I decided to attend a grief recovery workshop nearly five years after my father’s death. I have a desire to explore any unresolved grief I might still be carrying around me with and that might be holding me back. I have also lost four other close family members since then—my sister, my father-in-law, my grandmother, and my grandfather—and I’ve already learned from the workshop that multiple losses extend the grieving process. So here I am.
The two weeks since I attended the first session have been rocky emotionally for me. I found myself moving through the familiar heavy numbness of early grief. We all grieve in different ways, and for me early grief feels like a heaviness, and not just a heaviness of spirit. My limbs feel as though they’re made of lead and the smallest tasks require a tremendous amount of energy. J.K. Rowling described her grief after the loss of her mother as paving stone weighing on her chest—an accurate description.
After a loss, I feel as though I’m swimming through a sea of molasses. I move slowly from room to room and find myself standing in the kitchen wondering why I’m there. Oh, right. I need to empty the dishwasher.
That feeling revisited me after the first session of the grief recovery workshop, compounded by the fact that I did not have the comfort of my normal routine. I was caring for my three year old daughter after her surgery, a daunting task if ever there was one.
Never one to take it easy, Ana did not curb her desire to jump off the furniture and bounce on the bed. Occasionally, she would clutch her ears or mouth and look pitiful, and I’d give her medicine for pain and a popsicle. Mostly she became irritable and demanding and given to throwing tantrums when she did not get her way. I moved through my fog to tend her, and by the time my fog had lifted I was ready to sit down on the floor and kick and scream myself.
I’ve been beset by the lingering need to cry for many months, a tightness in my chest aching for release. I pick at it, like a scab, and occasionally get out a tear or two, but I’ve been having trouble getting all worked up. I spend a great deal of energy studying the glass and willing myself to see it as half full, so I guess I don’t have much left to cry over unresolved losses. Instead, I cry when I lose my special pen or my glasses or my keys.
The strain of confinement finally cracked me, however, and I spent much of the last couple of days sobbing into my pillow. I wish I could say it was just leftover grief floating to the surface, but it was more despair over my ability to go on with my life and my relationships with those who have been left behind to grieve with me.
Many of those who have lost a loved one feel an unbearable loneliness. Those whose homes are fuller rather than emptier after a loss are in a unique place. You wake up one morning after a loss and find yourself sharing your home with widowed parents or motherless children, or you find yourself moving in with parents, siblings, or grown children to save heartache, money, or both.
As devastating as it was to lose my father, my own household remained the same. My husband, daughter, and I still lived together, and though my life changed in other ways, my family was constant. When my sister died, we took in her baby to raise as our own, and that changed all of our lives forever. I am daily reminded of my sister and of the pain of losing her. I see her in my youngest daughter—yes, daughter, for that’s what she is to me now.
Perhaps that is part of the pain of grief, despair at ever figuring out how to go on living without the one you love, at ever finding the courage to put your life back together. Although those of us who grieve may be stuck in the past at times, it is the uncertain future that drags us down in the end. How are we to live life fully and joyfully without the one we lost? How are we to find the strength to finish our work here on earth when someone we love has already gone on to the next life?
These are the questions that have led me to attend this workshop. I know the answers are there, sliding in and out of my mind depending on how wise (or unwise) I’m feeling at the moment. I feel the truth hovering about my consciousness, feel it as a blind person feels their way around an unfamiliar room. I sense its presence and learn to trust that it will reveal itself to me in an acceptable time.