Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Processing Loss

I lay wide a wake at 3:00 this morning, unable to quiet my mind and go back to sleep. After over an hour of tossing and turning I decided to do some writing. I wanted to get some of those thoughts out of my head and on paper so maybe my mind could rest again. It worked and I was able to sleep a while longer.

My wakeful mind has returned to that long string of thoughts, though now they feel lighter and more curious rather than heavy and burdensome.

I was talking with a friend the other day and felt sad and heavy-hearted at the time. I was troubled by the feeling. At one point tears came. I sat and cried a moment and said to her, “I don’t even know where this is coming from.” She said it seemed like I was grieving.

I felt the truth of her words immediately – the heavy sense of loss in my heart. The sadness, anguish and grief. It was all there, and I was surprised to realize it. Since then I've started thinking about the never-ending cycle of change in life. It seems absurd to say some people are resistant or afraid of change. To be afraid of change is to be afraid of life itself. Yet I know full well there are times in life when I respond most with fear and resistance to the changes life brings.

We are all creatures embodied by change. Our very cells die and new ones are born every day. There is no avoiding or stopping change. We can only be aware of it and try to appreciate what exists in the moment. If only this could be done as easily as it is said.

In the early hours this morning I sat and took stock of my more recent life. In just the past year and a half since I moved to Colorado I've had three different addresses, started and left a full-time "permanent" job, I have made some friends and acquaintances who have already stepped out of my life again, and I have lost several people who have been a part of my life for a very long time.

My oldest brother died last summer. Another brother and his family (including my only two precious nieces) have, for reasons I don’t fully understand separated themselves from the rest of our family. One of my closest friends of seven years became distant and estranged shortly after my brother’s death, when I needed her most. I found love and friendship with a man which seemed full of promise, but which did not last as long as either of us hoped. My family has experience sickness, fear and pain.

Despite all this pain and loss I look back on my time here and feel an overall sense of happiness and gratitude. Despite these losses I have also received so many gifts. I have formed new friendships, learned new lessons and gained new experiences. To a certain extent the losses I have experienced have helped inspire and create some of these new opportunities. They have given me a sense of impermanence and appreciation for life that encourages courage and boldness. For that I am grateful. But I can't ignore that some level of grieving naturally accompanies loss.

Even though I understand the basic psychological principal that grieving is a (sometimes long) process I must, on some level, believe there should be a time limit for grief because my initial response to it when it returned the other day was – Oh, are you still here? I thought you’d be gone by now.

As I thought back last night over all the events of the past year and a half I felt less surprised at the return of my grief. I have experienced losses. I have experienced hardship and sadness. Everyone has. It is only natural that along with the cycle of change will come some endings. Grief is only our acknowledgement of an ending. It is only the first step in the process. After grief comes the welcoming of the new cycle of birth and opportunity.

I look now at the Peace Lilly in my room. It has three huge white flowers on it (one pictured above). I know none of them will last forever. They will eventually wither away and I will cut them off and new ones will bloom. I do not try to alter this fact. I do not feel sad the blooms are only temporary. I appreciate them with their light and beauty while they last.

Maybe some day I will be able to accept all changes in life as gracefully as I accept the eventual withering of my Lilies. Maybe not. At the very least I hope I will be able to accept and experience moments of grief when they come back to me, to see them as part of the changes life brings and to live fully even in sadness. To feel it and release it so I can open myself up to the next experience rather than clinging to fear and resistance.


  1. So glad to see you writing regularly. I really connect with the words you share here about change and grieving - especially when grief is multi-faceted and manifests itself unexpectedly. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and articulation. I look forward to keep reading!


  2. I think grief comes in waves--and sometimes not until long after the loss. It just takes time to process how we feel about changes and loss--and it seems perfectly normal to me that we'd try to resist those kinds of feelings--who wants to feel sad or bad? But after we engage our grief, even if it's only a small ripple compared to some of the giant waves, we feel better and can begin to move away from it a little.

  3. When my best friend died, another friend shared with me something she read in a book by a woman whose brother had died: We don't "do" grief; grief does us.

    I like what Rosemary says about not resisting the feelings: we ride them and they eventually subside.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. Wonderful post, Stephenie. Grief is a familiar friend. I resist and appreciate its lessons. Thank you for your wise words.

  5. What a depressing post. I'm commenting anonymously because I was encouraged to visit Blog Babes on the Boulder Media Women list this morning and I don't want to be dissed for my reaction. It's spring, and even if today is gray, the sun will come out and the world will look better.

  6. What a rough stretch you have had. Some people find "nature" to be cathartic and soothing. (I am searching for words here, because I hate the overused buzzwords of "healing" and "closure," tho' I didn't hate them when I first read/heard them.) In any case, did you read Page Lambert's essay on running the Grand Canyon after her father's death? See http://pagelambert.blogspot.com/2009/03/equinox-tribute-to-my-father-loren-e.html
    Hopefully, you will find a something that will help you leap out of the present into a brighter future.

  7. Yes, our cells die every moment and are ultimately reborn. While sort of sad, that's one of the keys to the power of change. None of us is the same--even at the cellular level--one day as the next. We're always in a state of flux, and so are our emotions.

  8. Grief can come and go throughout a lifetime. Sometimes something triggers the memories, or sometimes the dam that was holding back the flood has a rock that's knocked loose by another, unrelated trauma. You're right though; we change all through our lives, and to fear change is to fear life. You don't seem like the type to fear life, given that you've willingly moved, started and stopped a job, and embarked on new relationships. Hold on, honey, you're doing just fine. And, as a person who has cried at the most inopportune moments... let it out.

  9. Stepehenie,

    What a lovely, honest post! I agree that to be afraid of change is to be afraid of life itself. And the truth is that most of us are afraid of life in one way or another. Life is, at the root of it, unknowable, except as it is experienced. It is a glorious mystery and because it is a mystery we are both afraid of it and afraid of the loss of it.

    The moment of recognizing grief is a wonderful thing because, in that moment, you have moved past repression. And repression is a black hole of a place. So you recognize your grief, climb out of the hole, look around, and see the gloriousness of life again. It isn't less frightening, but that liminal place, right on the edge of fear and awe, isn't such a bad place to be.

    Thank you for the many reminders embedded in your post.