The other night, I had just dropped both of our kiddos off for a short playdate at a neighbor’s house and was on my way to the grocery store to then go back home and make chicken soup for my husband who was sick – and it was his birthday. It was already 5 pm and we hadn’t planned dinner yet, the kitchen sink was still filled with dishes from the previous night because we were out with family friends celebrating Brian’s birthday, most of us were battling colds, I hadn’t exercised yet, and winter seemed to have lasted too long! But I was okay – even smiling at the craziness and yet beautiful fullness of our life.
And then, on my way home, I turned on the radio. I never really turn it on to a local “pop” station, but for some reason that evening, I did. I was in the car alone – by myself for a moment – and I wanted to enjoy a song in the freedom of being by myself for five minutes, to move and grove just for a moment – two streets away from our house. I caught the end of a popular “get up and dance” song that was perfect. I was feeling happy…the content kind of happy. I looked at the sun setting over the mountains. I “looked over” my current life. I was going home to make chicken soup. I was content, open, and at peace.
Then, another “get up and dance” kind of song came on. But this time, in an instant, I thought of my dear friend, Keith, who passed away a few years ago. He was like a brother to me. The image of the two of us dancing wildly together to this song – along with our college friends – played out in my mind. And I went from smiling and grove, to crying.
I missed him.
I imagined the many times we all would have “gotten up and danced” – so blissfully happy, no worries in the world, just pure “in the moment” joy and dancing and celebrating.
“He’s not here,” I have to sometimes still tell myself. Because I didn’t see him every day, it can still feel like he is “just a phone call away” rather than dead. It’s still strange that he is not here anymore.
Grief is like that.
There you are, heading home from the grocery store, just grooving to your life, and then a song comes on the radio, or a particular memory suddenly pops up in your mind, or you smell something that instantly reminds you of your dear one who has passed away. And just like that, grief is here for a surprise visit.
There are many different theories to and models of grief and bereavement. From stages, phases, and tasks, to “dual process” and “continuing the bond,” there’s a lot out there on grief. What resonates the most with me personally is an understanding of a combination of these models and also listening to my own heart and inner wisdom.
Right after Keith passed away, I was in shock. I cried but mostly I finally felt the exhaustion from the adrenaline of going to visit him in the hospital, wondering when he would pass away, and being in that space between “not here” and “not dead” yet. I felt his spirit close to me at times as he was transitioning. It was comforting. But then when he did pass away and after the funeral, I knew that I was in that numb space between “okay, he’s gone” and “wait…WHAT?!”
I went along with my daily life – getting the kiddos up for school, feeding the dog, reminding the kiddos of their chores, texting Brian the grocery list because I forgot to get it to him before he left for work, feeding the dog, going to work. Daily life helps. It reminds us that life does go on, that the sun will rise and it will set and then rise again. There is a new clarity to daily life – you cut through the bullshit of what doesn’t matter.
I didn’t intentionally push away the ache during those first few months. Grief just “accompanied” me as I went along in my day. I call this the “tending to” of grief – tending to you…like what your body needs – from fresh air, to feeling soft and cozy clothing on your skin; from eating a nourishing meal, to getting up and cleaning the kitchen; from sleeping, to moving your body. In this “tending to”, you also tend to logistical details and family details.
I felt Keith close by…and I also “told” him he needed to move on. I do think we continue our relationship with our dear ones who have passed away – they help us, we help them. Maybe I’ll write another post some time about this.
There is a necessary separation AND then also a renegotiation of the relationship. Over the last few years, I feel like Keith and I have “found our groove” in a new relationship. And it continues to shift, grow, and change in ways I would have never imagined. That is almost too easy to write. There’s a lot that has gone into these last few years without Keith.
My overall “approach to grief” hasn’t been linear with stages and phases or checking off completed tasks. Instead, it’s been one of “holding space.”
Holding space for whatever arises – the big emotions, the memories, the “what if’s,” the quieter moments, the numbness, the discombobulatedness, the okayness, the clarity, and the mystery of opening to what may want to grow, shift, let go, delight, and inspire.
Holding space. With compassion and mindfulness. With an honoring of the mysterious way Grace works, Grief reweaves us, and Love fills us.
Before I turned into the driveway to our home, before I got out the grocery bags and “started back” into life, I did something I wouldn’t have done many years ago: I didn’t “go at it alone.” I didn’t wipe away my tears and “pull myself up by my bootstraps.” I texted one of my dearest friends in Boston who knows grief. She lost her dad nine years ago this year. I texted her what had happened. I reached out.
If there’s another “gift” grief has given me, it’s this: I’m okay not having it “all together” all the time and sharing in my vulnerability has been so soothing for my soul. There’s the irony of “sharing in our brokenness” – a deep strength and peace arise.
She texted back and knew what I needed to hear. I felt less alone — even “okay” and that these moments happen when grief comes for a surprise visit. And I don’t have to push them away, get swept up in them, or judge them. I can just “hold space” with compassion, mindfulness, and tenderness — allowing Grace, Love, tears, and gratitude to flow.
Maybe you, too, have had these moments of when Grief comes for a surprise visit. She stops you in your tracks. This can be an opportunity to turn toward yourself and extend yourself compassion. Pause. Put your hand on your heart. Soften. This is LOVE you are feeling. Yes, there are many emotions there – some you can name, and others that don’t have names. Your tears are an indicator of the aliveness and love flowing through you. They show the depths of your heart. Let the judgment soften. Instead, focus on “holding space” for what arises. This is an act of self-compassion AND honoring your dear one.
This is what I teach clients to do — how to skillfully “hold space” for what arises – the 10,000 joys and sorrows in our human experience – and how to relate to them in a way that allows Grace to enter and spaciousness to remain.
And when it’s time to have a professional accompany you, please reach out. I offer integrative coaching and somatic experiencing psychotherapy. Sign up for a free consult and see how it can be to have a skilled and loving presence alongside you.