Today I have been thinking about grieving.
It’s one of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn in life: everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nothing is permanent. Whether we are talking about a relationship, a job, a feeling, a possession, an experience, or a life, you will lose it eventually. No matter how deeply we love them, no matter how hard we try to hold on to them, no matter how perfect they are, situations change. People leave us. Things come to an end.
Learning to accept that truth was very hard for me. When something is good, naturally I want it to stay that way. When something good comes to its inevitable end, I grieve. That is completely normal. But I also tended to get angry about it. I could not understand how or why something so good could just… end. It seemed to me that good things should go on forever. I wondered what had gone wrong. I wondered how I had failed. I would be resentful, as if life had cheated me by taking away something, or someone, dear to me. That anger would smolder inside, on top of the grief. And I couldn’t let it go.
It took a long time, and surviving many losses, before eventually I began to accept that there wasn’t anything wrong. Loss is what it is. It is simply the way life works. It is neither bad nor good. I don’t like it, but it’s just how things are. When things end, it does not necessarily mean failure. It does not mean that someone did something wrong. Loss is not a mistake. Loss is natural. It is normal. It is inevitable.
I fought that truth for a long time. But eventually I accepted it. Once I did, a large burden was lifted from my soul. I stopped being resentful and angry that I should have to face loss. I got it through my head that facing loss is a universal human experience, and that I was in no way exempt… nor was I being singled out for suffering.
The next step was learning how to grieve. Not to be resentful, but to allow myself to feel sad. Just as loss is natural, so is grieving. In fact, if you don’t grieve, it seems to me more likely that something is wrong. Strong, healthy people grieve and feel sadness. There is no shame in sadness. In fact, sadness honors the memory of your lost one. And I think that the size of your grief reflects the size of your love. The more you loved the person, the more you grieve. You honor them with your grief.
But most of us don’t like grieving. We try to talk each other out of it. When someone we care about is grieving, it makes us hurt for them. We don’t want our loved ones to hurt, and naturally we don’t want to hurt either. We tell them to “be strong,” or we look for something to say to them to “make them feel better.” Perhaps “feeling better” is not what they need. As long as the grief is not debilitating, rather than trying to get the person to stop grieving, perhaps we should give them the freedom to feel, give them permission to honor their loss with their sadness, and simply be with them in their grief, support them, and care for them while they go through it naturally. And perhaps we should care for ourselves the same way, giving ourselves permission to feel.
The last thing I had to learn was how to grieve, and then… let it go. This was probably the most difficult part. For the longest time, I had no idea how to let something go. Was I supposed to just decide not to feel something any more? Who can turn their feelings on and off like that? I’m still not certain when or how I learned it. It wasn’t a matter of ceasing to feel something. It was more like continuing to have the feeling, acknowledging the feeling, but deciding to turn my attention elsewhere. I have learned to allow myself to be sad, and then to turn and focus on something else. Not to bury it, but to acknowledge it and then move on. I say to myself, “It was wonderful, and I will always honor and cherish the memory; but now the time for it has ended.” In my mind, I create a memento, and set it on a shelf in memory, where I will visit it from time to time, remembering the wonderful part. Then I allow myself to not think about it all the time. And somehow, eventually, either the sadness gradually subsides, or else my capacity to bear it increases; but one way or another, it no longer weighs upon me as much.
Grief is complicated. Everyone grieves in their own way. Even for one person, grief might be different from one situation to the next. However it goes, grieving is an important part of living. Knowing that all things end should make us appreciate and honor each precious loved one, and each present moment even more. Feeling grief reminds us that we are human. Without loss, there could be no change; without change, there could be no renewal, no growth. And our ability to change and grow in wisdom is part of our humanity.
And, after all, one day, even grief will be no more. Grief, too, will end.