How to live with grief

How can we live with the grief that is an inevitable part of life? If we live and love deeply, we will experience grief. Loss comes to each of us in different forms but it comes to all of us eventually. Recently, I wrote about how to live in a heartbreaking world — the ability to feel and express our sorrow is essential. Grief and I go way back, we’ve had a complicated relationship but now I can honestly say we are friends. With all the pain associated with loss, how do you make grief a friend?

I grew up with a brother with cerebral palsy and a mother with stage four cancer. I loved people who lived on the edge of death. Because I grew up with sorrow, I didn’t run and hide when grief came to call. Instead, I opened the door and let the tears flow. I followed the rhythms of my feelings, as wise children do.

Tears are a way to release sadness from our bodies. When I was a child and I felt sad, I would cry. The tears helped the sadness move through me and then I would go out and play and find joy once more. Until I’d let the sadness out, it stayed with me and tinged everything I experienced. When I felt my sorrow fully, I was able to feel joy more fully.

Years later, as an adult, when I was in my early thirties and my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you’d think I would have been prepared for the hundreds of small griefs we lived through day after day. But I had forgotten the wisdom I’d had as a child. I wasn’t sure I could bear the weight of my grief so I tried to run. I poured myself into work — working fifty, sometimes sixty hours a week, I organized the many complicated elements of my mother’s care and visited her daily. I filled my life so full that there was no room for grief. I ran but I could not hide. Grief waited patiently, like an old friend who knows that soon enough you’ll remember how much you need her.

She snuck up on me when I was least expecting it — watching a tv show, the tears would begin to leak. Hearing a story at work, a sob would well in my throat. I remembered the wisdom I’d had as a child — to feel everything fully and let it move through me was my wisest choice. I realised that I needed my grief, that it was a testament to the love I felt for my dying mother. Love had caused me grief but only love would heal my grief.

As an adult, I learned again to dance the dance of grief. I stopped running and I invited grief in like the old friend she was. I made a room for her in my house and we lived there together during the dying years when my mother disappeared more and more each day and then finally passed away. I gave grief a room but I did not give her the run of the house. There was still room for beauty and happiness and love and wonder but grief had her space too. She was a welcome guest because I knew that grief would heal me.

When I surrendered to grief and let my feelings flow, that was when the healing began. Living with grief, rather than running from it, allowed me to feel everything more fully. I let the tears flow and then I could once again experience the beauty in the world, I could feel the love of my friends and family and the joy of my work. Grief lived with me a long time and then there came a time for her to move out. I had healed enough that she no longer needed a room in the house. She still comes to visit on occasion and I welcome her in. I’m wise enough now to know I need her. We sit together, old friends, doing the hard work of loving and healing.

So when grief comes to call, as she inevitably will, don’t slam the door, don’t waste your time trying to run and hide, step aside and welcome her in. I promise you, she is a friend. She has come to heal your broken heart. Give her a room but not the whole house. Let grief in, feel the depths of your loss fully so that you can also feel the wild wonder and love and beauty of the world fully.

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If you’d like to learn more about how to live with grief, check out my book, 9 Strategies for Dealing with the Difficult Stuff on Amazon.