What I wish I had Known About Grief

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No one prepared us for this. How could they have? The grief, the pain, the anger and hope and spurts of being “okay” the despair and the guilt… it all just cycles over, and over, and over again. You hear about grief and it’s stages. But unless it enters into your life, you don’t actually know the effects it brings with it. I wish I had known some things before this happened to us. I wish I had known how crazy this would all feel, how out of whack my emotions and also my physical body would all be as a result of our loss. We lost our kids. We lost our dreams. We lost our future. We lost our daily routines. We lost our safe place. We lost our home. We lost an insane amount of financial resources. We lost nightly tuck ins and morning kisses on the cheek. We lost our reality. We lost our family. How do you cope with that all? How do you welcome grief because it’s going to come whether you want it to or not, but not let it destroy you?

Right before I left the house this morning to get to the office, I slammed my closet sliding door shut and forgot to move my fingers out of the way. I’ve never slammed a finger that hard in anything before, and DANG IT did it hurt. It still hurts as I type this… really bad. But it’s allowed me to comprehend grief today in a way that I needed it to make sense to me. It’s allowed me to put all my feelings about grief into a tangible experience, and to understand all the things now that I wish I had known before grief  became a permanent shadow in my life. And I want to share it with you.

Right after I slammed my fingers in my closet door, the initial shock came with a tingling and a slow motion thought of, “did this just really happen?” The pain was mild for a couple of seconds, I was trying to process it all… and then as soon as I realized just the amount of pain that it had caused me I started screaming. I let out some choice words, too, I’ll be honest. The pain heightened to being unbearable. In fact, it got so bad that at one point I thought I was going to pass out. Sounds dramatic, I know, but thats how seriously hard my fingers were slammed shut. After I recuperated and stood up from where I found myself sitting on the bed, I went downstairs and told my husband how bad my fingers hurt. He said he was sorry, he genuinely meant it, but he didn’t understand the extent of pain that I was in. How could he? He had not experienced it, and was reacting the best that he could based off of the information I had given him. He had no past experience to relate it to of his own, he wasn’t in the physical pain with me… so he did what he could to offer sympathy.

I got into my car, unable to really use my hand that had been slammed. As I was driving with one hand, my arm that had been the victim of the morning began to have pain spread up it. My fingers that had taken the blunt of the blow, were now affecting all the way up to my shoulder. Pain was traveling up my arm and not just affecting only my fingers anymore. My whole arm was useless now. But there wasn’t anything I could do about it, so while I was still experiencing the pain, I was singing along to the radio, I was driving to work, I was alert and paying attention to what was happening around me. I was living, breathing, moving… all while experiencing the pain. The pain didn’t lessen as a result of me singing to my favorite Justin Bieber, but instead, my pain and my ability to be excited and keep living co-existed TOGETHER. It wasn’t that I was either in pain, or was feeling happiness. BOTH, at the same exact time, were living in my world together.

Because of the pain that I was feeling, the music I was singing became a little better than it had been before. It was because I was appreciating how much I loved the music because it gave me the opposite feeling that my fingers and arm was giving me. I appreciated the joy, because I also knew and was living in the pain.

I got to work, and the pain turned into just some tingling after a while. During an important phone call, my fingers felt like they were on fire out of nowhere, and I looked at them and the bruising was very apparent. I went from being okay and being able to focus in my call, to within seconds, being in a large amount of pain for no apparent reason at all. The pain lasted my whole call. My arm started being affected again. I had work to do so I had to bear through it and accomplish tasks while still feeling the pain. Great things happened at work today. Really great and exciting things that I have actually prayed would happen. And despite those things, my finger and my arm hurt all day and that pain was also on my mind, AS WELL AS the excitement of having some great things happen. It wasn’t that I was not grateful for the progress and new endeavors that were presented to me today, that couldn’t be far from the truth. I was grateful, and I also still felt my physical pain. My feeling of the pain in no way affected my ability to be grateful. In fact, I think it magnified it.

As I am typing now, I’m typing through physical pain. It’s really hard to use my right hand, which is my dominant hand, and my finger that is the most hurt I can not use to press a key at all. So I’m rediscovering how to type without the use of one of my very important fingers. I’m still able to complete my tasks, I just have to go about it differently than I did before, because of how the pain is affecting my hand and arm. My employees wouldn’t know from looking at me that my fingers had been slammed shut today, and that me being here and accomplishing my tasks of typing is a big feat. But to me, I am proud of doing these little tasks because I know how badly they are hurting.

And that, in a way that I could have never wrapped my brain around before today, is grief. It sneaks in and it takes a moment for us to process. The pain of it then makes us feel like we are going to be completely destroyed. There are times where it goes away enough for us to keep moving and doing, but no matter how happy we may be, no matter what blessings come, we still feel the pain. It exists WHILE  joy also exists. There’s no escaping it, just learning how to live with it. Learning how to experience and use other parts of life because pieces of us just aren’t the same anymore. We feel lonely sometimes, because while others offer sympathy, some more sincere than others, they just don’t really know how we are feeling. It’s not even fair to expect them to. And those who do get it and are really there to help carry your burden do more than they’ll ever know. And day to day you go through life with the grief. The stranger at the grocery store has no idea that you’re crying while walking down the snack isle because you just lost your kids and passed their favorite granola bars. The person on the treadmill next to you at the gym has no idea how BIG of a deal it is that you not only got out of bed that morning, but then also went to go work out in spite of all the pain you feel. If they did know, I would like to imagine they would be hugging you and cheering for you, and squirting their freaking water bottle into your mouth when you got thirsty.

Life keeps moving when you’re in pain. It’s just how it goes. And you learn how to live with it, and in it, and keep pressing forward. Sometimes guilt comes because you feel joy but also feel pain and so you wonder if you should just let yourself feel the pain and block out the joy. Other times you’re so happy you get a reprieve and feel some joy and you feel “okay” for a while. The other night I hopped on Instagram Live during what I would call a good emotional time for me. Out of nowhere I started crying, while people were listening and watching me. There was no warning, it just came.

Grief comes, let it. Joy comes, LET IT. Life is here, right now, LIVE IT.

If I had understood grief like this before, I would have been less confused this past month. But now that I see it differently, I’m going to cheer on good days, be there in a different way for those who have their own grief too, and remind myself that life is different now, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad life.

12 thoughts on “What I wish I had Known About Grief”

  1. Oh Ashley, I am so sorry for this unimaginable pain you and your husband are walking through. What a beautiful and accurate description of grief you shared. I was once told to think of grief like the ocean. Sometimes big waves come and submerge us, sometimes its just faintly tickling our ankles. But it’s always there coming in and going back out. The key is to let it wash over you, being in it like you mentioned, but then also letting it reseed so that you don’t stay submerged. Praying for you sweet one.

  2. Ashley and Mike – I don’t know what to say…. Of course Brian and I are so sorry for you. Our hearts are breaking for you all. So I do the only thing that I know “might” bring you some peace. We work at the temple weekly so we put all of your names on the prayer roll. And of course we remember you in our prayers daily. I wish there was something we could do to help bare the burdens you are carrying…. We love you and are grateful for all you did for our family.

  3. Thank you for this post. Your words and imagery and symbolism have really helped me understand grief. Thank you and know we are all praying for you as you grieve and heal and find hope.

  4. Yes this is so accurate!! Experiencing loss and grief is so hard because living with conflicting emotions simultaneously is a totally new concept. It’s like we’ve been taught you’re either happy and good or depressed and that’s bad, but when real life happens it teaches us those things coexist like you said. So you’re no longer in a place of one or the other, but an entirely new place and you move differently through the world. You have my heartfelt prayers and I am so sorry you’re having this experience! May the highs be more frequent and the lows more bearable as you continue to gain strength and feel peace!

  5. Thank you for writing this! Wow I am in the middle of my own grief my sister (also my college roommate) passed away this fall. It’s been the most devastating thing of my life. But as I read this tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized that someone else actually GETS it! Understands what living with this constant pain and hurt that’s is often hidden feels like. Thank you for sharing and for putting my feelings into words. So grateful for you & i’m praying for you!

  6. I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I hope that you have people around you, who are by your side – to hear about your feelings, to cry and to share those precious memories with you.

    I lost my first children, too – nearly 15 years ago: a girl named Julia at the age of 6 and a boy named Tobias, 4 years old. What you are describing is nearly exactly how I felt. It is so unbelievable, so frightening, so heart-tearing and so hurting.. Noone, who didn’t live it through himself can imagine how hard it is to go on with life. How difficult even the smallest things are like getting out of bed, packing the dishwasher, doing the groceries. I feels like you completely lost ground, like you are fighting in a fog or are in the middle of a chewing gum. Everything is so far and so hard to to. 15 years later now, I had the unbelievable luck to live with a family of 4 kids – 2 far away and 2 by my side together with the love of my life, my husband with whom I am still married. We live and lough, and sometimes we cry for Julia and Tobias, for everything we are not able to live with them, for not being able to watch them grow. But my heart tells me, that one day we will all be together again.

  7. You articulated so well a topic that is so hard to put into words for those of us who have experienced grief. Thank you! This post is a gift.

  8. Thank you. This spoke to me. I lost my mom about a year ago after a grueling and long battle with Alzheimers. She didn’t had be mentally gone for a long time and it’s so hard to process that grief that comes with losing someone you love. So again Thank you for this. Reading this has helped me more than you will ever know. And I’m so so sorry for your loss. 🙁

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