2020 was a hard year for a lot of people, but I have to be honest, I lived most of my year in a fog. Nothing particularly damaging happened to me, other than my husband’s job relocation, which placed us 2 hours away from friends and family. But even that wasn’t traumatic.
I needed a new start. 2018 and 2019 had all but killed me, and as 2020 spiraled, I happened to fit in. It was almost an out of body experience though, because I wasn’t in it. I was just existing as a mirage of a person, and I wanted to experience my life — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted to be present again, but I didn’t know how.
Before the breakdown, I’d spent years justifying my avoidance of therapy. Yes, I was losing my mind, but at least I was saving money. Finally I came to a place where I realized that regardless of what it would cost, I needed to dig around and find out what had erected a wall around my conscious mind. After some gentle prodding, the splinter came to the surface. Many times I imagine undealt with pain as a splinter, the kind we tuck beneath a sleeve and hope our mom doesn’t find out, lest the tweezers and a sewing pin make an appearance. We hide it and allow it to fester, anything but deal with the problem at hand. This was me, ignoring the last day my grandpa was on hospice. I’d grown up without a dad, but my grandpa never failed to show up for my school events, my track meets, and graduations. He’d been there for me, and in his final hours, I couldn’t face him. For one, he looked nothing like the spunky grandpa I’d always known, and two, I wasn’t ready to accept death. In fact, I hardly acknowledged it. Even when he told me it was the end, I respectfully asked him not to entertain such negativity. No one lives once they accept death. Any time a social worker spoke clinically, I wanted to reach out and pull the option from the table. “No, thanks. We’ll take what’s behind Door B.” But no matter how hard I fought it, Cancer took his life, and no matter how much I tried to hide from it, the grief of it all eventually stole mine.
I had to get it back, for my children, for my husband. For me. It has taken therapy, books, and a lot of soul-searching. If grief is like a bobble on the water, there is often a hook swaying below the murky water, looking for what else it may catch. Grief is good at unearthing more pain, more than you bargained for when you thought loss was the issue. Think dominoes.
I think we all innately know this, that if we go digging about in our souls we may discover something we’d rather not deal with. We want to compartmentalize our pain, pick and choose what we see, and yet it all exists together. If we catch a fish, we might very well catch a shark that latched on at the sight of bait. So, what’s the answer?
Go fishing anyway. Go digging. Start prying. Let the wound experience some sunlight. Get the help you need to go where you need to go and bravely face the pain, even if it’s only a little at a time. When I visited home in September, I had one goal: Go to my grandpa’s grave. I couldn’t do it. I did, however, pull out an album of pictures. I studied his smile, recalled his love for life. I took my son for a spin on the Kawasaki Mule. My grandpa was famous for driving the grandkids around, up and down the expanse of his country farm. I cried lots of tears, enough that I couldn’t see straight, and at the end of the visit I knew it was enough. It wasn’t everything, but it was a start. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Gradually, I started to experience life for myself again.
The need for grief is not always synonymous with death. We lose jobs. We lose our favorite sweater we’ve had since college. There’s divorce, and bankruptcy, and the dissolving of relationships we truly cared about. Grief is a tool to process pain, manage it so it doesn’t sit inside of us and wreak havoc, disrupt our mental health or completely shut us down. It’s an invitation to go beyond the sadness and find what matters. Is there pain? It’s probably because we loved something very much, and that is a gift. I think grief can be, too.