I’ve been thinking about grief lately, as March 15 marked the 27th anniversary of my dad’s death. This year, though I was tender – as I often am – I didn’t shut down as strongly. And whenever I do get caught up in the intense pain of the loss, I can finally find relief in Maitri practice (loving-kindness/metta/unconditional friendliness). For many years, the practice made basic sense to me but didn’t seem to budge my most fundamental struggles. Over time, however, my heart has opened up enough to want to be relieved of the suffering of believing I am alone in my loss, and so bringing to mind others who have felt grief like this gives space around my feelings, and a salve of support.
When I say “grief changes,” I mean this at least two ways – grief changes the people who feel it, and grief itself changes over time. It took me a long time – twenty some years – to realize, really feel and understand, that my early traumatic and intense losses were not an indicator of me being unwelcome in the world, somehow at fault, set apart. That we will all die, all lose those we love. It’s just that the world is in so much denial about this, at least the “first world”, and so no one acknowledged my dad’s death, or anyone else’s either. Grief changed me – it entered me into the valley of death and I couldn’t leave, no matter how much I wanted to. I felt so alone there, shrouded in mist, having no idea most of the rest of the world lives there, too. It is only now, mainly through EMDR and years of writing, meditation, discussion – that I have discovered how not alone I am, and now am capable of helping others access this not-so-hidden dimension. It’s a gift now, rather than a curse, though certainly it felt much worse than this for so long. It was traumatic grief, which is not always how grief is, and once I could heal a lot of the trauma, I could properly sit down and grieve.
Grieving itself changes over time. People always want to know – “How long will I feel this way?” after a major loss, and the answer is a maddening “Forever and also not forever.” Loss lasts forever, but the feelings will change, because feelings are impermanent – that’s what they do, transform into new feelings. Unless we don’t let them. This is what happened for me, as happens I think for a lot of folks who experience major deaths when young, or deep trauma – it is so shocking that the grief stays frozen in one form. But that’s not because grief doesn’t change – given “non-trauma” conditions – grief transforms, among all the five stages and more, and beyond. It stayed the same, or similar – the story of how my loss was singular, how no one could relate, how it was a mark or sign of something wrong with me – because of the trauma.
And I changed because of that – but mostly because I was eventually able to change the story. When the grief could change, that’s when I changed the most – or when I could change, the story of the grief could change, and a lot got unlocked.
So much of this is about allowing change, which is far easier said than done, and subtler in the moment than when we look back later. But it is true. Re-reading Parable of the Sower recently, reminded of the belief in change as a kind of god is powerful. The universal truth of change. Have faith in it. It means we will all die, but it also means this particular suffering – whatever it is – will change, will alter, even if not disappear. It’s guaranteed.