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To Grieve Is to Love

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To grieve or not to grieve? That is the question. What exactly is this phenomenon of grief? Is it appropriate to grieve? Is there a specific time frame for it? Is it embarrassing to do so? Openly even? Is it safe to expose oneself to “the weakness of grief”?

Until 43 weeks ago, I myself did not understand it. I know that for most of us it is difficult to understand and it is difficult to relate to loss and grief; only those who have lost know it all too well. For many, grief is difficult to comprehend, and thank God for that, as knowing means having experienced it. I have found that it is the most difficult and mind-challenging states of being that I have experienced in my entire life. Unfortunately, acknowledging grief or discussing it openly is still considered a taboo by some.

Unfortunately, many grieving individuals are scared to grieve openly. I myself have experienced many an awkward moment when people realize that a mention or a memory of my darling son causes my eyes to well up with tears and my voice to choke, and as I mention Drew’s name the subject is quickly, inadvertently or not, diverted to small talk containing sweet nothings or talk of the weather, so that I may immediately take my mind off the sadness of my loss, even if momentarily. Unfortunately, albeit the awkwardness of the moment is removed, the sadness remains, only to leave me wondering the outcome of the conversation, had it taken place before a time bomb disguised as an AVM (ateriovenous malformation) caused a fatal brain aneurysm that took my darling Drew away on the 9th of June 2016. He was five months shy of his 21st birthday.

I must admit I am grateful that I have found immense support by many close family and friends. However I noticed that others are still petrified of being in the presence of grieving individuals for fear of saying the wrong thing, or for fear of not knowing what to say, or worse still, are terrified at the prospect of thinking that the grieving person might be depressed and therefore needs professional help and not that of a lay person. Of course the grieving person can be depressed! They are grieving aka passing through a time of intense sorrow. Sometimes a glance is enough to communicate one’s support. Nothing needs to be exchanged verbally. The other day a student simply gave me the kindest of gazes I ever beheld. It was enough for me to feel the empathy. It was as if Drew himself was looking straight into my eyes, touching my soul!

So when does this grieving business end, so that life as we knew it might resume? Or does it? It probably does not. As to the grieving process and approaches, I have come to realize how it is funny that some are more comfortable uttering all sorts of silly things in public but then are scared to show inner emotions for fear of being labeled “weak.” Some people are scared to grieve, so they suppress it and hide it. Additionally, relatives can be scared to see loved ones grieve, and this complicates things. Grief is indeed a taboo, and has been regarded as if it were a disease or a sickness of some sort. Some are quick to encourage the grieving to “take something” lest they do not seem “normal.” But what is normal? Whose yardstick is being used? How does one resume normality after 20 years of one’s life have just been reduced to merely a trailer of what one’s final cut was meant to look like?

A variety of aids come to mind ranging from tempering with sobriety, calming oneself, sleeping, closing up and shutting everyone out, going to therapy, to channeling one’s energy and creativity elsewhere. I have found that the latter has helped me the most. Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help, and this might prove very instrumental in the well being of the grieving individual, but only if one feels the need and one wants to. I strongly believe that no one needs to feel pressured into making any decision, but on the other hand should be open to advice of loved ones and professionals. With the right amount of love and support, the journey in life with the new normality is made somewhat more bearable. Especially if surrounding loved ones are able to understand the complexity of emotions that are now ever so present due to grief.

I have been doing a lot of thinking and rationalizing during the past 43 weeks and I have read many articles and open letters about the subject of loss and grief and have come across various metaphors describing how grief can be explained or understood. My favorite are two: the roller coaster and wave analogies. Indeed, I am in instances momentarily riding high with the excitement of the given moment, and the next I feel like screaming with despair. Similarly, in the case of the wave, one minute I feel like I am floating serenely, riding the swell, and the next minute I am fighting for my life, being pulled down fathoms deep into the bottomless pit of sadness, experiencing the most extreme emotions, a sense of tragedy and loss. A feeling of betrayal, having been short changed big time, cheated out of my future. This is not what I had planned. I wanted to grow old surrounded by my two not one lovely children and son and a daughter.

I strongly believe that grief can be directly proportional to love. Grief is the outcome of love. Love that now has nowhere to go. Dealing with grief is not finding a way to move on, but it is finding a way to learn how to carry on with the new normality. That normality is learning how to live without. Live without beholding, live without being in the company of that special someone who had been such an important part of one’s life.

I don’t believe grief diminishes by time. I actually believe it grows. Not in the sense of increase, or expanding in size, but in the sense “growth” that is similar to how a tree grows. As a tree grows, it evolves. It matures. It changes. It strengthens. It toughens. It takes up the surrounding space and makes itself comfortable in it. It engulfs. It adapts and eventually it survives. It becomes part of the new self and changes its surroundings. A triumphant self. A self that has endured and conquered. And then it provides shelter for others, possibly weaker or stronger, but still in need of security.

It might sound scary, but I believe that like everything else in life, if channeled right grief will make one a better person. I always believed that life is made of choices, and grief gives one choices such as choosing between being bitter and resentful for the stolen future, or being thankful and grateful for the given past. Choosing to remember the happiness of the past over being raged at the stolen future. Choosing to become stronger rather than weaker. Preferring to be more compassionate, loving, understanding, caring and emphatic towards others over being jealous, hateful or condescending.

I have had many people tell me, “But time heals doesn’t it?” or “You will find a way to move on in time, you’ll see” or “Life goes on.” No! Life does not go on. At least not for me. Not the same. It goes on for the rest of the world but for me it stopped on the 9th of June 2016. My GPS keeps telling me “off route,” “make a U-turn!” And I cannot do anything about it. Similarly time does not heal anything when it comes to grief. It may just help one to come to terms with it, or at its worst be hopeful of the future.

But why is this? Why can’t one heal or move on? Is it a sign of weakness? An illness perhaps? Should one worry? Why doesn’t time heal? The way I see it is that healing follows treatment of an injury or a wound, or if it is metaphoric healing, it follows after an offense, or an emotional hurt is corrected. However I believe that grief is not a result of a hurt or an injury, but a result of loving, of loving greatly and deeply. What happens with death is that a great love in one’s life is lost from only one side. The heart is broken, not because it has been wounded, but because a part of it has died. Moreover that love keeps growing and emanating, but has nowhere to go. And after months, that love still keeps growing and still not finding where to go. And no, this kind of love is not transferable. One does not simply replace this love by another. When a child is born the love that is created is directed at one particular individual and that tag is for life. So it cannot diminish. It should not diminish. You do not want it to diminish. You forbid it to lessen in any way, let alone perish or end. Therefore grief cannot be cured, because no one wants to dispose of such love. This love is for keeps. This love is real, pure, truthful, meaningful and eternal.

So what can one do? What can one do indeed?! I believe that grief is a journey. A voyage of sadness, and yet of self-discovery of a new strength, an added fortitude, one that I never knew existed before, leading to an adaptation of the self that exploits and preys on the new normality. I am discovering and adapting as I go along. Of course what applies to me might not apply to everyone, and that is the beauty of individuals, that we are diverse and unique and compliment each other. This is my point of view of how I am understanding grief at this point in time in my life. Highly relative and subjective. In this journey I choose to humbly share my experience and learn. I might possibly change my approach in due course, as I mold myself into the new me, but then again this is nothing new, I have done this when I bore my first lovely daughter and then again when I held my handsome prince in my arms for the first time. And what lies ahead? Que Sera, Sera. I grew up hearing Doris Day sing this tune, so whatever will be will be — but one thing I am sure of, love begets love, and this in turn gives me more purpose in life than anything else I have ever known. So I continue to grieve because I refuse to stop loving.

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Originally published: April 20, 2017
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