Six months after losing Rayya—her partner, best friend, and soul mate—Elizabeth Gilbert spoke up about grief.
When people ask her how she’s doing, she says that it depends on the day—on the moment. Sometimes she’s good, and at other times she’s not.
Then she continues with the words that strike me the most. She says:
“I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love. The only way that I can ‘handle’ Grief, then, is the same way that I ‘handle’ Love—by not ‘handling’ it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.”
What Elizabeth Gilbert went through, and is still going through, is familiar to all of us. At some point, we’ve all gone through grief. It usually stems from the loss of a loved one, or anything that we have once cherished and from which we unexpectedly detach.
Dealing with grief is challenging, and as Gilbert puts it, “it’s unpredictable.” Oftentimes, years after losing the person we love, we might find ourselves grieving for a few minutes, hours, or days. The truth is that we can’t escape grief. Gilbert continues by saying that when grief visits her, it’s like being visited by a tsunami and she barely has time to recognize that it’s happening now, in this present moment.
Not only are we not capable of escaping this tremendous tsunami, we’re also terrified by its visit. Anything that we can’t control terrifies us, because as human beings, we don’t like to lose control. Gilbert describes the things that we can’t control as “bigger than us.”
Perhaps we’ve been dealing with grief the wrong way all along. Having been there more than once, I agree with Gilbert wholeheartedly when she says, “And then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. How do you survive the tsunami of Grief? By being willing to experience it, without resistance.”
Resistance is our conditioned habit for dealing with things in life. We’re oblivious to the fact that grief is an opportunity, not a hindrance. It’s our chance, as Gilbert puts it, “to bow down before everything that is bigger than us,” to accept that loss is inescapable and that everything around us is fleeting.
When we resist emotions, we only brush them under the rug. Nonetheless, when we “bow down” to them and allow ourselves to fully experience them—without any judgment—we make friends with them. Our worst emotions become our best allies.
It’s okay to not be in control, it’s okay to be small before the big things, and it’s okay to not “handle” them.
Elizabeth Gilbert says at the end that she doesn’t know where Rayya is now, and it’s not hers to know—but she does know that she will love her forever. Gilbert not only inspires us to be willing to feel our grief, but to also accept that love isn’t defined by physical presence.
“Forever” is only a set of “nows.” That said, perhaps it doesn’t matter where our lover is. What matters is that we will love them still in every passing moment—every right now.
“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.” ~ Rumi