in Grief

Traveling at My Own Speed

My sister, Beth, shared a statement on my Facebook wall earlier that made me pause to think. I listen when Beth talks about grief, because she has known far too much already in her own life. Experience does enable people to help others along a similar path, though grief is a path we would all prefer to not journey. The bravest among us though allow our deepest hurts and pain to help others.

“Do not allow others to rush you through your grief. You have a lifetime to heal and it’s a lifelong journey. Travel at your own speed.”

I have written before about my preference for “lifestyle experiments” as a means toward personal growth and trying to live a full life. It is far too easy to settle into the status quo and never seriously question the core assumptions that guide us through life. Every decision I have made since July has been an experiment, with the full realization that it may or may not work, but that I was free to change course as necessary. Frankly, I cannot even think of permanency; I am doing well to think of weeks and months.

I was explaining to someone recently that both my doctor and a therapist had recommended I take anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. I do occasionally use anti-anxiety medication, though strictly on an as-needed basis, but have avoided long-term psychiatric medication of any sort. This is not because I am opposed to the use of these medications (they can be quite helpful for certain people in certain circumstances), but because I know how they impact me individually; I know myself. The problem for me is that these medications work too well; making myself comfortable will make it far too easy to avoid the difficult work of grieving. In the short term, this is exactly what society expects: get over it and get back to functioning like a normal person. In the long term, this is the perfect prescription for ending up dead (prematurely) or in a psychiatric facility. Grief will happen, and grief will be experienced and felt, whether or not it is convenient for me or anyone else. My decision to not chronically medicate myself into feeling fine then is an intentional decision to experience pain now while I allow myself time to grieve and to heal.

I do not know why Terri had to leave us while she was so young. I do know that no person has ever fought a disease harder or with more spirit; I was with her every step of the way, and even her doctors were awed by her spirit. There is no earthly or logical reason to explain what happened to Terri; the only way I can make sense of it is to make it matter in some way. In order to make it matter though, I must first take the necessary time and make the necessary effort to heal my own broken spirit. I cannot help someone else until I first help myself.

Grief is the only thing I can write about these days, but even this is progress. I told a social worker last fall that I had lost my words. I could write nothing. The fact that I can write about grief, dark though these words may seem, is incredible progress on a very long and difficult journey. I make no apology for this. I write for myself, because it is powerful medicine; I publish these words in the hope that some who read them will find hope and encouragement as I have found in the experience of others. Perhaps someday I will again write of other things, but today this is my story and this is the way I attempt to make sense of that which does not make sense.

This past year has left me adrift in the midst of a violent storm. Sometimes I lose my compass and do not know which way to steer, while other times I seem to have a general direction (but apparently get magnetic north confused with true north and so am still confused). There are times when I think I am going under, and frankly do not care, while there are yet other times when I think I see the glint of light from a distant lighthouse and feel the tiniest sliver of hope. It literally takes all of my energy just to avoid going under, leaving nothing for the things that other people concern themselves with each day.

Everything is an experiment for me these days, and I will continue to experiment until I get it right. Once I do get it right, I will continue to experiment to see if I can do it even better. This means that I do not know how long I will continue in my current experiment, nor have I figured out my next experiment.

I will not be rushed through my grief though, for that is of no use to anyone. If it takes me the rest of my life journey, however long or short that may be, to heal from my grief then I ask, “Who cares? So what?” I am traveling this journey at my own speed.