The Ongoing Process of Grief With Chronic Illness

Grief for me is the acute gut-wrenching awareness of unsurmountable loss. Some days or moments it can consume me. Other times I can empathize with it, talk to it and understand why it’s there. My grief is triggered when I experience reminders of what I can’t do, what I’ve lost forever and of my unfulfilled dreams that are very much still alive in my heart. I struggle with knowing what to do with all my dreams too. How long do I hold onto them for? Will they too just become one more drop in the ocean of things lost that I will soon come to grieve? I try to keep grief in one hand, and hold hope in the other, in a very clumsy teeter-totter balancing act. My hope can’t help but feel like a small light being turned on in a dark room some days.

Grief for me comes in succession like the waves of an ocean. With each passing tide, I feel my identity and narrative of who I thought I was, where I thought I was going, stripped away. Down past the flesh and bone, my body reduced to grain. It is at that place I witness the simplicity of my being that had been there all along. I guess you could say the complete dismantlement of my life introduced me to myself for the first time. That’s probably why I no longer recognize myself, and fought so hard in letting go.

Grief for me is losing the falsehood of control, safety and security. None are a guarantee; I only realized this by their glaringly painful absence. Vulnerability and fear which were once casual acquaintances, now take up residence in my mind. I have befriended them as best I can, so we can coexist peacefully. Some days I execute that idea more skillfully than others.

I grieve how easily and effortlessly life goes on. I wish I could have hit the pause button on my world when I got sick. I wish I could press play when I’ve recovered. You don’t get to do that because the world does not wait. I grieve how it has gone on, with or without me.

painting of a woman's back by the author

When I reflect back on the weight of grief in my life, it has also revealed many things. I experienced hope through hopelessness, impermanence through loss, the illusion of control through chaos, resiliency, perseverance and an inner strength I didn’t even know I could muster. This in no way minimizes the tremendously painful places these came from. I would have much rather read about these ideas through kitchy zen books in the comfort of a coffee shop, and continue on about my daily life. Alas, I had no control over that. What I do have control over is fostering a sense of hope. As long as I have hope, grief doesn’t take center stage. As long as I have hope, my dreams have space to breathe and exist.

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