Discovering the Paradox of Grief

One of the more difficult aspects of grief for me has been trying to explain the connection between the great sadness I have experienced and the life changes that have been influenced by that grief. I would happily turn the clock back a few years and have events unfold much differently than they did, but I cannot change what has happened, and I have had to learn how to look forward with hope and optimism. There are still days when my heart is heavy, life feels overwhelming, and I wonder how I ended up here. I have had to learn to adapt.

Certain times of the year and certain events bring back memories of what once was. Over the course of the summer, we have July 2nd, our anniversary on Aug 5th and Maureen’s birthday on Aug 27th. These are all important dates in my life and the kid’s life, and we always acknowledge them and honor them for their significance to us all. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we celebrate those days with raucous fanfare, but we quietly savor them and the deep meaning they have for us.

This past year, our wedding anniversary hit me like a ton of bricks. The date fell on a Sunday, and it was a typical summer weekend, with activities and adventures out in the sun that kept me preoccupied. Settling down at the end of the day, the weight of the event finally hit me. While sitting in a relaxed state, my mind was flooded with details from our wedding day back in 2000. I have often said, that our wedding was one of the best days of my life(OK, the best day). My eyes became heavy as I replayed events from that day in my head and I was filled with sorrow, daydreaming about what once was.

I was very aware of what was happening and where my mind was going. I could have gotten up and made myself busy, attempting to distract my mind and push the thoughts out of my head. I didn’t do this though; I wanted to sit and be with these thoughts. I sat and let my mind wander. I went back in time, picturing that day and all the beautiful memories of her brilliant smile and the happiness that flowed from the both of us. I became completely wrapped up in this dream and caught myself with not only a tear in my eye but with a grin on my face.

I have tried to mindful of the powerful emotional effects of grief. I picture grief coming to steal my soul and leaving me depleted and lifeless. I’ve been respectful of its overbearing nature, welcoming it in where I can keep a watchful eye on it. I’m afraid of those dark corners, where grief may unsuspectingly jump out and consume you. Given this awareness, I was not surprised at my decision to sit with sorrow on this day, although I was surprised by the grin.

The grin on my face spread as I replayed happy memory after happy memory in my mind and I was struck by the extreme contrast in emotions. I was struck because this is grief, the mourning that is so difficult to explain. It can tear apart your heart and bring you to your knees one moment, and it can also lead you to mind-blowing perspective changes that facilitate personal growth and forever change your view on life. It may seem strange, but at this moment, I was thankful for my sadness. I have anguish in my heart because of a deep, meaningful and loving relationship. Death does not change what was.

Real love doesn’t die. It’s the physical body that dies. Genuine, authentic love has no expectations whatsoever; it doesn’t even need the physical presence of a person. Even when he is dead and buried that part of you that loves the person will always live.

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Grief can be hard. It can be stoic and icy cold. It is tempting to push it away and keep it under the rug because it is much too painful to let it in. There have been days where I just wanted to pull the covers up over my head and make it go away. There have been days where I did just that. That pain has a lesson though. That suffering is the result of love, and the contrast/interrelatedness between love and pain is the same contradiction that exists between loss and the journey that follows. It is both tragic and inspirational at the same time.

I’ve learned there is sadness because there was also incredible happiness. Our life together has helped shape who I am today. I am filled with those life experiences of laughter, tears, adventure, and love that we shared over the years. They are embedded in my soul and will be there forever. I’ve learned to welcome grief into my life and don’t turn it away when it comes knocking. It is like an old friend dropping in for a visit, and I’m not going to pull down the shades, lock the door and shut them out.

I think it is sometimes hard for others to understand because they only see the sorrow and not how that pain can also bring comfort. I accept that grief will always be part of me and will forever influence my decisions, relationships, dreams, and desires. It has drastically changed my life. Gut-wrenching and tragic, yet horribly beautiful, it is the ultimate paradox. A love that is lost, yet entrenched in my soul.

A version of this post was previously published on LossandLearning and is republished here with permission form the author.

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