It’s a common phrase said to those going through loss….”give yourself time to grieve.” It’s a lovely idea, but the process of grieving itself is a difficult concept to actualize on a day-to-day basis. You will be surrounded by love and comfort initially after loss, but eventually life goes on, the day to day takes over once again and for the individual who is grieving, it must go on as well. You have to get out of bed. You have to eventually go back to work. You have to shower…..eventually. You have to make a decision….stay with the grief or put it on a shelf and carry on with life. I am sure there are individuals who are emotionally intelligent enough and equipped with the resources to do both, but for me, this was not my reality.
Do not mistake this post as an outcry. I am grateful for every experience and opportunity I have had and am not looking for validation or a ‘atta girl here. As I have tried to come to terms with my life in full, I search for why there is still a lack of connection between me knowing how blessed I am in my head and the hole I have in my heart. I think many of us live in grief and there are times when the pain of grief outweighs the joy of life. I write this post to those that delay their grief, either purposefully or unintentionally so that you know you are not alone in navigating these murky waters.
I delayed my grief and on some levels continue to do so. I had expectations of a dying father’s wish to fulfill, family members to care for as they grieved and struggled with their traumas, a career to build and a life to try to live. The feeling of grief was so overwhelming, so uncomfortable, that it was just easier to use that shelf, process what I could and try to move forward. As the years continued, I experienced more loss and situations in which my talents as a problem solver and a caregiver were needed more than the time I could take to process these struggles. So the grief grew and as my personal grief grew, my professional success grew as well. The problem solver, spring into action, get ‘er done girl continued to do well in a healthcare environment that didn’t allow for downtime. The OR and ICU are a revolving door of critical patients, escalating situations, quick thinking and rapid processing. This adrenaline fueled area of GO, does not allow for stopping, reflecting or even feeling and I found myself utilizing these skills in my personal life. No downtime, all go, no feeling, all solutions. To this day, I still have this reflex, most recently occurring when I observed a man near my house on East Beach down on the grass in cardiac arrest. I was on my bike and could see another gentleman rolling him over. I sprung off my bike, rushed to his head, began to give a jaw thrust and we started CPR. After the EMT’s arrived and took him to the hospital, I got back on my bike and rode home. I shared this story with others and even as I shared the story, I told it as I had witnessed it versus lived it. That disconnection was essential for my survival and success in that career.
Grief is defined as “deep sorrow” or “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; painful regret.” It hasn’t been until this last year that I have actually been able to process a lot of what has happened in my life over the last 25 years. Nightmares of visiting my sibling in prison, anxiety attacks over situations of degrading harassment and verbal abuse I endured as a RN, flashbacks of visiting another sibling in the ER after a suicide attempt and a truly heavy heart over so many more memories that have been too painful to process. The memories that have resurfaced and the recollection of how I survived these moments has left me with shame, sadness and some regret. I feel ashamed that I couldn’t appropriately recognize bad behavior in the moment and take action to stop it immediately. I am saddened that to this day, I still do not feel that I was able to help my family enough as their pain is still so great and I regret not taking time to grieve as a much younger woman as I feel most of my dreams are disappearing as I continue to age.
Fortunately, my current career thrives on me being healthy….physically, mentally and emotionally. At this time, I can no longer suppress, no longer numb and the benefit of me processing these emotions in real-time is what makes me better not only personally, but professionally. So am I finally grieving? YES, I believe so. Not only is it time, but it is on my time. I am finally at a point where there is no more GO. No more numbing out, no pet to take care of, no family within driving distance, no physical reserves to workout more than I already do, no career that requires 7 cups of coffee a day to stay on point. The thought of having to deal with my grief is terrifying to me as there is nothing left “to do” once I process this. I struggle daily as I endure a Groundhog’s Day state of being, but I have come to terms that until I process all of the trauma, my life will not GO forward and I feel I have to be OK with this.
I give you this perspective to know that grief is on everyone’s own terms. There is no timeline and if you are in a profession or position where you are caring for others, grieving may not be possible. Honor your own life, your own day-to-day and know that eventually, within the time frame when YOU are truly ready will you grieve and when you are ready to move on, YOU will. Do not sacrifice self-love or self-care as these are your only tools of compassion that will keep you feeling grateful and help you remain strong in your physical and emotional bodies. As anyone who has grieved knows, the pain remains, but eventually your resilience will grow in its place.