Throughout my life, I have had my most profound thoughts while I am not thinking at all, but rather moving through my day; standing at the counter chopping vegetables for a meal, driving the route to work early in the morning. The route I know like the back of my own hand, that is done with no conscious thought, really. Folding laundry. The mundane necessary tasks that are done with a mostly empty mind.
While standing in the shower today, I had what Oprah likes to call an “a-ha” moment. That moment that occurs when you suddenly realize something that you have been struggling with your whole life, or a difficult answer to a question you didn’t even know you had, I guess.
I have had a rough three years since my brother died. Been on auto-pilot and just kept moving forward, in spite of the fact that I should have just taken time off to deal with his passing and the very difficult fact that he lived with me during the end stages of his illness and had left a very huge hole in my existence with his leaving.
I would sit in silence, alone, and try to understand why his was the hardest loss I have endured thus far in my life. Having lost Father at 17, Son at 22, Cousin( like a sister) at 26, Mother at 42, and finally Brother at 49, my rational mind was telling me that I was older, wiser, more hardened and should be dealing with my grief faster, for lack of a better word.
And yet I was struggling daily, hourly, sometimes in ten minute intervals.
I could not listen to music for a year. Too much of a risk that I might hear a song that reminded me of him, or it would open up a memory that would increase the pain that I was so desperately working on keeping at bay.
I felt FULL of pain. I felt like I was smothering in my grief for my brother. I felt the physical pain and weight of his death sitting on my shoulders and upper back and mostly in my heart.
I would obsessively check my blood pressure every 30 minutes, thinking that I was having a heart attack or a stroke. I could feel such sharp pain, it would leave me breathless and hyperventilating, thinking I was dying too.
But, because I was alone, in the quiet, I would let that pain in. I would sit with it, and wallow in it at times, and allow it to fully wash over me. It came in waves. Sometimes, pretty big waves, which seemed to not want to end. At times, I felt like I was never going to be able to come back to myself or even be able to catch my breath. The intensity of that pain was so powerful, and so large, it dwarfed any emotions I have ever felt, aside from childbirth.
It felt like birth in reverse. Like a closing off, or amputation.
And when it came over me, rather than shutting it out, or running away in my mind, or getting up and leaving the house to force myself to keep it together, I would sit back like we all do on a plane when it is time for take-off. Hands gripping the seat arms, and feeling that pull of the plane taking off into the sky.
I allowed myself to be washed by it. I allowed it and all the feelings associated with it in.
And I came to the conclusion today, during my moment in the shower, that I wasn’t just grieving my brother, I was finally grieving them all properly and fully.
My rational mind has known they are gone from my life, some for many years, but my emotional being has kept carrying them with me.
When I lost my father, I was so incredibly young, that I ran away from it all. I self-medicated with alcohol and weed and stuffed it so deep, I didn’t even dare try to understand that loss. When I was present, I was helping my mother deal with material things, like cleaning out his clothing and going through about 6 suitcases full of paper and deposit and withdrawal slips from the bank.
With my son, I was also very young, and dealt with that by turning my face from the sun until I was pregnant again and had another child to look forward to. I remember pretending to be alright to my husband at the time and to my mother and close friends. I didn’t like the pain I was causing THEM by being honest about how much I hurt, so I quit being honest.
When my cousin Cindy died, I had children who needed their mother and her son who needed someone to be strong. I took her son home with me from the hospital as everyone seemed to forget in their own grief that his mother wasn’t there to care for him any more. Someone needed to go through all her personal things and ditch things she wouldn’t want her mother to see, and pack up her belongings neatly. Someone needed to hold her two lost, grieving brothers close and reassure them that things would be OK. That someone defaulted to me.
When my mother died, I had two teenage sons who loved their Nan very deeply, and so I tried to hide my emotions from them in order to soothe them into a false sense of security. I once again, had to deal with the packing up of a lifetime of belongings, and the financial issues that we all deal with, the estate and the paying of final debts. In fact, I can remember the only time I actually broke right down and cried deeply was in my basement about a month after she died, when I was going through hastily packed boxes, looking for light bulbs, as I needed one and just KNEW she would have at least five boxes of four in one of the damn boxes. I found one of her socks and suddenly just lost my mind. Sobbed hard, but quietly in that basement, not wanting my sons to hear me upstairs.
Yesterday, I woke up early to a beautiful spring day. I started cleaning windows and as they got cleaner and cleaner, and I could see the beautiful sun shining through them into my home, I felt freer..lighter…happy. I had music blaring and was just a physical beast. I did all the windows, I moved furniture around, I cleaned from top to bottom of my house and threw out minutia and dirt, bag by bag. I was so full of energy and the need to clean up that clutter and the dust of winter, that I didn’t even realize until today that I was actually cleaning up more than my home.
I can attest to the fact that we need to grieve fully and allow ourselves the time to let it work its way through us. I want everyone I love and even those I don’t, to know that it is healthy to sit and be still. To live with pain and allow it in fully.
So bad that some days you feel like you will die from it, or that it will take you to places you can never return from.
But in order to move forward and be in the now….really engaged in your own life and the endless possibilities that the future has for us all, you need to invite that pain in like an old friend. Get to know it. Learn that you are stronger and more fierce than it and allow it its rightful place in your life.
One of my favourite quotes from the movie Vanilla Sky is so pertinent to the way I am feeling now that I just have to leave it here:
“You can do whatever you want with your life, but one day you’ll know what love truly is.
It’s the sour and the sweet.
And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.”