterness. Darkness can overtake our souls…drowning out the light.

Our lives consist of opposing forces that bring us both joy and pain. I never truly understood the weight of those ambivalent states of mind until February 10, 2016. I didn’t know that a person could feel such conflicting emotions simultaneously. I saw others experience the heavy ambivalence life can bring, but I couldn’t grasp the burdensome weight of that confusion. The only way to understand the kind of weight that confusion brings is to experience it firsthand. “Experience gives us the test first, but the lesson comes afterward”…Vernon Law.

As time has passed the frequency of those conflicting, yet simultaneous emotions has lessened. Yet, the heaviness of those feelings has not lessened. I’ve heard so many times that time heals all wounds. That is the worst misrepresentation of truth that I’ve ever heard. Time does not heal the wound. Time gives the wound a chance to breathe. In the physical sense, the healing of a wound requires time for the tissue around the wound to regrow and rebuild. The body works to repair the damaged tissue and the broken blood vessels by creating new tissue. What varies in the “healing” process is the length of time it takes for a wound to heal. I think the better term to use in this case, however, is rebuilding. Healing is really a rebuilding process, even when we talk about the physical wounds we have. A website titled Healthline says that complete healing can take a few years, depending upon the severity of the wound. Let’s apply that understanding to grieving. Grief is a wound of the heart and soul. Time will never heal that wound, but it will, as time passes, help the heart and the soul to rebuild itself. That’s what time is….it is the agent by which our soul mends itself. And while new tissue has been created and the wound has been rebuilt, there is some degree of scarring left behind. The scarred tissue is new, but is also different from the surrounding tissue…it looks different and it feels different. Physical scars make our bodies look different, but emotional scars change us to the core of our being. We will never be the same no matter how much time has passed..the emotional scars will not allow us to return to the person we were before the wound opened.

Even though time does allow our souls to rebuild itself, we still have those days when the wound reopens. It takes physical wounds seven weeks to heal even after sutures have been removed. With emotional scars, I’m not sure the sutures are ever removed. Therefore, the wound is susceptible to being re-injured at any given moment. Those moments consist of triggers…and triggers are everywhere. And those triggers often come with the most insignificant events or occur when we least expect it. That never changes throughout the grief journey. The good news is that, as time passes, the wound doesn’t reopen as often as it did in the beginning. But, when it does, the pain is just as intense as it was in the beginning.

The darkness that surrounds the reopening, however, does not last forever. The weight doesn’t get heavier and the night doesn’t last longer. The comfort comes in knowing that light will eventually pierce the darkness….and that light will continue to permeate the darkness until its brilliance completely eclipses the night. We grievers live in the light much longer once some time has passed, and for that, we are forever grateful. But if you happen to be near when a griever is in the dark, please just let them be where they are. It does no good to pretend that we are ok when we aren’t ok. Letting us be in the dark means that you let us cry, no matter how awkward it may feel for you. It means that you are ok with sitting with us in uncomfortable silence. It means that you don’t try to relate your experiences with ours or that you compare the degree of your pain with ours. It means that you are ok with feeling uncomfortable so that we can feel safe to feel our pain. It means choosing to stay silent when all you can say are platitudes like, “Time heals all wounds” or “God has a plan and a reason for everything”.

Grievers need for their feelings to be validated, no matter where they are in the journey, because the length of time that has passed doesn’t lessen our pain. We need to know that it’s ok to not be ok. Sounds ironic…doesn’t it? But we live in a world that says we should be ok even when we aren’t ok. However, we live in a world of opposites and we can’t understand great joy without great sadness. We can’t live in true light if we haven’t walked through the darkness. Toxic positivity, as I heard it called, tells that we shouldn’t feel those feelings…that should be happy and joyous at all times. I’m here to tell you that toxic positivity doesn’t work. If anything, it is just as destructive as continually seeing the glass half empty.

To my fellow grievers and to those of you supporting a griever…it’s ok to NOT be ok. It’s ok to be where you are and to feel what you feel…..but what we can’t do is live there. Feel what you feel so that you can be present in the here and now. Express your sadness no matter what the world tells you, because you can’t get to the other side until you go through the wilderness.

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