For a very long time, I fought against the reality that life doesn’t slow down or stop because something has happened or is happening. The death of a loved one or a tragedy of epic proportions wasn’t enough to make it all stop. Demands were still present even though I had no emotional supply to meet them with. It felt like the Universe was out to make my life as hard as possible and there was no way around it. I was thinking, reacting, and living as if I was powerless over my life and myself and was a victim of my circumstances.
We all have been wronged, hurt, and victimized by someone or events in our life. Those people and events matter because they shape who we are, how we see the world, and how we relate to others but they aren’t the whole picture. It isn’t conscious but we get caught up in what has been done to us. We fail to see where we have a choice and can make a change, often times, because we aren’t taught how to handle the feelings around those situations. Rather we are told directly or indirectly to stuff it down, pull up our big girl/big boy underwear, and keep moving. Living with unacknowledged hurts makes it easy to see the world as out to get us.
Our part in life, almost always, boils down to how we handle what has happened, our feelings, and how we want to change those things to live a more full and happy life. During the hardest times, we get to choose how we handle life happening around us. Seeing our options isn’t always easy and there are times when we are just going to feel like a victim of circumstance. It can be at those times that we feel like we just have to make it through whatever it is. When the dust settles, we then can examine what we want to do now and how we want to be.
About a week before the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, I saw this Glennon Doyle Melton quote over and over again in a variety of places:
“Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.”
From when she died last September until now my life has changed dramatically. All the changes have been wonderful but change, regardless if we categorize it as good, bad, awesome, shitty, etc. takes time, energy, and emotions. I didn’t feel like life was happening to me or coming at me; I did and continue to feel like an active participant in my own life. But the first time I saw this quote I immediately felt guilty and ashamed. I let life get in the way of properly mourning my grandmother. I had a moment of wanting to tell the Universe to back off, to stop giving me things to work on and deal with, because I had lost a year’s worth of time to grieve a significant loss in my life.
The second time I saw the quote it hit me hard that all the major life changes I’ve been going through are ones I never thought about doing without her. Add on more guilt for not actively grieving her passing. Add it on because I know how wholeheartedly she would have supported me during these challenging times. I know she would have shared her wisdom with me for getting through these challenging times with grace.
The next time it popped up, I barely had a moment to acknowledge this was the third time I was seeing it before more guilt and shame rose up. I felt it all come up and took a moment to ask myself why I am seeing this quote again and what all this guilt and shame was about. The answer was I am feeling this way because of who my grandmother was, is, and always will be to me. She was a force of nature and a source of never-ending unconditional love, support, and guidance.
How could I have let days go by without even giving her a thought or two? How did I let life keep me from carving out time to grieve her? How can I sit here and say she means so much to me when I haven’t done anything to honor her?
But I have been grieving her all along.
I’ve thought of her every time I find a frog in our pool and take him/her to the creek by our house.
I’ve felt her presence every time I see a cardinal in the trees outside our kitchen window.
I’ve cried every time I look at the picture of her holding me as an infant on our refrigerator.
I’ve seen her and my grandfather in many things I do and all that my sister does.
Long ago I stopped thinking of grieving as a linear process. There are no stages but rather our feelings. No formula for working through it; there is a fluidity to it that can’t be contained. There isn’t a right or wrong way. The ways in which we mourn are unique to us and each loss. Grief is a gift with no expiration date. We don’t have to open it up right away. We don’t even have to open it within weeks, months, or years of our loss. We can look at it in its entirety or peek inside to catch a glimpse of what is there.
I am grateful for all of these aspects of grief. There is no want to avoid the feelings of loss because they are, as Melton says, love’s souvenir. How she loved me was beyond well and that love will always be mine. My sadness can stay as long as I need and I know it will always be present to some degree. I embrace that fact because it is in honor of the significance of her not being here. I can also embrace it because I know some of my sadness will transform, when it is meant to, into happiness for the time we had together and the connection we still share.
This piece is written in loving memory of Betty Lou Arnold.