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Grief is an Unpacked Suitcase

Grief is hard.

Grief is an unpacked suitcase – because the contents contain funeral remembrances.

Grief is unopened mail.

Grief is supposedly three days – because that is the maximum most employers give.

suitcaseGrief is not responding to text messages and phone calls from people who all want to express their condolences.

Grief is realizing your loved one may not have planned for their death.

Grief is having to call creditor after creditor to inform them of the death.

Grief is realizing you will never hear your loved one's voice again.

Grief is ever evolving.

I have had the misfortune of watching many friends and loved ones experience grief over the last year. And the truth is, since losing my own father, I have apologized to my friends. I apologized if I called too much, didn’t check in enough, or acted in a way that was self-serving, like bringing up the loss first. Repeatedly they all said, “You were a good friend." And by that they mean that I brought food, I texted without wanting a response, I tried to make them laugh, and I offered up future plans to give them something to look forward to.

Grief comes in crashing waves. Recently, I went through the mail, and tears started to flow when I found notes from my father suggesting I read something. While sitting at my desk, the realization that I won’t hear him call my name again had me revisiting my saved voice mail files to be sure they weren’t deleted. Then there is the calmness when I reflect on what a good father he was and how special he made me feel, and that is when I don’t feel the overwhelming sadness.

breatheGrief requires coping and adapting to a new normal. A good friend shared her approach with me and I want to share it here:

  • Breathing is good - it is a big part of the healing
  • Get rest.
  • Fill the void with God, memories, things, and people that bring joy.
  • Release the grief so you can improve your coping techniques
  • Allow yourself to feel the sadness and grief at the pace you can handle
  • Stay away from the extremes - overwhelming grief and too much suppression

You can probably guess that grief demands you have a support system. In our lifetimes my older sister and I have not spoken for a total of six years. But guess what? Over the last eighteen months we have been each other’s rocks. The late-night calls, non-stop texting, and early morning Tik-Tok laughs are what sustain us. I am grateful my husband understands grief and has allowed me to lead the process, while also being the “nudger.” He is the one who sees when I am slipping down too far into sadness and he extends his hand to pull me back.

The unique experience of grief is prevalent now more than ever. Though no one experiences it the same there are some ways to cope that I have found useful:

  • Don’t feel compelled to answer the phone or respond to texts. Leave a pleasant message and return the calls/texts when you feel up to it. Sometimes I responded to texts with emojis.
  • Eat, rest, and move your body. I joined a new workout studio which allows me to work out on my own schedule. I also joined the Peloton craze for the same reason. I can work out alone when I want to without having to talk to anyone.
  • Be gentle with yourself. My to-do list was as long as my arm until my husband encouraged me to do 1-3 things a day. Whew, the pressure came off immediately. Grieving is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself time to process the emotions you are feeling.
  • Talk to your relatives about their end-of-life plans. I know culturally some folks find these conversations challenging, but it is necessary. Make your plans, share your plans, and then leave them where people can easily access them. Hide and seek is not a game grieving people want to play.
  • Plan for future holidays that may be emotionally charged for you. Try to establish a new holiday tradition, or if you are up to it, incorporate some special memories.
  • Start or return to therapy to help you recalibrate and understand your new normal.

But, grief is also a gift. It allows you to reconnect with family members, reflect on memories, and share those special memories with others. I know in my case, what brings me solace is sharing his obituary and then having people text me back to say how they understand me more.

Through the loss of my father, I now understand myself more too.

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