Grief does not arrive on our doorstep the way other emotions do.
Delight rings the doorbell, grinning ear-to-ear while holding summer flowers.
Excitement’s face bounces in and out of the peephole while singing a song it has made upon its own accord.
Intimacy glides through the living room, puts on our favorite record, and pours us both a cup of tea.
Grief, on the other hand, makes its entrance on a bulldozer, knocking down whatever walls it needs to in order to promptly plop its body on top of ours.
Grief cannonballs into the pool of our hearts—splashing around until it teeters heavily on our chests.
In the fall of 2019, I entered a phase of loss that felt insurmountable—a divorce and moving across the country. All of which meant leaving behind a life I had built for myself: a job I loved, my dog, my community of friends, the home we had spent years renovating, and closing the doors to my yoga studio. Heavy does not even come close to describing the weight of grief that I suffocated under—the pain was abundant and burdensome.
I felt hopeless, angry, ashamed, guilty, confused, and alone.
In my first few days of grief, I remember laying in bed watching my phone ring. It was close enough for me to reach—but I lacked the energy, or desire, to pick it up.
I was exhausted.
Simply imagining the effort it would take to push the button to answer the call, let alone muster up a conversation, seemed insurmountable under the weight of my grief bearing down on me. Although grief appears under different names and circumstances—death, divorce, illness, miscarriage, loss of physical ability—much of the feelings of loss are universal.
One of the hardest parts of grief is that when we experience loss, our whole world stops and everything else keeps spinning. The healing process and ability to bring ourselves back to the same speed as the world takes time, and sometimes a lot of it.
Sadly, the billions of other people on the planet did not get the message that we desperately need a reprieve from life in order to process grief. And so the world continues to spin, and in the spinning, it sends messages that come and sting us: the bill from the doctor after the failed IVF procedure, the dentist who calls to remind your father of his appointment six months following his death, or the calendar notifications of a no-longer anniversary.
The experience of a massive loss is completely life-altering, invasive, and a bit disorienting. Not only do we have to process the pain of the loss itself, but we must also learn to navigate life afterward.
I like to think about how we receive—and eventually carry—our grief, metaphorically.
When experiencing loss, it feels as though someone places a 10-ton weight on our chest causing great discomfort and anguish. This weight represents the pain that comes with a loss. What comes next is the grieving process.
Once “gifted” with pain, we must determine how to move about our lives with this massive burden.
All of the weight makes moving feel impossible, so we might: reject it, surrender to it, bribe it, lay beneath it with gentle tears, try to walk around it, run from it, curse its existence, or any combination for hours, days, weeks, months, and maybe even years.
Eventually, and I cannot emphasize eventually enough, we become more accustomed to lifting the weight of our grief and we are able to find some footing again—if only brief and rocky.
Over time, we become more skilled at maneuvering our pain and we figure out how to drag it around with us. Although we do not move gracefully or with ease, we manage to get places, leaving skid marks in the earth behind us—as though leaving a trail of crumbs back to the place where the pain originated.
When our pain is not so fresh, and our hearts have grown stronger, we no longer need to drag grief around with us. We learn to carry grief like a backpack or a suitcase. Although it is still heavy, we have adjusted to carrying it—almost accepting it as a part of who we are now.
Some days we place grief on our back with ease before heading out the door, and other days it becomes too heavy to lift. On these days, we must remember that healing is not linear—we must remember the importance of putting down what is heavy and honor the need to rest again and again and again.
The pain might lessen, and we might get better at carrying it, but the notion of fully healing from something that so deeply impacted us is false, at least in my experience. They say that time heals all wounds. And quite frankly, I think that is bullsh*t.
A mother who loses a child never fully heals from that loss—that is a scar she will wear for the rest of her life. Even though the scar eventually blends in with the rest of the skin, and it might not be visible to others, she knows that just below the surface of what other people see,it is still tender to the touch.
But that does not mean she will not welcome new life, new possibility, or a new baby into her life. She moves forward with her new child in her arms and the love in her heart for the child she lost. This is why I do not believe we actually move on from a heart-wrenching tragedy. Moving on implies that we leave something, or someone, behind.
The truth I see is, we simply move forward.
I thought that I would grieve the loss of my marriage and then welcome new love into my life when I was “fully healed.” I am now accepting that I will always be grieving the loss of my old life to some degree, and that does not mean I cannot experience joy and love alongside the pain. When we make room for it, there is space for mourning what is lost, celebrating what is, and hoping for what will be.
To grieve is a badge of bravery; it is the choice to lean into the pain of circumstance, rather than to run from it. It honors our entire emotional experience of loss—pain, sadness, anger, compassion, hope, denial—all while recognizing special places in our lives where hope, love, and joy once flourished.
But mostly, to grieve is to be honest with ourselves, and the world, about how much something mattered. Losing that person, idea, dream, or circumstance hurts so deeply that we cannot just move on with our life.
Instead, we choose to move forward with it.
We move forward with the pieces of the past that are still a part of us. We move forward without the pieces of ourselves that we have left behind.
We move forward with it all because our lives are a collection of all of the moments, people, experiences, and places of our lifetime—the ones we still have, the ones we have lost, and the ones that are yet to come.