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Rocked By Grief

January 10, 2014


At a time in my life when I lived through the pain of losing a parent, I tried to live my experience alone - I was geographically separated from my brothers and sisters, my partner returned to work after the funeral. I had two small children to love and care for; I was a full time teacher and completing University courses at night. Always present to give support to friends, I found it difficult to allow them to see me at my most vulnerable. Remember: I was the strong, courageous woman who could cope with any situation. Grief would not get the better of me.

Seeking a return to normality, I returned to work, took care of my family, and tended to my course work. But no matter how hectic my day, at a deep level in my body, there was a pain that was indescribable. I hurt and it was a deep, all-pervading pain - I missed my father. The trauma of his long lasting illness and his final passing had found its way into my body and spirit. I could barely breathe.

Added to the pain was a self-imposed pressure to feel better sooner than my spirit was willing in order to make others feel comfortable in my presence. Only weeks after my father's passing, a friend commented that it was time to stop crying. So, I did. She felt better - I didn't. My family felt better - I didn't. I shrunk my grief in order to "fit in" to the day. I attempted to push aside the difficult feelings of loss, depression, tiredness, anxiety, thinking that in time, this too would pass. I refused to experience the fullness of grief and as time went on, I felt I was drowning in waves of emotion. My life seemed out of my control. I was lost.

With a strength borne out of stubbornness and resiliency, I admitted I needed to do something - I needed to step into my own unique wonderfulness as a human being and find a safe place in which to experience and to express my grief. And my healing journey began. I sought out self-help books - seeking uplifting words from authors who wrote about resilience and finding peace in one's life. A passionate teacher who loved to interact with her students, I knew that to be fully present to them I needed to take dedicated time away from work to heal my wounded heart.

A home project that had been on a back burner for some time became the focal point of my day. Invitations from a good friend to have a cup of tea, to share a meal were hesitantly accepted - she put no demands on me and was a good presence in my day. Walking became a daily activity. A short stint through a counselor's office helped to direct me to a community group sharing similar experiences with grief. This brought much needed comfort. It was such a relief to know that others were experiencing similar feelings. I was "normal" after all.

I found a soft spot in which to land for a while - books, anecdotal sayings, the community group, my good friend, the love/support of my spouse, loving/caring for my children, the respite I discovered in physical activity.

Tears provided great relief. Sadness was a regular visitor but I gradually found places in my day to smile and to laugh. I learned it was fine to pamper myself, to be gentle with me, to divert my attention outward, and yes, even to laugh. I learned I did not have to be strong, I did not have to hold myself up so that others would be okay.

The tiniest of steps taken was a move forward on the road to wellness. Vulnerability became my good friend and it showed me the way to being truly human - to feel what I was feeling, to be wherever I wanted to be without the pretense of holding it all together for myself and everyone else. Taking good care of my own self became paramount. Others wished to be there for me and as they stepped gently into my days, my weeks, I allowed them to hold my pain so that I could rest, relax, sleep. I was not super/woman and I let go of the pretense to be anything other than a gentle, vulnerable, loving and self-caring human being.

And after what seemed like an eternity of the ebb and flow of intense grief, slowly, like the butterfly, I emerged from the deep pain of loss and grief into a brighter, calmer, and more peaceful place, ever changed by this experience. Any unfinished conversations, any unfinished business had now been resolved. Sadness still resided in my spirit - I wanted more time to get to know my father outside his role as "father" - to know the essence of this man. But that was not to be - he left us all too soon. Thankfully, along with sadness, calmness and peace took up residence in my heart once again.

Today, I can speak of my father with a smile on my face but still with a certain ache in my heart that he is not physically present in my life. He has not been physically present for weddings, graduations, birthday parties. He has not held his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He has not grown old with our mother.

But despite his physical absence, I do know his spirit has been present in our lives to celebrate the successes of his sons and daughters, to provide comfort to our mother, and to act as a spiritual presence in difficult times. I have come to understand that, although the intense pain of loss is no longer a reality in my life, I simply miss his strong, physical presence. Sadness and joy will always co-exist as I remember my father - and you know, I am okay with that.

--- Copyright © 2014 Phyllis-Marie Healey
Excerpt from "Wounded by Loss and Grief"

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