As I see it, there are countless ways of approaching the kind of life-altering events you’ve lived through…and I’ve hired some local help to illustrate various approaches to loss, grief, and the “tsunami” of change. (I asked George Clooney, but he wasn’t available…so had to settle for second best!)
It feels like a giant boulder has fallen on you, like you’re trapped under something you neither fully expected nor were able to handle when it struck. You feel powerless and broken.
Life is a jungle in which you’re vainly trying to find a path, a trail of breadcrumbs, or even Tarzan to swing in and rescue you! It’s all pressing in on you and there are moments when it feels so claustrophobic you could scream.
It happened without you knowing it. There wasn’t an “Ah-ha!” moment when it suddenly hit you. The realization sifted down on you like sand, light and unnoticed, and you only gradually are coming to realize how affected you’ve been. The sadness and lethargy came softly, when you weren’t looking, without any fanfare or sudden onslought.
You’ve got one foot in each world: the past and the present. The emotional “splits” are at once uncomfortable and painful, yet you just can’t bring yourself to let go of the past and embrace the present…..
You feel betrayed. Nobody told you it would be this hard, that your leap into the unknown would land you at the doorstep of life’s Porta-Potty. Why didn’t anyone prepare you better? And why isn’t anyone helping you through this quietly traumatic episode of your life?
You’re being tossed to and fro by tides you neither understand nor control. You don’t know which way is up anymore, and you don’t know where you’re going to be when the waves are done throwing you around. You feel alone, abandoned and adrift….
You’re not feeling anything? Ask yourself: if you’ve shut yourself off to shield yourself from too much emotion or if you’re too focused on projects or your plans to acknowledge that you may be missing friends and sad about what you’ve lost. Make sure you’re aware of the REALITY of your loss, but don’t force yourself to be intensely emotional–it may just not be you! And that’s okay. As long as you’re not in denial, you’re pretty safe….
You’re feeling too much? You feel emotionally raw, you overreact to the silliest circumstances, you can’t focus on anything and you have no desire to do or see or explore or meet….. Force yourself to put at least one foot firmly in the present. As much as you love the friends and the life you’ve lost, don’t let yourself refuse to accept the present. Look around you…and make yourself step out of your comfort zone to smile at someone you don’t know very well, to set yourself some small goals and achieve them… ENGAGE in life where you are–it’s not disloyalty to your past!
There are as many possible reactions to grief as there are personalities… Don’t assume that yours is somehow wrong or unhealthy just because others aren’t experiencing it the same way you are. Ask yourself some pertinent questions (Am I living in the present? Am I connecting with the world around me? Am I being honest about my feelings? Am I still motivated, even tempered and open?) and seek help from someone you love if too many answers to those questions are “no”.
But don’t think you’re a wimp if it isn’t all behind you by now. And don’t think you’re a heartless brute if it feels like you’re already moving on. Be real–communicate with others and yourself.
Oh, and if you can, take a lesson from Humpty-Dumpty and find a minute to watch a sunset, breathe deeply, and pray…wherever you are.
(PS: My little assistant Humpty-Dumpty was made by “moi” when I was teensy and doing crafts at a summer camp… And you thought I was undomesticated! I just found him in my mom’s basement.)